May 18, 2014

A Lovely Day of Loukoumades and Live Music!

I can't resist a good festival and every year in May the Oakland Greek Festival tempts me with delicious food, great music and amazing atmosphere. It's my favorite local festival! The venue, Oakland's Greek Orthodox Church, provides a surprisingly pleasant atmosphere. Besides the beautiful modern Byzantine church that is open for visits, there is a wonderful outdoor patio. I've never seen a church with such style. It must be a Greek thing!

The Greeks really know how to live it up! The festival's tag line "It's great to be Greek {even just for a weekend}" says it all. It seems the entire local Greek-American community turns out for this event, along with others who want to soak up their joyous culture.

As you walk up to the venue, you hear lively Greek melodies in the background. Then arriving at the ticket booth by the "windmill", you're greeted by a friendly Spartan. He has a fabulous costume despite the questionable placement of his name tag. I was already smiling before I even entered the event.

The happy energy bursts from every corner. I wish that I could bottle up this ambience and save it for a rainy day. Friends sip glasses of Santorini wine while sharing good jokes. Families enjoy dinner on the sunny terrace overlooking the San Francisco Bay. Little kids play on the patio and sometimes make accidental cameo appearances during the live performances. Everyone is invited onto the dance floor to take part in the traditional Greek dancing, where dancers hold hands and follow around in a circle. 

The festival does a great job with the entertainment, featuring live music on the Platia stage and in the Taverna. The musicians pay tribute to Greece's ancient musical heritage. The Takis Kokotas Band has a bouzouki virtuouso, Alekos Galas. Two performers who grew up attending the Ascension church, Margarita and Giuliana, display amazing vocal talent. The band Mediterranean Soul also has a fantastic singer, Frosene Phillips.

The best part of the festival is the authentic Greek food. The "street food" section of the festival only accept tokens (not even cash) so first you need to purchase tokens before heading to the food booths. There are often lines for popular specialties like Gyro (pronounced "yee-rho") although it's well worth the wait!

Other specialties include Souvlakia (grilled lamb or chicken on skewers), Greek Salad (cucumbers, tomatoes and feta cheese), Spanakopita (filo pastry with spinach and cheese filling) and Tiropita (filo pastry with cheese filling). 

Spanakopita and Tiropita (similar to Spanakopita is filled with cheese) 

The festival also has a Wine Tasting Bar where you can sample Greek wines such as a refreshing white wine from the Island of Evvia called Avantis Malagouzia and a dry, fruity white wine from Santorini by Hatzidakis. 

Platia Bar hosts Wine Tastings of unique wines from the Greek Isles.

The true highlight of the festival is the silliest-sounding word: Loukoumades, described as "honey-dipped pastry puffs." These "donut holes" take the concept of freshness to the next level. The Loukoumades are deep fried right in front of you, then immediately placed in a large bowl to be tossed in a delicate syrup of warm honey. 

Festival volunteers serve up warm Loukoumades!
Once they're dripping in honey, the hot donuts are drizzled with a sprinkling of ground walnuts. The result is irresistible: Light and airy donuts that are crisp on the outside, with just the right amount of sweetness and stickiness from the honey plus a touch of contrast from the walnuts. What a delight! 

A serving of Loukoumades at the Oakland Greek Festival! Yum!!!!!!

I wish this Greek Festival took place more than once a year! It is so much fun!! Opa!

Copyright © 2014-2015, Lisa Alexander. All rights reserved.

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