Five thousand stuffed grape leaves, 400 pounds of gyro and 1,000 pounds of barbecue lamb are some of the Greek specialties you’ll find at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church’s annual Greekfest, happening Saturday, Aug. 27, and Sunday, Aug. 28, in Manchester.
The festival, now in its 25th year, attracts about 8,000 people over the course of the weekend with its tried-and-true selection of authentic Greek dishes and pastries.
“We started in the beginning with a limited menu, and over the years we expanded it,” Costas Georgopoulos, festival chairman, said. “When we finally figured out the right menu with items that work well, we decided to stick with it and keep it the same.”
The menu includes Greek spiced chicken, rotisserie-cooked gyros spiced to order, homemade Greek meatballs, a spinach dish called spanakopita, traditional Greek rice, stuffed grape leaves and more.
If you’re new to Greek cuisine, Georgopoulos recommends the popular barbecue lamb or pastitsio.
“Pastitsio definitely is one of the most popular items,” he said. “It’s Greek lasagna, but there’s no red sauce to it. It’s ground beef and Greek noodles layered with a white cream sauce called bechamel.”
Greekfest also features classic Greek pastries, including baklava, a phyllo dough and custard pastry called galaktoboureko and fried dough, made from homemade batter and fried on the spot, then served with a honey syrup, cinnamon and powdered sugar.
While many food festivals of this size have cooks preparing and freezing meals weeks or even months in advance, cooking operations for Greekfest don’t begin until the Sunday before the festival. Georgopoulos said the fresh, never-frozen food is, to many people, one of the most appealing aspects of Greekfest, along with the authentic selections that aren’t typically available in the area.
“Some of the unique items, you can’t get very often except at Greek festivals,” he said. “There are some Greek restaurants around here that serve the traditional Greek lamb and baklava and gyros, but other than that, it’s really hard to find this kind of food.”
All festival activity is held outdoors under one large tent to create a festive and communal atmosphere. People can eat on site at the designated dining area, or they can take their food to go. However, most people stay to enjoy the other festival features such as live Greek music, a market with fine jewelry and other Greek items for sale and a kids’ corner with ice cream, popcorn and fun activities.
“I think people enjoy the overall culture,“ Georgopoulos said. “We’re showcasing our traditional foods and pastries so we can show people a little bit of Greek tradition and culture and have them experience it during the couple days of the festival.”