The International Festival of Taste presents the world cuisine of Syracuse

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The expo center is usually 110,000 square feet of open space, but this weekend the floor was transformed into a foodie’s paradise. Local food vendors have settled throughout the center, offering flavors from a wide variety of cultures and countries. Smells of delicious fried foods and sweet treats filled the air as people chomped on food, walking from station to station.

The International Festival of Taste showcased Central New York’s diverse community with food from around the world, as well as live entertainment. It was the first international taste festival in Syracuse, and it drew a large community turnout as soon as the doors of the New York State Fairgrounds opened at noon on Saturday. The event brought together various countries and cultures from around the world, including Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa.

The goal of the International Festival of Taste is to showcase different cultures and cuisines not only found around the world, but also right here in central New York, according to its Facebook page.

Stephanie Pestillo, the event organizer, has a long career in event planning, public relations and community outreach. Pestillo is no stranger to planning a variety of events, but this one “is a whole different area in itself,” as she was planning for a total of 50 vendors, she said.

“In the region, we have so many diverse communities and so many diverse cultures,” Pestillo said. “So we wanted to bring everyone together at an event in one place. Because why not?

There were more than 50 stalls set up in the exhibition center, and some stalls sold freshly prepared food, while others sold handicrafts. The center was divided into eight sections: Artisans and Crafters, Pan-African Cuisine, Foods of the Americas, Middle Eastern Delights, Tastes of Europe, Asian Creations, Children’s Country and Sponsors. There was also a large stage in the center for entertainment.

Each food vendor offered various dishes including at least one sample dish for $2.

Joe Shandrowski, co-owner of Colossal Kielbasa, was just one of five Taste of Europe vendors at the event. His company specializes in homemade perogies, stuffed cabbage, kielbasa and more.
He said he and his brothers started the business in their church as a fundraiser. After much popularity and demand, they decided to turn their kitchen into a limited liability company.

Now, a year and a half later, the company is holding events until December. Shandrowski said the International Festival of Taste was something they looked forward to as a new venture.

“It’s a great way to get our name out there,” Shandrowski said. “Especially since we also do mail orders, it would be a great way to broaden our horizons.”

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Not only did the event feature multiple food stalls, but it also featured live entertainment, artisans and artisans. The event kicked off with the Syracuse Highland Pipe Band and the first night ended with a fireworks display. Other acts included dancers from the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Sophia, Syracuse Central Bellydance School, Rince Na Sonas Irish Dance School and Alex Torres and his Latin Orchestra.

Matthew Balamont, owner of Al Dente’s Pizza, Pasta & More also set up for the festival. His team serves Italian American takeout and were thrilled to be part of the food festival, he said.

“We do a lot for catering with the fairgrounds, so we love it and love coming here,” Balamont said. “We all really love what we do.”

Fair Deli Craft Beer, a local deli that serves classics like reubens and burgers, decided to change things up at the International Festival of Taste by offering Middle Eastern dishes at its stand. Items for sale included bechamel pasta, khichdi, spinach pie, chicken shawarma and knafeh for dessert.

Anne Marie Marji, one of the owners of Fair Deli Craft Beer, the family business, said they opened in 2000 and have worked together ever since. Joining the event at the Expo Center was a great opportunity for Marji and the team to try something different for customers.

“We wanted to share our cultural foods that we don’t put on our daily deli menu. So it was an exceptional day to do it,” said Marji.


The International Festival of Taste has brought many different cultures, customs and cuisines together in one place for everyone in central New York to experience and enjoy.

“I hope the community leaves here feeling like they’ve experienced something different and experienced a different culture or a different type of performance or a different activity that they’ve never experienced before,” said Pestillo.

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