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Posted at 3:45 PM ET, 06/30/2006

Feeding at Folklife

By Julia Beizer

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is up and running! As we strolled along the grounds today, it was hard to believe that rain had pelted the Mall just a few days before. The sun was shining and a good lunchtime crowd was milling about.

As much as we appreciate the cultural luminaries coming to the festival to speak and perform, today, we focused on the food. After sampling several offerings from the festival menu, we offer up our survey of choices for festival foodies.

We had our finest food at the Native Basketry tent with the Indian taco. This concession featured ground beef and/or kidney beans along with the standard taco fixings (salsa, lettuce, onions, cheese), piled onto a horn-of-plenty-shaped piece of fry bread. The bread is basically a tortilla immersed in oil to give it a puffy consistency before it's fried. It's tasty, but it got soggy during its time on the shelf. We expect that as more visitors come through, and the tacos are prepared more quickly, this one will be a good bet.

Wild rice salad with cranberries is a light choice for the hot weather and sweet potato fries are a vitamin-rich alternative to normal boardwalk fries. If you're looking to quench your thirst, the iced mint tea (unsweetened for us) was a good bet. We had high hopes for the Three Sister Soup. We figured that there must be a reason that the festival would sell a hot soup in the dog days of summer, but alas, the bland and watery product proved us wrong.

We found the New Orleans menu to be a bit disappointing: No po'boys? No gumbo?! The fried fish was limp, and a dessert of bread pudding took the place of what we'd hoped would be little beignets. Luckily, we found satisfaction in the sausage, which came piled high with carmelized onions. Go for the spicy variety (which has about as much spice as a slice of pepperoni) and don't be shy with the condiments. With a touch of the green hot sauce, it really hit the spot.

The Alberta kitchen will likely be the festival's most popular. That menu includes a bison burger, bison steak sandwich, pita salad sandwich and cheesecake flax cookie sandwich. We forgot to add condiments to the bison steak sandwich, but some ketchup or A1 would have really helped, because the meat was a bit gamey. We did not try the big sky bison burger at the Alberta station, but it seemed to be selling like hotcakes. If the staff had trouble keeping up with demand today, one can only imagine how they'll deal when the throngs descend over the weekend.

Cantina Latina was a huge letdown. We both looked forward to spicing up our meal with Latin flavors, but creamed chicken with boiled potatoes, stewed beef and a paltry vegetarian platter of boiled vegetables sent us walking in the other direction. We weren't the only ones: While crowds clamored for food at the three other food tents, there was nary a customer at the Cantina. Perhaps a markdown on the tent's Dos Equis will lure some thirsty festival-goers.

It wouldn't be the Folklife Festival without the season's hottest weather. Berry smoothies, limeade and mango lassis will obviously be big hits on this warm weekend. And for $3, you can get generous slices of watermelon or mangoes.

--Julia and Erin

By Julia Beizer  | June 30, 2006; 3:45 PM ET
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