Sparta or Spokane?--ok I won't go that farSpokane is a crispy bleached cracker of a cultural wasteland. That's exactly what has been told, believed, and lived by this part-time resident. There are two types to be found in Spokane: poor in-landers, a few rich in-landers, and then a bunch of conservative outsider rich white kids. For the most part, yeah it's all true. But only for the most part mind you. In that small crack left out of the "most" in the "part" there is oftentimes found something quite charming, and characteristically unexpected. Even in Spokane we have sparks, and on a luke-warm September evening one of those unexpected niches was found across the street of god-knows no-where in the form of souvlaki, calamatas, and feta. Oh yes the Greeks are in Spokane, maybe only twelve, or fifteen, but they are here, and they can cook. On y va.
The first Greek Orthodox community in America was founded by Greek merchants in New Orleans in 1864. During the colonial period the Greeks were among the first to arrive on the American shores accompanying the Spanish into many parts of Florida and along the Gulf of Mexico. The great majority of Greeks arrived in the United States in the early 20th century as a result of the Balkan Wars (that would be Balkan league vs. Ottomans x2) and then of course the Great War. Today there are over three million people of Greek heritage or decent living in the United States, though mostly concentrated along the eastern seaboard. An attribute of the title "Greek town" would most likely befall Chicago, Detroit, Boston, and New York, though there are thousands of Greek communities pocking the nation, communities that for the most part are set and revolve around the Greek Orthodox Church.
Greek Orthodoxy is a branch of Eastern Orthodox Christianity with surprise! A primary membership makeup of Greek ethnicity. The Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Spokane, WA is one of these. The members of the church are comprised of people with origin from Armenia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Eritrea, Greece, Lebanon, Romania, Russia, Serbia, and Ukraine--now this is Spokane, so it will be safe to say that out of that list Ukrainian will be the majority. Service is given and sung in English, Greek and Slavonic languages with an aim at keeping the base traditional. Marvelous. Annually to raise money for the church, the community holds a Greek dinner festival in which traditional food and products are sold. This year marked the church's 73rd year, a marker that signifies the resilience and strength of the concept of cultural tradition. If something like this can survive in Spokane, no matter how small, it can undoubtedly survive in your neighborhood.
So what's for dinner. Sizzling in row upon row of carnivorous goodness were to be found souvlakia, greek shish-kabobs of chicken or pork (hmmm hey where's the lamb? hmm) that are marinated in lemon and herbs. Each kabob is then slapped down on a grilled pita and covered with a tzatziki. So gluten free-ers, we're going 50% here, just toss the pita.
Along with the meat was offered an assortment of Greek salads including orzo pastas with feta, bean salads, olives, and dolmas--my particular favorite. Dolmas are grape leaves stuffed with rice, herbs, nuts--they come in myriad variety and are found throughout Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and the Balkans. Salty Linguistic lesson: Dolmak is the Turkish verb to stuff, therefore a dolma is a stuffed thing. Now you know.
Loukoumades, the Greek version of the elephant ear or beignette, were available for purchase from a verbose mustached man half-hanging from his cart. The deep fried dough puffs drizzled in honey and sprinkled with cinnamon are quite the popular festival fair no matter what the ethnicity. Baklava, wedding and moon cakes, cheeses, tinned fish--all proudly up for sale. It's not perfect, there's missing vast building blocks that make up traditional Greek cuisine, but it's a start. It's a taste. It get's one thinking.
Tiny. Homegrown. A small, backyard event this was. But perhaps it is far better that way. A certain spark accompanies something that tries to survive, something that exists somewhere unexpected. It's like the candle above the fireplace mantle, though the heat is taken from the roaring mammoth below, we light him none the less. We like to see it's shape though small; its own little teardrop of light. This is American cuisine, finding what people have brought to us. Sitting in the "beer tent" with my fellow festival going amigos--we laugh aloud, "hey, this is what Hercules ate" and then, with our olives, we walk home.