SF Taste of
Greece Festival All About Choices
|A dancer at the Taste
of Greece festival.
By Paul Redman
no secret. After the 2004 Summer Olympics were held in Athens, the
world rediscovered Greece as one of the cradles of modern culture.
One Greek influence that is less prevalent today, though, is
cooking. For most of us, to eat something Greek means to break our
usual dining pattern. To have more than just a Gyros sandwich
requires even further effort. At the Taste of Greece festival this
year, eating more than a Gyros sandwich meant breaking my usual
festival dining pattern, which calls for eating early and often,
from as many booths as possible.
inside the festival entrance we were greeted by, surprise, a Gyros
stand. Two of my companions fell for it immediately. I, somehow,
steeled myself, knowing like an epic hero that greater rewards
awaited my palate. They uttered no regrets, though, since they were
treated to a wonderful example. There were crisp onions, tomatoes,
and yogurt sauce draped over the sliced meat, served on warm and
slightly oily pita bread.
As we pushed further, past the open stage where
music was played for a troupe of child dancers in traditional garb,
stopping only for a glass of red wine from one booth and a portion
of the flaming cheese known as Saganaki from another, we discovered
the hidden jewel of the festival. It was a school
gymnasium-cum-Greek food court tucked neatly inside the church
compound. The selection and format of the dishes offered were truly
An entire wall of the gymnasium is painted with a
mural of the Acropolis. The azure sky surrounding it filled the
entire room with a warm hue.
island food booths dotting the gym floor, which was otherwise filled
with round tables and chairs for guests. One booth offered Greek
pastry and dessert items, another bottles of Greek wine. There were
even tasting flights for the curious. The piece de resistance, the
two-lane buffet line, snaked along a sidewall of the gym.
|It takes a village,
even at Taste of Greece.
Like so many things in this election year,
choosing from the exceptional selection of Greek dishes was all
about making educated decisions. There was Moussaka, for example,
the traditional ground beef and eggplant pie, or its sister dish,
Pastitsio, distinct for the long round macaroni noodles that stand
in for the eggplant. They were both topped with a golden brown
custardlike crust, almost like a firm soufflé. This unique topping
was in and of itself exotic to the average American palate.
There were small deli containers of feta, tomato,
cucumber and black olive salad, dressed in vinaigrette and seasoned
with oregano, presumably the Greek variety that blankets many of the
There were long skewers of grilled pork, peppers and onions (Souvlakia);
the tiny stuffed grape leaves known as Dolmathe; and even freshly
cooked lamb chops that were a hungry person’s for the taking.
When my guests and I returned to our table in the crowded room, arms
full of our little Greek treasures, we ate and savored passionately,
as people streamed around us and stopped to stare at other’s plates,
or to greet an old friend. Many of the fest-goers were part of the
local Greek community, but that didn’t prevent them from stopping to
talk to my niece, fifteen months old, who was testing out her
walking shoes in the vicinity of our table.
Overall, it was an indulgent festival, a great way to spend a
weekend afternoon during the best weather of the year. It was also a
window into another culture.
So next year,
when the Taste of Greece festival rolls around, make a point to
visit it. You may not be able to afford a trip to Greece anytime
soon, but anybody would do well to pay the festival’s $5 entrance
fee and the cost of a plate of food— it’s worth its weight in gold,
if nothing else, for the memories.
*The Taste of Greece festival is held annually at the Annunciation
Cathedral, located at 245 Valencia Street in San Francisco.