A whiff of baking bread smells like comfort food anywhere in the world.
At Polkas and Bread, a micro-festival organized by Tucson Meet Yourself, cooks from six cultures will roll out their own take on the doughy staple, sharing similarities and differences in tradition.
The polka part of the Saturday festival involves another cultural dialogue, this one between Polish and Tohono O’odham musicians and dancers.
Unlike October’s sprawling Tucson Meet Yourself festival, this one zeroes in on a handful of cultures. It is a cultural fusion.
“Tucson Meet Yourself is so big that it doesn’t have the feel of the older days when it was smaller and you could feel like you were part of an intimate gathering of something special,” said Maribel Alvarez, the Tucson Meet Yourself program director.
As the fall festival has ballooned in the last several years (growing into its nickname “Tucson Eat Yourself”), festival workers have chewed on this idea of micro-festivals. Polkas and Bread is the first in this series of smaller festivals that focuses more on education and less on entertainment. Alvarez hopes a Drums and Dumplings festival will follow in July.
Like at any good festival, expect nosh-worthy nibbles. The six cooks will work simultaneously, set up in a large circle to chat with visitors while they bake. Food sales of breads and accompanying side dishes will be separate from demonstrations.
“We’re getting people who are proficient cooks but are interested in educating the public about what they’re making, what they experience in finding ingredients here and what it means to them and their communities,” said Priscilla Mendenhall, the coordinator of the Tucson Meet Yourself Cultural Kitchen.
Tohono O’odham waila band Gertie and the T.O. Boyz and the Lajkonik Polish Folk Ensemble will keep the mood lively with polka music, setting the stage for a musical conversation between the groups.
“The rhythm makes you get up and do the steps, however you do them,” said Joanna Schmit, the founder and artistic director of the Lajkonik Polish Folk Ensemble. “That’s how polka is. You dance polka in all sorts of different rhythms, but there is a beat that just makes you go and dance.”