Portland Greek Festival to cap off summer with delectable fare

The beautiful island of Kefalonia lies off the Greek mainland, a green and white jewel set in the waters of the Ionian Sea, which itself is nestled between the instep of the Italian boot and the west coast of Greece. It is also the place from which Ellie Bass’ family originates.

Now, inspired by that heritage, she works behind the scenes between Friday morning and Sunday night to help bring to life the Portland Greek Festival. The festival has been taking place annually for over 60 years. This year it will be held Oct. 3–5, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday. The festival will feature full days of music, food and dance.

“Wow, I love the dance. There is always a dance where the boys and girls are split up and they dance separately,” said Maria Corvallis of Corvallis Productions, manager of public relations for the festival. “It reminds us of a time when Greece was occupied by the Turks. The men went off to war and the women had to stay behind. The men dance with the men. The women dance with the women and then, at the very end, they all dance together in celebration.”

One of the many highlights of the Portland Greek Festival is this performance. Considering the fact that Corvallis has two daughters who will be giving other performances at the festival, the fact that she sees this dance as her favorite speaks to its gravity and cultural significance within the Greek community.

Fare will include authentic Greek food such as traditional drinks, main dishes and desserts. A favorite dessert of Gail Morris, who has been savoring the food and the festival for over 18 years, is bougatsa. Her face lit up as she described it as custard in filo dough, dusted with cinnamon.

Bougatsa is only one of the many desserts that will be served. Others include baklava, diples, karithopit and spiced orange koulourakia, pastry twists with a unique orange flavor. All the food will be made from scratch by the parishioners and their families at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church.

“You don’t have to be Greek to join in on the fun,” Morris said. The festival is free and open to anyone and everyone. The food, on the other hand, is not free. However, once one tastes the bountiful flavors and dishes available, they will see why. There will also be cooking demonstrations throughout.

“I love sitting in the dining room,” Morris said. “There is a combination dinner on Friday and Saturday and one of the tastiest dishes in this meal is the pastitsio, a layered casserole.” Incidentally, pastitsio is a favorite of both Corvallis and Bass.

Then there are the tavernas, tents where guests can go and watch as the men cook the pork until it is just right and then, hot off the flames, it is skewered and served.

“They have so much fun in the tavernas,” Corvallis said. Slouvaki is the name of this traditional fare and, like pastitsio, it is also at the top of the list when it comes to favorites.

Beyond the hustle of food and festivities, there will also be other cultural opportunities. Throughout the festival, the church and the Hellenic-American Cultural Center and Museum (located on the second floor) will be open to visitors. There will be guided tours, videos and presentations with topics such as “Byzantium” and “A Hidden Treasure,” where attendees can learn more about the Greek cultural heritage. The Ethos bookstore will be open for those who are passionate about literature.

Not only will fare be in abundance, but wares as well. An array of Greek imports from T-shirts and handmade sweaters to fine jewelry in both traditional Byzantine and modern styles will be on hand for purchase in the Agora. There will also be a children’s corner with face painting, games and other lively activities.

“This is a great event where we reach out to the rest of the community in Portland. Everyone looks forward to this event because so many people love Greece and everything it represents, including the love of language, the food and the rest of Greek culture,” Corvallis said.

Following on the heels of Festa Italiana and Oktoberfest, “The Portland Greek Festival is a good way to wrap up the festival season,” Corvallis said. When asked if she thought it was kind of like saving the best for last, she said with a chuckle, “Exactly!”