Food is key to the Bakersfield Greek Food Festival — it’s in the name! — but there’s more to the magic of the annual event at St. George Greek Orthodox Church. When the festival returns to an in-person celebration starting Friday, it will be filled with music, dancing and more.
Irene Sinapole, one of the tireless volunteers who helps organize the annual event, is thrilled that it will be held in person, after a limited takeout dinner option offered last year.
"Because everything in the pandemic has changed so much, and people just want something that they used to have," she said. "We’re trying to produce it the way it was."
Not much will have changed. The three-day festival is a primarily outdoor affair, although masks are recommended if touring the church or in the pastry room, which is the only indoor food booth (pastries don't do well in the heat, Sinapole said).
After a smaller takeout menu for 2020, the event is back with all your Greek favorites. The barbecue booth will offer keftedes (meatballs), sausage and pork souvlaki a la carte or as plates with rice, Greek salad — must love olives! — and bread. Other booths will serve chicken wings and lamb shanks (both seasoned with the same spices), gyros, falafel sandwiches, feta fries, spanakopita (spinach pastries) and tiropita (cheese pastries).
The pastry room will have its usual baked goods along with galactaboureko (baklava with custard inside) and new addition milopita (apple triangles).
Those with a sweet tooth will appreciate the return of loukoumades, fresh-fried doughnuts drizzled with a honey syrup.
Since 1981, the Demestihas family has run the booth, first husband and wife George and Nahla then their son, Vago, took over about 10 years ago.
George Demestihas remembers when they started with an electric fryer, which could only fry a small batch of doughnuts at a time.
"I wasn’t living here yet," he said of that first year in which they only raised $100. "I moved here after a year or so."
After that test year, Demestihas said he got organized and was able to earn nearly $1,000 by adding another fryer.
After the donation of a bigger machine, which could fry up to 100 doughnuts at a time, then they were really in business.
Although loukoumades can just be topped with pure honey, Demestihas said a syrup made from honey goes on smoother. The family makes its own syrup with 20 percent to 30 percent honey.
He credits the appeal of the treats to their freshness since they're prepared on site.
"When you make something you fry, it smells good. Then you sprinkle some cinnamon on top and it’s appetizing."
Now 75, he leaves the frying to his son and his crew.
"I'm planning to go. I'm not planning to work. I enjoy being at the festival, drinking a couple of glasses of beer and watching the dancing.
"It's a good place to meet once a year, see people I haven't seen in a while. Some I haven't seen in years. I know a lot of people but I don't see them every day."
Sinapole is also looking forward to enjoying the live music and camaraderie. She did suggest for anyone who wants to avoid the bigger crowds to come out for lunch on Saturday when there are fewer attendees (the most-crowded times are Friday and Saturday nights) but all the food is freshly prepared.
"You can take anything to go. All you have to do is ask for a container. You can come and go. Come on Saturday for lunch or in the early afternoon."