You’ve seen this one before: a Greek Orthodox Church grounds decked head to toe in the blue and white colors of the Greek flag, hoards wearing Greek flag hats and T-shirts, long lines at entry points to the festivities and kids scrambling in with ease because their traditional Greek costume is their free entry pass. No matter where you live, you can find a Greek festival near you. They are like Starbucks. You could travel across America and find a Greek Festival every month of the year, except December, when even Greeks take a holiday break.
Greek festivals are something else. All those kids dancing with kefi (high energy) while battling the heat in their heavily layered costumes. Booths and shops displaying wares from far away Greece—or Astoria, New York. And let’s be honest, you know the crown jewel of any Greek Fest are the delicious Greek treats, eats, and drinks.
If you are not Greek, you’ve been dreaming about that deep fried crispy calamari since last year’s festival. You’re fine with standing in any kind of line to get to it just as you always have. If you are Greek, you’ve already eaten a year’s supply of gyros and baklava just this month, so you’re either a dancer, a parent of a dancer. Or maybe a food line volunteer. In the end, you are really there to celebrate your culture and to make sure everyone has the times of their lives. In the end, everyone there does what Greeks do best: We have the times of our lives and we live life to the fullest. We love sharing that with everyone else. Care to join in?
I have never missed Salt Lake City’s Greek festival, one of the country’s largest and most successful Greek festivals. Let me give you some pointers to amp up your experience.
- Fill your plate with vegetables and finger food. Every Greek festival will have them. Load up on salates or fasolakia. Tiropita and spanakopita are the perfect introductions to getting comfortable in your surroundings. Sure, they can be messy, but we provide napkins! Add cheese and olives and loosen your belt a notch.
- Greeks love meat (what do you mean you don’t eat no meat?) so you’ll definitely be able to protein-load at any Greek festival. Follow your nose. The best options, skewered and grilled or baked, feature lamb (spit roasted in SLC, btw!), chicken or pork. And if you’ve been craving that gyro, now’s the time to get yours.
- Greek festivals and carbs also go hand and hand. You’re likely going to find rice pilafi, pastitsio, and patates. Not to mention an assortment of pitas and bread. My suggestion is pick a favorite and stick to it. If you eat both potatoes and rice your belly won’t have the all-day capacity to eat. Because dessert.
- Greek desserts are world famous. We have baklava, rizogalo, kataifi, galaktoboureko, loukoumades, melomakarona and need I go on? I’m not even going to list all the rest because we just want to eat them, right? Fill your plate with samples of different desserts and eat just eat one or two and then save the rest to take home. Or take them to a neighbor’s home for good cheer. Or bring them back to your festival table and share them with everyone around you. You will make many friends. Sit Nibble on a koulourakia, dip it in your Greek coffee and enjoy.
- Which brings me to my final tip. How to wash down all that food? At most Greek festivals, the coffee, sodas, beers, wine and alcohol will all entice you. Have a drink, but why dull the impact of delicious food and great company by tying one on and troubling the security guards? Nothing ruins any party faster than a loud drunk. I want to taste as many food offerings as I can and still remember them. It may be a party, but remember, a Greek festival is not a frat party.
And here’s a bonus tip: Get up and walk around. Make more room for melomakarona. No that’s not a zippy Greek dance, it’s a Greek cookie, remember? And hey, if they’ll allow it, join the Greeks for a dance or two, even if you don’t know the steps. Eventually the band or MC will play Zorba and for just those few minutes you’ll spin and turn like a pro. Sure, that’s overstating it, but it’s fun, right? Parea, chatting, dancing and eating—it’s all Greek to me.