A slim banner breaks the bad news: “Attention: We regret to inform that the San Antonio Greek Funstival will not be held this year. God willing, we will resume the Funstival next year. Thank you for your understanding.”
And the same message is shared on St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church’s Facebook page. Yes, it’s festival season. No, for the second year in a row, there will be no 57th annual Greek Funstival.
Usually held on the third weekend of October, the Greek Funstival brought in anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 people over the course of three days. A major financial support for the nearly 100-year-old church, the Funstival combined a live Greek band, dancers, games, a marketplace with Greek trinkets, and plenty to eat and drink.
“The history of St. Sophia is grand and large and beautiful and humble, but bold at the same time — these people never gave up,” said Nick Anthony, Parish Council president and CEO of Papouli’s Greek Grill, who’s been working the festival since he was 8 years old. “That tenacity is relevant to the Funstival.”
From kebabs to pastitsio (a baked pasta dish with beef and béchamel sauce), to flaky spanakopita (spinach pie in a phyllo crust) to Greek coffee (“it leaves a strong mud at the bottom — it’s powerful,” Anthony said) to boxes of mixed pastries, each recipe has been passed down through generations since St. Sophia’s founding in 1926. Anthony shared recipes for tiropitas (cheese pies in phyllo dough) from a church cookbook published in 2000, that’s earmarked with favorites, dotted with ingredient splashes and stuffed with labels denoting which specific Crisco to use.
As the church plans for its future, new leaders are being groomed to take over festival planning. “Dorothy Bellos Sawyer has run the loukoumades (honey pot dumplings) booth for as long as I’ve known her and her mother ran it before her. Her daughter Cynthia has taken over the booth,” said Anthony.
Though St. Sophia is hoping to host a smaller version of the Funstival this next spring, fans of Mediterranean fare won’t have to wait around until then as a very different parish, clear across town is readying to host their own cultural celebration.
In its 10th year, the Lebanese Food Festival put on by St. George Maronite Catholic Church, only keeps growing. That’s likely due to an army of volunteers made up from the 400 families that worship at this “parish of the Syriac Maronite Patriarchal Church of Antioch, a self-governing Eastern Catholic Church in full communion with the Pope of Rome, Francis,” first established in 1925.
Like St. Sophia, St. George’s festival grew from its early days at the Institute of Texan Cultures’ Texas Folklife Festival. And according to Father Charles Khachan, the festival draws more than 4,000 throughout its three days.
Expect to find a whole menu’s worth of traditional foods at the Lebanese Food Festival, which kicks off this Friday. Top-sellers include chicken and beef shish kebabs (the same recipe as Folklife), tabbouleh, hummus, falafel, stuffed grape leaves and the national dish of Lebanon, baked and raw kibbeh. The raw kibbeh combines ground beef or lamb with spices, is similar to beef tartare and only served Friday and Saturday evening.
As the gym transforms into a coffee shop and bazaar (with items imported from Lebanon by Father Khachan), so does the church’s kitchen, where women and men from the parish take turns chopping curly leaf parsley for tabbouleh, stuffing and rolling grape leaves and layering baklava as early as last week and straight through the festival.
The festival has grown to reflect San Antonio’s ever-expanding palate. There are more sweets, like the sfouf anise cake Father Khachan enjoys in the mornings with coffee, and more savory goods like the manoosh, a flatbread topped with cheese or za’atar (a blend of oregano, thyme, marjoram and other spices).
Come for the kibbeh, stay for the live Arabic band, dabke line dancing (as led by Cultural Arts and Choir director Deborah Mery Fernandez) and all the baklava you can handle.
“People don’t come and stay a while and leave, they plant themselves specially in the hookah bar,” said festival chairperson Jackie Hill. “We have to run them off because there’s an ordinance and we have to be done by 11.”
$3, 6-11pm Fri, 1-11pm Saturday, noon-6pm Sun, St. George Maronite Community Center, 6070 Babcock Road, (210) 690-9569, stgeorgesa.org.
Makes 60 pieces
- 1/2 pound cream cheese
- 1/2 pound feta cheese
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, grated
- 1 cup melted unsalted butter
- 1 pound phyllo dough
Courtesy of Father Tarasios in St. Sophia's Church Cookbook.
- In a bowl, combine the cheeses, eggs, flour, nutmeg and 3 tablespoons of melted butter. Cover bowl and chill.
- Cut phyllo in 2 ½-inch strips. Butter one strip of phyllo, place an additional strip on top. Place approximately 1 teaspoon of filling on bottom of strip. Fold as you would a flag.
- To work quickly, lay out 5 to 6 strips, butter, place second strips and follow with filling. Fold into triangle and butter outside.
- May be refrigerated or frozen at this point.
- *Part of the feta may be substituted with any of the following Greek cheeses: mizithra, kasseri, kefayloti (grate all).
Makes 6 servings
- 1/4 cup #1 bulgur wheat (found in Middle Eastern stores, or bulk food sections)
- 1/2 cup boiling water
- 1 cup finely chopped parsley
- 1/4 cup fresh chopped mint leaves
- 5 tomatoes, diced
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 medium lemon, juiced
- 1 onion, finely diced
- salt, to taste
Courtesy of Louise Malouff in St. George Maronite Church Cookbook.
- Place the bulgur wheat in a small mixing bowl.
- Add boiling water, mix and cover with a towel. Let stand for an hour, then drain any excess water.
- Combine parsley, mint, tomatoes, onions, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt.
- Add the bulgur wheat and mix well.