The city of Bristow might only have an area of three and a half square miles, but the small space still holds quite a bit of interesting history. Even before Oklahoma became a state, Bristow became a destination for Lebanese immigrants.
Today, the town boasts two tabouli factories. Tabouli, a cold salad of bulgur wheat or couscous and chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and onion with lemon juice, is a traditional Lebanese dish.
Bristow celebrates its Lebanese heritage with the annual Tabouleh Festival. Edmond Slyman, together with fellow town resident Rick Root, were the originators of this festival nine years ago, Slyman says.
“It was Rick’s idea at first (even though Slyman is Lebanese) because he wanted to commemorate the heritage,” Slyman says. “My dad came from Lebanon, and my mom was born of Lebanese parents. There’s a large group of Lebanese immigrants in the Creek County area, especially Bristow.”
Slyman says that immigrants grouped there because it was undeveloped.
“The land was virgin territory,” he says. “The people who came from Lebanon were traders, and it was a new opportunity for them.”
In addition to the Tabouleh Festival, Slyman helps keep the Lebanese tradition alive in his restaurant, Freddie’s Bar-B-Q and Steakhouse, located in Sapulpa.
Freddie’s has been in Slyman’s family for more than 50 years, and Slyman himself took over ownership in 1971.
“We serve steak and barbecue at Freddie’s,” he says, “but we’ll give it to you with hummus, or you can have tabouli or a cabbage roll. And we make the tabouli fresh every day. I still handpick the parsley myself!”
Slyman’s involvement at the Tabouleh Festival this year includes the creation of a full Lebanese dinner, including hummus, kashta, pita bread and more.
Bristow resident Nancy Spencer has also been involved with the festival since it began.
“It has grown so much, with the addition of new activities and vendors,” Spencer says of the festival.
The festival is kicked off with a 5k Wildflower Run, with events opening up at the run’s conclusion, Spencer says. She adds that the tabouli bar is one of the festival’s best attractions.
“We set it up with lots of different ingredients, and the festival-goers get to build their own tabouli,” she says.
With this set-up, creators get to experience both traditional and non-traditional mixes and types of tabouli, Spencer says.
“And new this year, we will be selling the tabouli mixes by the quart for customers to take home,” she says.
The festival includes a stage with events scheduled all day, including musicians and belly dancers. A Miss Tabouleh pageant will be held for girls ages 3-18, with a special scholarship prize available for the high schoolers. A kid’s zone will also house carnival games and rides, Spencer says.
Join the fun and get a flavor for Middle Eastern culture at Bristow’s Tabouleh Festival on Saturday, May 11, on Main Street in downtown Bristow.