Stepping down the slope of West Hill St., I knew I was in for a cultural experience of food, music and history at the 2019 Greek Festival. Held once every 2 years, this is a highly anticipated event with many looking forward to the lamb dishes that it is well known for. The Bahamas has eateries that serve lamb gryos and souvlaki but there’s nothing like having the lamb cooked, prepared and given straight from the grill or spit fire, where you can taste the rich natural flavor and seasonings. Glancing around, I was ready to find my food picks of the day and indulge in the sights and sounds of the Greek experience.
Entering the hall, there was a mini shop that offered authentic, imported items for chefs and foodies alike such as olive oil, pretzels sticks and crackers, goat cheese, carbonated drinks (blood orange and grape flavored), olives and wild cherry preserves. These items allowed you to visit Greece in your kitchen through preparing dishes using these ingredients. The cultural immersion continued with handmade jewelry, aprons, books and information on their church’s history.
I also loved the Bahamian accents there such as only local produce (supplied by Field to Fork) at the salad bar and vegan cutlery sets. There were also paper cups and straws at the quaint coffee stall where I enjoyed a freshly blended iced coffee.
At Yaiyai’s kitchen showcased home cooked meals made with the love of YaiYai and her team. The menu represented the highly used eggplant ingredient in Greek recipes such as Papoutsakia (eggplant in béchamel sauce) and Moussaka (a casserole dish with eggplant, potatoes, meat and other vegetables). It also offered vegan dishes such as basked chick peas and stuffed bell peppers (grilled with walnuts, mushrooms and rice). The dessert section was filled with delightful treats ranging from cookies and brownies to cheesecake. Most of their desserts are based on the Baklava (layers of phyllo pastry filled with chopped walnuts which is held together by honey or a sweet syrup), and prepared in a variety of ways such as with a shredded pastry top, with a brownie center or drizzled with chocolate. I tried the Kalofagas which resembles a tiramisu and the Karydopita (a walnut cake topped with chopped nuts and drizzled with honey). Both bites had a smooth, moist texture and a subtly sweet flavor.
The outside terraces are where all the freshly roasted, grilled and baked magic happened with options such as grilled octopus, fried calamari rings, steamed mussels, pizza (seafood and Greek), gyros and souvlakis. I went against my usual event 2 Day event rule (always go on the 1st day so you can fully experience all vendors and items without missing out) and ended up missing out on the fried smelts as they were sold out from the day before. As I watched the whole lamb being roasted, relaxing tunes played live on the stage and truly felt as though I was on a hilltop overlooking the beach and homes in Greece. Awaking from this thought, I viewed the menu and ordered the spit roasted lamb which was served hot and in its own juices, leaving the meat moist and flavorful. It was served with a side of coleslaw, lemon wedges and topped with tahini cream and a green garlic and parsley sauce which was the perfect complement to the meat.
Despite the wave of food options, I was able to stick to my budget of $30 (with the exception of the entrance fee of $10) and have a little bit of everything, including food (2 desserts, freshly roasted lamb and stuffed bell pepper), drinks (frappe and a chilled carbonated beverage) and culture. Food prices ranged from $5 - $25 (smoked sea bass) and desserts were $1 - $6 (with the highly recommended cheesecake at $6).
Although many believe that the Greek Festival is about food (mind you the food is DELICIOUS!) it’s also about the history, culture (seen in music and dance) and spiritual beliefs (found in the Greek Orthodox Church, the grounds for the event) that surrounds it. They act in unity and support each other, are gracious and humble with each other and guests, and they use this festival to not only their cooking (in the native words/language) but also the essence of who they are. Surrounding their stalls are pamphlets welcoming and thanking guests for attending the festival and highlighting the different aspects that they will enjoy by being there.
The festival was a small taste of the welcoming and inclusive approach that the Greeks have among all. It’s an event that I will continue to attend, learn from and recommend to anyone looking to enjoy a distinct subculture found within the Bahamas.
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