The Greek Fest wins over this Iranian-American girl by Shadi Kafi

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Karolina Breit (left) and Shadi Kafi. Greek Festival, Rochester, June 6, 2016

The Annual Greek Festival of Rochester was held at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church , 962 East Avenue, this past weekend. Despite the rain on Sunday June 5th, hundreds were present casually strolling, shopping for Greek art, jewelry and pastries, listening to the Greek live band and enjoying the live dance shows.

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Homemade Baklava, Kourambiedes (Butter Almond Cookies), Kataifi (Mixed Cinnamon, Walnuts and Honey) and Melomakarona (Honey Walnut Cookies) handmade by dozens of Church Volunteers

According to Maria Aslaui-Breit, President of the Festival Committee:

Next year we are celebrating 100 years in Rochester! This is our main fundraiser of the year. It’s always the weekend after Memorial Day. We get between 15,000 to 40,000 people over four days. We are so grateful and give back to the community. Every year we have a featured charity that gets $5,000.00 and our previous charities, receive $1,000.00 each. In total we give $15,000.00 to $20,000.00to Rochester charities. This year’s featured charity is The Society for the Protection and Care of Children.

Over the years, the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church has donated more than $200,000.00 to charities.yogurt

The delicious, homemade displays of Greek food were enough to make festival attendance well worth the efforts on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

The sign OPA! Greek Yogurt caught my attention immediately. As an Iranian-American, yogurt is a huge part of every Iranian meal, often homemade from milk left overnight at room temperature, then refrigerated.

Persian yogurt is mixed with cucumbers to make Mast-O- Khiar or garlic and shallots to make Mast-O- Musir. Or my ultimate favorite Borani Esfanaj (recipe): Persian yogurt mixed with spinach.

It’s delicious taste reminded me of making yogurt with Persian family in the kitchen. I thought, “Let’s see how the Greek mixologists use yogurt. This can’t be Chobani!”

As Karolina Breit exlained:

SODA

Award-winning Greek soda to wash down the Greek honey.

We sell imported Greek yogurt from a Greek family farm in Canada. The farmers are from Crete and they use the exact process they use in Crete. It is strained and kept very thick. People love it because you can’t find this in the store. Traditionally Greeks love honey and walnuts on yogurt and Greek honey is the best, much thicker than any American honey.

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Karolina Breit and me, Greek Yogurt with Honey and Walnut comes close to Baroni Esfenaj .

It was delicious but I still vote Baroni Esfenaj as #1 in my heart! This yogurt can tie for 1st though!

Strolling along I got the backstage pass to learning main food preparation for the Greek festival.  According to Peter Stamatis, head chef for the event:

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Peter Stamatis, head chef, Rochester Greek Festival

We ordered 300 more lamb shank last night and will be out in a few hours today. It goes incredibly fast! We add celery, carrots, onions, garlic, diced tomatoes, chicken stock and drippings from the lamb roasting and roast for two and a half hours. People love it!

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Loukoumades, fried Greek honey puffs The event depends on hundreds of volunteers who work hard backstage to prepare and cook fresh foods to serve to Rochester guests.

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Spanokapita, Greek pastry pies being made by a dedicated volunteer, solely in charge of the ovens

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“Most people don’t know their Italian olive oil is blended but Greek olive oil is pure and mine comes from my family farm in Lakonia, Greece. We ship worldwide and you can taste the difference.” Antonios Kasandrinos, owner Kouzini Foods

So whether you came out and enjoyed the eclectic variety of handmade pastries, yogurt, ice cream,main meals such as Lamb Shank, Chicken Soufledas, Spanokopita or simply came to stroll and listen to the music, there was definitely the familiarity and energy of a genuine Greek family working hard behind the scenes at the Rochester Greek Festival this year!

For me, that was key to giving all the foods more flavor and more importantly, giving everyone a greater curiosity and greater appreciation for Greek culture in our lovely city!

 

 

 

 

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Thanks for bringing leftovers from the Greek Fest and the story to Starbucks, Talker’s off site headquarters at the Twelve Corner’s Starbucks. [Photo: Starbucks staff]