Last weekend we met up with our friends the Waltons and took a break from all the eating to leave town and visit the Greek Food Festival. We’ve been going with Anthony’s parents for the last four years and although we couldn’t meet up with them this year we weren’t about to miss out.
Before this festival what I knew about Greek culture was limited to what I picked up from the classics. In the town where I live we have large amounts of Assyrian, Indian (Sikh, particularly), Scandinavian, Portuguese and Mexican cultures. I knew very little about Greek culture and, to my mother and aunt’s horror, haven’t even seen the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I am still no expert on Greek culture, but I can say that I love everything I’ve eaten at this festival and we always go back for more.
Since this is a fundraiser for the Greek Orthodox Church, the dinner menu is comprised of staples that can be cooked on a large scale and can be served all day. Each meal starts off with a bracing Greek salad simply dressed with oil and vinegar and spices accented with olives and a rectangular brick of Greek cheese. This cheese is similar to a feta yet unlike the feta I’ve eaten at grocery stores. It is so, so good. The chicken is roasted with deeply flavored spices, the peas appear in a piquant tomato-infused sauce, and the rice pilaf is creamy and sharply lemony at the same time.
In addition to the salad and the main course, each portion also comes with a sticky-rich triangle of baklava and a pillowy hunk of sesame bread. This bread is one of my favorite parts of the meal and it wasn’t until last year that I found the stall in the marketplace outside the dining hall that sells it. I take a wheel of it home every year.
Isobel has recently entered a very picky phase, which is frustrating because she used to eat anything and everything with the speed and gusto of a long-haul trucker. The photo above is from last year and it shows her digging in to her meaty tablet of feta. This year she wouldn’t touch it and all she initially wanted to eat was the chicken (she has yet to eschew any meat) and the cloud-soft bread. By the end of the luncheon she was sitting on my lap digging into the peas and rice and proclaiming them delicious.
Once you finish your dinner you are instructed to roll out the dinning hall and into the marketplace and entertainment hall outside–after first exiting through the bakery, of course. A half dozen or more different kinds of homemade Greek confections line tables around the room and we’ve never successfully made it out without bringing something home. I took home sweet biscotti-like cookie wedges while Anthony grabbed a container of baklava.
We only briefly looked over the jewelry and food in the marketplace before we noticed the main show was about to start. We grabbed the last available table while a waitress came around and took our orders for coffee and dessert. Because as full as we were we weren’t going to miss out on the sharp, tangy mouth-scorchingly hot thick Greek coffee or my favorite dessert ever. The live band started playing and the dancers took the stage as our server delivered steaming hot coffee and the sweet golden honey puffs for dessert.
I am ashamed that I can’t remember the exact name of this treat but it is, hands-down, my favorite thing to eat at the festival. They are shaped like a doughnut and are as golden as the honey syrup it is dunked in. They aren’t soft like doughnut holes, though. They have a crisp fried texture in addition to the soft, yielding dough, and when you bite inside the interior slightly resembles a honeycomb. Isobel assumed they’d be gross but she is such a lover of honey I convinced her to take a bite. THESE ARE MY FAVORITE! she yelled at then ate three of them herself. I don’t remember exactly how many I ate, but I’m sure I disgraced myself.
The kids loved the dancing and while we were watching the show the sky opened up and unleashed heaven’s wrath in the form of a colossal downpour. It had been over 90 degrees the day before and the whole theater was caught off guard. Anthony and Justin went to get our cars which were parked blocks away, and the security guards had closed off entry to the church. This left Angela and I to sprint all the way around from the back of the church in the pouring rain, carrying our very unhappy children in our arms. By the time we reached the covered front of the church we were soaked to the bone, absolutely freezing, and happy to see our husbands pulling the cars into the parking lot.