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article imageOp-Ed: Greek Food Festival in San Francisco is Best in the city Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Sep 26, 2011 in Food
San Francisco - Each year on a busy section of Valencia Street in San Francisco's Mission District, the people gather for three days and celebrate with dancing and music and lots of home made Greek food. This is one of "the Best" food festivals in San Francisco.
Moussaka, Pastitsio, Yemista, dolmas and of course for dessert, Baklava served with Ellinikos Kafes, coffee Greek style. These along with kalamata olives and Feta cheese are staples at just about any food festival, especially this one at the Annunciation Cathedral on Valencia Street at 14th Street. The entire church and many in the local Greek community gather to celebrate, sing, dance and to share their food and culture with everyone. Festivals like these help raise funds not only for the church but also for the local Greek community.
As a close-knit community, they believe in helping one another and upholding long-standing traditions, like charity and hospitality. Festivals help strengthen their commitments to one another and give witness to the outside community that they care and contribute to the well-being of the City.
The festival is held in late September when the fog has passed. The weather at the start of the three-day festival from Sept. 23 to 25 this year, was summer-like and for San Francisco early fall is summer time. Usually fog dominates the peak of summer from mid-June through August. So to have sunshine for an event or celebration is a welcome change for most San Franciscans.
Late afternoon is the best time to attend the festival as this reporter has observed from previous years attending the festival. The parking lot of the church is large enough to accommodate a stage for music, booths for crafts and lots of tables and chairs for people to sit and yes, plenty of room to dance. Traditional dances are usually performed by various groups, most affiliated with the church. Yet in the late afternoon begins the dancing for everyone to enjoy, even those who have never danced at a festival before.
Music and dancing often goes on well into the night ending at 10 PM. But mostly all of the people are in attendance for the food.
Local San Franciscan, professor Steve Georgiou and his relatives have been attending the food festival at Annunciation Cathedral for many years. His food favorite is the Loukoumades, little donuts drenched with honey. Served with Greek style coffee, they are very satisfying for any sweet tooth. While there are Greek Food festivals in many places this is the only one in San Francisco.
The festival entitled "A Taste of Greece" provides an opportunity for the Greek community to gather and celebrate. Yet it also provides an opportunity to share their culture and hospitality with the outside world.
The only draw back to the festival, is that prices have gone up. Reviewers on Yelp and others, even this reporter all note that it can get costly when feasting on the outstandingly delicious food items.
Yet as any wise consumer knows, it is all in what one buys that makes the difference. For example, buying a salad is not the best choice because, salad is simple and can be made easily. Garnishes like extra olives, feta cheese, potatoes and such, these are everyday food stuffs that can be bought anywhere. Yet speciality dishes like the Moussaka are worth the price. This reporter was told by Georgiou and others, that the word Moussaka is pronounced in three syllables with an inflection on the a as in "ah!"
Another favorite specialty (for this reporter) is the stuffed bell pepper, which one of the servers in the food line recommended. When this reporter jokingly said, "this is far better than 'Stouffer's', she laughingly said, "that's a word we don't use around here." "Everything you see here is homemade by us," she said. Two cafeteria style food lines are set up in the church's auditorium to accommodate the crowds.
"There have been times, certain food dishes got sold out," said Tim Vigil. He has been to the food festival several times. And, he noted to this reporter that, "one year I attended, the line for food was all the way out the door. I especially like the roasted chicken, it is so good," said Vigil.
Some dishes are truly specialties like Pastitso. Local realtor Susan Morris explained, "Pastitso is traditionally served during the winter holidays and Easter." "It is very much like the Greek version of lasagna and the layering is very similar but every cook is passionate about the order of the layers and how long to wait until the sauce is cool enough to begin assembly," she said. "it's nice and rich, said Morris, the most important thing is being able to multi-task and not rush any of the steps," she said.
Which also means that the preparation is perhaps one of the key ingredients. Since this is the only Greek food festival in San Francisco, the three-day celebration is prepared months in advance. Georgiou's relatives Christopher and Martha Manitsas (his aunt and uncle) explained to this reporter once at a previous year's festival, that many people volunteer their time and all is coordinated and planned sometimes as far as six months in advance.
Those flaky, flavorful pastries and entree dishes that are made with phyllo dough, that when baked turns into a delicious culinary delectable sensation, seem simple. Yet according to Georgiou's cousins, Steve and Karen Manitsas, phyllo dough is not easy to work with. Karen explained, “the times that I have cooked with it I get my husband to help.” The large sheets are very thin and break very easily. “It is so difficult to work with and almost need the team effort,” said Karen.
Preparing some of the Greek foods such as stuffed grape leaves and various dishes with phyllo dough can be labor intensive. Aunt Martha explained,“making a few dozen is pleasure, yet making hundreds at a time, that can be tedious,” This is why a community effort is essential.
But seeing the community gather together and everyone dancing, singing and celebrating the amount of work is worth the success of the festival. Each year the food festival feeds well over 500 to 1,000 or more people during its three-day run (a Friday to Sunday), usually the last weekend in September or the first weekend in October.
"This was my first time to the food festival," said Cornelia de Schepper. "the food was delicious, especially the pastries and coffee," she said. As a world traveler, de Schepper has been to Greece and many places, but prefers to call San Francisco home. It is events and celebrations like the annual "A Taste of Greece" food festival that makes San Francisco one of the best places to be.
The festival is sponsored by Annunciation Cathedral each year. Major credit cards are accepted. But some vendors prefer cash. This year free standing ATM machines were available. Valet parking is offered for a fee. Metered street parking is very limited, especially on weekends. But with the BART station only a few blocks away and several MUNI bus lines that run along Valencia Street, public transit is perhaps most convenient.
Admission is $5.00, yet a free admission ticket can be obtain in advance through the web site.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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