VALLEJO — Visitors entering the Greek Festival at Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church could immediately grasp the essence of this event.
The smell of fried calamari and other foods, the sounds of the band Mediterranean Soul playing Greek music, the sight of people looking at booths with religious art, jewelry, photos of Greek scenery — all of this filled the senses. The 36th annual event took place from noon to 8 p.m. Saturday and noon to 7 p.m. Sunday.
“Today’s about our culture, our culture and our church,” said Father Nebojsa Pantic, pastor of the Vallejo church, on Sunday afternoon. “Sharing our Greek culture with people and the things we do best — food and drink.”
He expected a few thousand people to come over the two-day festival, most of them from Solano County. Many of those who attend aren’t Greek, he said.
“They come for the food, no joke,” Pantic said. “They are here for the food.”
Visitors entered at a section of parking lot covered with a tent, where a band performed from a stage. From there, they could enter the Greek Community Center.
Dennis Casey, of Fairfield, came with his family. His father-in-law’s parents went to the church in the era of the 1950s, he said.
He didn’t hesitate when asked about the highlight of the Greek Festival.
“The food,” Casey said.
In particular, he likes the gyros and the loukoumades.
Laura Welsh, of Vallejo, came for the first time. Again, the food proved to be the draw.
“I don’t know the right names for them,” she said. “The grape leaves with rice inside and the pasta with the lamb and the cookies.”
The names of the food can be challenging for newcomers unfamiliar with Greek culture. Dolmades are grape leaves stuffed with rice. Loukoumades are Greek honey puffs. Kourambiedes are shortbread cookies with almonds. Spanakopita is Greek spinach phyllo pie. Galaktomboureko is a custard pie with phyllo baked in syrup.
Rounding out the festivities were tours of the church.
The parish opened in November 1948 as the first Greek Orthodox Church in the northern Bay Area. Go to www.stscah.com for more information.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.