by Terrance Mc Arthur
That’s the Greek equivalent of Olé, Whoopee, and Cowabunga!
For me, it means “Look out! Here comes the 2014 Fresno Greek Food Festival!”
Fresno has many festivals highlighting different cultures that make up the Valley’s unique style, including Hmong, African–American, Serbian, and Armenian. Every August, the St. George Greek Orthodox Church has a weekend-long festival of food, dancing, shopping, and fun for all…and it’s time! August 22 to 24, 4 p.m. to midnight on Friday, 11am to midnight on Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. You’ll meet lots of people. You’re bound to see someone you know, and you’ll make new friends while waiting in line or dancing. This is your opportunity to be “Greek for a Day!”
Admission to the festival grounds is only $5, but it’s free if you’re 65 or older, or under 12. The festival isn’t expensive to get into, but there are many ways to spend your money once you are inside.
O, the wonders of Greek food! I love to start off with dolmades, stuffed grape leaves…and Fresno is a good place for grape leaves! My favorite dish is spanakopita, a spinach-filo-feta cheese festival on your plate (Filo is paper-thin dough stacked to the desired thickness), and a close second is moussaka, made with layers of eggplant and ground meat. Sausage, chicken, and lamb shank each tempt the taste buds, and don’t forget pastichio (Greek macaroni & cheese with meat), tiropita (a filo-wrapped feta pie), salads, or the ever-tasty Greek olives. These dishes are featured indoors at the a la carte tables, but there is more at outdoor booths.
Under tents and awnings, you can find gyro sandwiches (where pressed meats are carved from vertical spits), souvlaki (meat on a stick), fried calamari (squid), pork chops, and vegetarian plates, or you might try Greek coffee or an adult beverage.
Before dessert, I like to wander the Agora, a bazaar filled with booths where you can buy dresses, Russian nesting dolls, ceramics, necklaces, earrings, adornments for your favorite belly dancer, antenna toppers, and more, as well as finding second-hand treasures. As part of walking off your meal, you can also purchase tickets for the raffles, your chance to win wondrous prizes.
It’s Dessert Time!
You can satisfy your sweet tooth with ice cream or frappes, but a Greek Food Festival is just a dinner without baklava! Ooey, gooey layers of filo dough drenched in honey! Yummy! There are many sweets and pastries, such as galaktoboureko (custard in filo, like a flan with a crust). For fun, try Greek yogurt with cantaloupe, drizzled with honey. Ooooh! Try kourabiedes, fluffy little shortbread cookies, coated with lots of powdered sugar; don’t inhale when you eat them, or your lungs will turn so white, they’ll look like winter at China Peak! And there’s MORE!
Let’s Dance!We can’t all be Zorba the Greek, but we can do his dance. A large area is set aside for dancing—watching and doing it. There are dance demonstrations to see, but the real fun is learning how to do the steps to live music by The Olympians. These are line dances, and everybody does the same thing…or tries to. Rows of people get up to follow the instructions of the people who know how to do it, and the King of getting people to dance is that master of masters of ceremonies, the man who seems to remember every person who lives in the San Joaquin Valley, Channel 26’s Kopi Sotiropolous! He’s everywhere you go at the festival, and he’s easy to spot in his Greek skirt outfit. Look for his red shoes!
What Else Can I Do?
Of course, the Greek dancing is a big draw, but there are other interesting things happening at the festival. Take a tour of St. George Greek Orthodox Church, listen to a concert of Byzantine chants and other music, or watch a cooking demonstration. Take good notes, and you can learn to make such dishes as dolmades, spanakopita, moussaka, Greek salad, pastichio, and Greek coffee. There are even lessons in making baklava, taught by none other than Kopi Sotiropolous! On Sunday at 9:30am, you can go to a church service (respectful attire requested).
What About the Kids?
The Fresno Greek Food Festival isn’t just grown-up fun. There are activities for the young (and young at heart). Bounce Houses, Slides, Joust, Face Painting, Wooden Model Building, Hand-Dip Candle-making, Leather-working, Gold Panning, Gemstone Search, Bubbles, Arts/Crafts, X-Box Kinect-Just Dance & Just Dance Competition, Carnival Games, and Movies are waiting at modest prices.
St. George’s is on N. Orchard Ave., just south of Clinton Ave., one block west of First St., behind the Fresno Art Museum. Additional parking is available at the Veterans’ Hospital at Clinton & Fresno, with free shuttle service. It’s a fund-raiser for the church, it’s a cultural experience, and it’s fun!
Check out more food articles and more of Terrance’s Great Food Search column in our Food Fun section.