by Tiffany Hyman
Celebrate Greek and other cultures, c'mon!
See what all the fuss is about at the seventh annual Mediterranean Festival on Friday, July 22, through Sunday, July 24. Sponsored by St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church, the fest takes place on the church grounds, 1073 Saunders Settlement Road in the Town of Lewiston. It offers delicious food, lively activities and great music from various Middle Eastern cultures throughout the weekend.
"Here at 'Med Fest,' we have something for everyone," said an enthusiastic Denise Filosofos, chairperson for the festival. "There's a ton of food and a variety of things to do."
Toula Portokalos, main character from "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" once said, "Greek girls are supposed to do three things in life: marry Greek boys, make Greek babies and feed everyone until the day we die." Well, maybe Toula exaggerated a bit with Greek boys and babies, but she was spot-on with the cultural tradition of feeding everyone. At Med Fest, guests will be able to enjoy the many delectable dishes from Greek, Lebanese and Arabic cultures.
"I promise we don't skimp on food," joked Filosofos. "All our food is homemade."
"People just love Middle Eastern food and go crazy over it," said Rachelle Fadel, chairperson of the basket auction.
Filosofos, Fadel and fellow cooks and bakers have prepared for the event since Sunday. Of the many famous dishes, a few include souvlaki, a combination platter, and tabouleh.
Souvlaki is a famous Greek food made up of meat or chicken, garnished with sliced tomatoes and onions, doused with tzatziki sauce and wrapped in a grilled pita. The dish has been a best seller for the past six years.
"Souvlaki is famous around Niagara County," said Filosofos. "People love it and are there when they hear the word."
"Chicken souvlaki is just wonderful - it's our star dish," said Fadel. "We certainly draw a crowd for that."
No man should go hungry. For the bigger appetites, dive into the combo platter. Guests can choose from kibbee, a Lebanese mix of spiced meats and bulgur, a whole-grain and cracked wheat protein baked together; or spanakopita, a Greek spinach pie made of chopped spinach, feta cheese, onions, scallions, eggs and seasoning layered in filo. Each of the entrees comes with falafel, a deep-fried patty made from chickpeas and fava beans, and stuffed grape leaves. The meal could not be complete without bread. Not to worry - the platter is served with pita bread and hummus.
"You get a little of everything in the combo platter," said Filosofos.
Tabouleh is not only a healthy salad, but tasty as well. The Lebanese salad is mixed with vegetables and spices. It consists of bulgur, parsley and mint, tomatoes and spring onions, topped with lemon juice and olive oil.
"I love tabouleh," said Fadel. "It's so delicious and healthy."
Life is short - treat your sweet tooth to dessert. The festival features scrumptious, mouth-watering desserts sure to satisfy everyone's after-dinner craving. A few include baklava, a rich pastry made of layers of filo, topped with nuts and sweetened with syrup and honey; kourabiethes, a luscious shortbread cookie dipped in confectioner's sugar and topped with almonds; koulourakia, a butter-based, hand-shaped pastry topped with an egg glaze and sweetened with a hint of vanilla; and an all-time favorite, loukoumades. Loukoumades is a Greek pastry, similar to sweet fritters, deep-fried and topped with honey syrup and sprinkled with cinnamon and nuts.
"This dessert is a huge hit," said Filosofos.
"People go crazy over loukoumades," said Fadel.
In addition to all the amazing food, the festival will also feature live music, great dancers and activities for the whole family.
Music this year will be performed by the Adriatic Braca Band. The group performs a variety of songs from different genres, such as Greek, Lebanese, Mediterranean, Irish and rock 'n roll. This is the first year the Lackawanna-based band will provide their fun and festive music for the event.
"We are very much excited to have them," said Filosofos. "They are very good."
Dance the night away. The dancers, sometimes referred to as the "St. George Dancers," consist of a group of talented young women who perform impressive dance routines from various cultures. Elizabeth Kinan is one of the dancers. With more than 12 years experience, she brings uniqueness and creativity to the performance. Of the many dance numbers, Kinan is fond of one in particular: debkeh.
Debkeh is an Arabic folk line dance. The leader uses a handkerchief to guide the other dancers as they keep the rhythm.
"It's a part of culture," said Kinan. "I love the physical aspect to it."
"People get up and start dancing," said Filosofos.
One of the dancers is Kinan's four-year-old niece, Mattingly. Kinan is thrilled to perform with Mattingly, as well as dancers from Lebanese and Palestinian cultures.
"We have so much fun incorporating different cultural groups all as one," said Kinan.
The dance performances take place Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 1 and 3 p.m.
Activities will be held both inside and outside the church. Be sure to participate in the basket auction, where guests will have the opportunity to choose from more than 100 baskets. The proceeds will go towards the Heart Center of Niagara at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center and the Breast Cancer Society at Mount St. Mary's Hospital and Health Center.
"We've given quite a bit (over) the years," said Fadel. "Our church is the only church donor around. We're very proud."
Once again, the fest will feature Yaiyai and Sittoo's Attic. Gently used items are available for purchase.
"They're things you'd find in your grandma's attic," joked Filosofos.
Parents can party and enjoy the beer and wine tents while the children part ways to Kid's Village. Kid's Village offers fun and games for all ages. A few of the many activities available will be a bounce house, slides and face painting, plus hot dogs to eat.
"It keeps the kids busy while parents are off doing their own thing," said Filosofos.
Filosofos and Fadel encourage all to attend Med Fest.
"Guests get to enjoy the taste and sound of the Mediterranean culture, meet a lot of nice people and dance and eat 'til you can't do it anymore," said Filosofos.
"It's a great way to experience new culture, and the prices are reasonable compared to other cultured festivals," said Fadel.
The festival will take place on Friday from 5 to 11 p.m., Saturday from noon to 11 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 7 p.m.
For more information on the Mediterranean Festival, call 297-2668.