A little while back our head Chicken Thief was given a challenge from the East Coast parts from whence he hailed. Rumor had it that a Greek Festival had been and was taking place back in Portsmouth, NH that some where saying could rival the Salt Lake City Greek Festival. As the two were close in total annual years operating (Portsmouth has an edge at 41 versus Salt Lake’s 40), some where suggesting that Portsmouth’s could out do the taste temptations and fun atmosphere observed in Salt Lake. We at Chicken Thief Kitchens disagree! Those in Portsmouth know bettah, as they once lived in Salt Lake for multiple years and know what it truly means to say Opa! in Salt Lake.
For 40 years, the Greek Orthodox Church of Greater Salt Lake has staged their Festival at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in downtown Salt Lake, for the enjoyment of locals and tourist, foodies and all around fun seekers! Here are some sights and sounds from this year, but believe me…within two blocks the senses come alive more by being there in person. While you walk by, just on the other side of a fence, a Greek delicacy tempts you to enter. But let’s get to why this Festival is here for all to enjoy.
During 1905 an intensive campaign was initiated by Greeks in the area of Salt Lake to raise funds for a new church. Having settled in areas along 1st, 2nd, and 3rd South, between 2nd and 6th West (later known as Greek Town) in downtown Salt Lake, the Greek Community was looking for a worshiping place of their own. On October 29, 1905 the Holy Trinity Cathedral was consecrated, the ceremony attended by around 1,000 from the Intermountain Region. Over a 100 years, this strong group has evolved into the thriving community it is today.
A tour of the Cathedral (offered during the Festival) finds many beautiful frescoes and art work adorning the interior of the Cathedral. The basement houses a museum dedicated to the Greek community of the greater Salt Lake area. The Greek Community’s history and culture comes alive, not only in the beautiful artwork but also in the Festival offerings each year.
Since 1975, the Greek Community has brought to the folks of Salt Lake City a Festival that provides opportunities for all to enjoy. As noted by their Parish Council President, Alicia Mares, The annual Salt Lake Greek Festival has evolved from its humble beginnings as a bazaar in the basement of the Cathedral showcasing handcrafted items into one of the country’s finest Greek Festivals. The sights, sounds and taste sensations of the various regions of Greece are brought forward in the music, dance, and foods provided by the Community and the people themselves.
The youth groups of the Community bring many of the traditional dances of the Greek homeland alive for the Festival goers during the whole weekend. Traditional Greek dances such as the Hassapikos (a dance in which the dancers imitate soldiers in preparation for battle), Kalamatianos (a dance embodying the sense of Spring and resurrection, hailing from the City of Kalamata), Kritiko Syrto (a Cretan dance reflecting the peaceful Cretan spirit and refined vigor of Crete as an ancient sea power), the Tsamikos (a dance coming from separate regions of Greece, showing the talent of the men and women) and of course the Zorba (a contemporary dance made up of two ancient
dances the Hassapikos and the Hassaposervikos, both of which representing unity and friendship) are brought to life with great precision! Enjoy the dancers from Dionysios, Olympian, Athenian, Parthenon and Minotavros groups throughout the festival. The music is a joy as well, some live sets play out each day.
Want to do a little shopping, stop by the Hellenic Cultural Center and take in the Bazaar which includes many fun and tasty goods. One can shop for Festival
mementos, handcrafts from the Community including knit goods and jewelry, cook books and Greek grocery staples. The Bazaar history of the Festivals past is still alive. Keep an eye out for the odd ball item, this year there was an Irish flag for sale in the Bazaar! How bizarre!
Okay foodies, we have come to that point we all wait 365 days for. . . To say that the Greeks have some fabulous dishes does not do justice. You HAVE to come to Salt Lake next Sept. 9-11, 2016 to understand what these words and pictures try to capture. You cannot understand the flavors the abound during this Festival, this is just an attempt to provide you an limited understanding
You may have to wait in line, but believe me, whether its the inside a-la-carte menu offerings, the outside vendor stations along the a-la-carte line serving Loukaniko (Greek pork sausage flavored with fennel, clove and orange), Greek Fries (seasoned with rosemary and salt), Loukoumathes (Manna from Heaven, not be sacrilegious but these Greek donuts drenched with honey and sprinkled with cinnamon are a must), or Tyropitas (phyllo dough stuffed with a feta cheese blend), or the Roasted Lamb Station, you will eat well.
From the a-la-carte menu you can get all sorts of treats, that will have you saying…More in twenty! From Calamari and Dolmathes (tender grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice), to Keftethes (baked meatballs seasoned with oregano, mint and tomato sauce), Pastitsio (Greek style lasagna), Souvlaki, and Spanakopita (spinach cheese pie with feta). These begin to satiate ones appetite, but hold on!
Who wants the winning dish? This one you have to see, smell, and taste for yourself. If there were words they would be, Φάτε και να είναι χαρούμενα (Eat and Be Merry!).
When the Greeks created culture, politics, society in general, they brought along with these advances lessons learned from the field on how to prepare meat that cannot be outdone. Tending flocks of sheep, the farmers took locally grown herbs and spices and blended such in a way that makes a roasted lamb a fantastic piece of art! When you come you must, you MUST, partake of a roasted lamb dinner which comes with a Greek dressed tomato and cucumber salad, roll, feta and olives. There is no more of a primeval meal
than freshly roasted meat, seared on a spit over an open flame. Lamb can be prepared in the kitchen, but this is money! (to quote a fellow foodie and Chef, Chef Guy Fieri).
Plan your trip, come out to Salt Lake next fall, and make sure you stop by the Salt Lake City Greek Festival. Pickup a cook book, purchase some sweet treats in the bakery from the Yaiyai’s (there is more to Greek baked goods than just Baklava) to take home, grab a glass of wine or beer, some food, bring your friends, and enjoy the sights and sounds. Eat and be Merry!