Under the slogan of “One World, Different Cultures” and taking place within the walls of one of the most iconic Egyptian palaces, the Baron Empain Palace in the Cairo district of Heliopolis, the Gouter, or “Tasting,” Cultural Festival made a comeback this week with a new and even more rewarding atmosphere.
The events were designed to allow visitors to travel in their minds and to experience the authenticity of various cultures, allowing them to be exposed to various ethnic food flavours in particular while remaining in their own country. Food, music and folklore were all on hand at the festival to help them to do so.
Under the auspices of Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli and in the presence of Nevine Gamea, minister of trade and industry, and Khaled El-Enany, minister of tourism and antiquities, along with many ambassadors and guests, the Gouter 2021 Festival brought 17 countries from all over the world together to present their heritage and distinct cultures in Egypt.
Reham Adel, features editor for the Cairo Nisf al-Duniya magazine, the organiser of the festival in collaboration with Al-Ahram, said it was designed to help those visiting travel through different cultures by combining food, handicrafts, music, folklore and artifacts.
“The difference between Gouter 2021 and previous years is that we are hosting 17 countries from all around the world. This has added another dimension to the festival, giving it a cultural and touristic edge. Many countries are presenting their cuisine, music, artifacts and folklore in a historic palace that dates back more than 100 years,” Adel said.
“We wanted the participating countries to represent several continents, including Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America. Slovenia, Peru, Spain, Tunisia, Palestine, India, Ireland and Algeria are some of the participating countries,” she added.
Zeinab Ali, an employee of the Arab League, said the festival was a remarkable event, especially when held in such a magnificent palace. “We are presenting various products that reflect the Algerian heritage,” she said. “Clothes, artifacts, silver ornaments, and photographs reflect the beauty of Algerian landscapes, along with our delicious food and desserts.”
Cathal O’Hagan, counsellor at the Irish Embassy in Egypt, said that “this is our first time to participate in the Gouter Festival, and we are pretty excited about it. We are presenting Irish food including our famous Kerrygold cheese, soon to be sold in the Egyptian market. We are also playing some Irish music. We are a country that is fond of singing and dancing,” she said.
“We are also exhibiting selected books from Irish literature by legendary writers George Bernard Shaw and James Joyce. The good news is that we are starting an Irish football team soon in Egypt. We have 30 participants who have submitted their names, and it will play at the Maadi British International School every Friday at 4 pm,” she added.
“We are very happy to enjoy such a harmonious atmosphere with such a breathtaking view of the palace. The idea of bringing people from different cultures together is fantastic. Irish people are very social and open to other cultures, and we are delighted to cooperate with Egypt more, especially since next year we are planning to have direct flights between Dublin and Cairo.”
“Getting to know more about other countries around the world in just one day is definitely a plus for anyone. By getting to know more about other countries, you realise that we all have more things in common. The festival will help us to overcome barriers between nations and bring the world together,” Adel said.
The atmosphere of the Gouter Festival this year was exceptional, and the experience of listening to music played by bands from around the world while savouring mouthwatering food presented by distinct cuisines in the grounds of an extraordinary palace was incomparable.
Each booth displayed a different country’s heritage, while on stage different kinds of music and dancing were performed, including traditional Indian dancing and Russian ballet. The Egyptian group Ayamna Al-Helwa presented a great performance and a beautiful collection of Egyptian songs.
Documentary films projected on big screens strengthened the multicultural atmosphere and presented the cultural heritage of each participating country. There was salsa dancing from Latin America, along with Columbian music, Palestinian folklore, Algerian touristic spots and Indian music shows highlighting the beauty of the traditions of such countries.
The Baron Empain Palace is one of the oldest in Egypt and was built between 1907 and 1911 in a distinctive Hindu style. It reopened its doors to the public in 2020 after restoration and renovation.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 30 September, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly