This past Saturday I went to a Greek food festival at a Greek Orthodox Church with my friend Christina (who is first generation Greek on her father’s side). The Greek festival was an entirely new experience for me. The music, the people, and the food – I was completely surrounded by a culture that was not my own. The smells were amazing, and the line of people waiting outside for food was around 30 people deep. Christina and I got in the food line as soon as we arrived – the delicious smell of lamb demanded our immediate attention. She asked me what I wanted, and I realized that I couldn’t understand most of their menu! “Souvlaki”, “Gyro” and “Loukoumades”, none of them were familiar. I told Christina to get me whatever she was getting.
Christina ordered us two gyros and then started explaining the names. “Souvlaki” meant ‘skewer’ in Greek, and they would give you a stick of roast meat – you could have chicken, pork, or lamb. “Gyro” came from the Greek word for ‘turning’ or ‘circle’, and they roasted the meat on a rotating spit, shaving off the outside as it cooked, then serving it to us in a warm pita with Tzatziki (Greek yogurt). “Loukoumades” means ‘sweet mouthful’ and were tiny balls of fried doughnut batter dipped in honey. Christina instructed me that I had to sprinkle mine with cinnamon, because ‘it’s the only way to eat them’.
While we ate our lunch, we looked at some of the clothing stalls that had been set up. There was a stall selling inflatable SpongeBob balloons, light sabers, and other flashy, carnival style trinkets. This stall had not catered to its Greek audience, but was still drawing lots of attention from kids. Right next to it was a stall selling particularly Russian designs – Matryoshka dolls, Celtic dancing dresses, etc. Initially this confused me, but Christina pointed out that the Russian Orthodox church is fairly similar to the Greek orthodox church, and so many of the Russian orthodox would also attend this festival, and this stall was catering to those guests. More stands followed, selling lovely gold jewelry and pendant necklaces with Greek letters. Christina wears one exactly like it every day – to me and many others at our school, it looks like the English letter X, but in actuality is the Greek letter “chi”, the first letter of her name. In the lower level of the church, there was a huge bake sale going on – I didn’t manage to get all the names of the different sweet and savory pastries, but Christina told me her favorites were baklava and spanakopita.
At the end of the tent, there was a large stage set up with a space for Greek dancing, which would take place later that night. According to Christina, Greek children, instead of or in addition to typical Sunday school classes, learn how to do several Greek dances. Although she refused to show me any, she’s currently the assistant instructor at her church for the 5-7 year old dance class. While we were there, music was playing over a loud speaker and a little girl about 4 years old was showing off her limited Greek dance ability. The dancing becomes a competition for students involved in GOYA – the Greek Orthodox Youth Association.
I’ve learned a lot about my friend Christina from this experience – she takes pride in who she is and the part she plays in the Greek Church, and she really loved the chance to share that with me. I can’t wait until I get to take Christina to dim sum where she can taste cha shao bao, or to the lion dance on Chinese New Year where she can see the lion welcoming in the new year and get her chance to feed the lion with ‘lucky money’. Hopefully the culture sharing between the two of us can continue to occur!