The first weekend of October, the weather mercifully changed from monsoon season back to more typical Portland October weather — crisp and clear. It was so beautiful I had to be outside. And what better place to spend the day than at the Portland Greek Festival? Every time I go to this festival, I am very unclear on how it is that we have never actually traveled to Greece. This is something we must remedy. The people are so nice, they clearly love to celebrate, and their food is amazing!
The festival is held in NE Portland at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral. It’s a beautiful domed building, with lots of ornate decorations and paintings, beautiful stained glass, and the smell of incense filling the vestibule. Part of the festival’s purpose is to educate the community about the church, and so they have priests there to talk to visitors and they also do free tours of the building.
Greek immigrants first settled in Portland in the 1800s. Their descendants want to share their culture with the 15,000 or so visitors that come every year. There is Greek music playing constantly, a Greek imports area, cooking demonstrations, and many dance exhibitions throughout the weekend as well. I love the traditional costumes and it’s fun to watch the children dance. The younger ones are still just learning, but are so sweet to watch, and many of the older kids are very good dancers. There is some bleacher seating out near the main stage, but the seats are often taken early, so plan ahead if you want to sit down to watch the dancing. There isn’t really a lot of seating anywhere at the festival except in the catered dinner area. There, everyone gets a seat. Otherwise, it’s just a few scattered tables.
But the main reason I go to the Greek Festival is the food. Oh, the food. I think my blood sugar probably goes up just walking through the pastry section. One of my favorite treats at the festival is loukoumades. They’re kind of like little donut holes covered in sweet, sweet honey and doused with cinnamon to cut the sweetness just enough. I begin drooling over those things when the Greek Festival signs start going up in September! They make them fresh right there all weekend long. Tip: a small order is too much for one person! Pasta flora, kataifi, diples, paximadia, and more pastries are also available. Don’t know what any of that means? Don’t worry — they’ve got a cheat sheet! And of course, we can’t forget to pick up some of Jeff’s favorite, baklava, with its buttery layers of phyllo dough, mixed with gooey nuts, cinnamon and honey.
Those who prefer savory will also not be disappointed. There’s hummus and pita bread, steaming spanakopita, beautiful Greek salads with huge hunks of feta cheese, olive and cheese samplers, and lots of lamb — served up on a stick, in a sandwich, or on a platter. You can even watch whole lambs being roasted on the spit. Now that’s not something you see every day! And if you need an adult beverage to wash it all down, take your talents (food vendors don’t accept cash, you’ve got to go to the moneylenders booth to get these tokens first) over to the Taverna beer garden. They’ve thought of everything!
Portland’s Greek Festival is one of the country’s largest, and it’s a fun fall activity that Portlanders have been enjoying for 62 years (it’s the second longest running festival in the city after the Rose Festival). If you’re in the area, put it on your calendar. And if you’re not from the area, October’s a nice time to visit! Plan a trip for next year. The loukoumades will be waiting for you, piping hot!
Enjoy your week or your weekend!