There’s nothing like Austin’s MedFest. Since this Mediterranean celebration has nearly made it to its 82nd year, it’s fair to assume a lot of Austinites feel the same way.
This year’s festival is scheduled for September 26-27, 2014. As always, it will be hosted by St. Elias Orthodox Church on 11th Street between Red River and Trinity. A little bit of trivia for you: MedFest was originally founded in the 1930’s to raise funds to build St. Elias. The church’s cornerstone was laid in 1934, but MedFest was too much fun to end. Generations of devoted volunteers have allowed this event to become the oldest continuously running festival in Central Texas.
Want to know why MedFest has proved so popular? It’s all about old world tastes and sounds that hold a foreign feeling of excitement. Here’s what you’ll find at MedFest 2014…
Walk onto the grounds of MedFest, and your senses will be delightfully assaulted by smells, colors and music. But those smells have got to be the strongest magnet of all.
Covered tents beckon, and laid out before you is an assortment of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern foods. My favorites have got to be dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) and baklava (layered filo stacked with nuts and soaked in honey). But man cannot live on dolmas and baklava alone. At least, I don’t think so. I may need to experiment.
This year, there’s a new addition to the menu that conveniently allows you to sample a variety of foods. The Mediterranean Sampler Dinner Plate will include loukaniko (Greek sausage) with tzatziki sauce and a slice of pita, dolmas, baba ghanoush and a piece baklava. In other words, my tummy will be exceedingly happy.
I tried to get Festival Chairman Teodora Pogonat to pin down her favorite food, but I was unsuccessful! She explained to me, “I grew up with classic recipes like Dolmas, Kefta, Falafel and Shishkabobs. Now as an adult, I also absolutely adore the intricate and complex flavors that are represented in the Eritrean dishes. So literally every item at the festival has a culinary trip down memory lane for me and a step into new experiences all at once.”
Here are more of the foods you’ll have a chance to try:
- Kefta, a ground beef dish served with parsley and onions
- Kibbee, football shaped bulgur stuffed with beef, onions and pine nuts
- Falafel, a vegetarian delicacy made with garbanzos and spices, rolled in pita and topped with tomatoes, parsley and tahini sauce
- Souvlaki, Greek shish kabob
- Gyros hot off the spit
- Spanakopita, cheese and spinach pie
If you can’t picture it yet, MedFest lays out quite a spread.
Music and Dancing
As you sit to enjoy your meal, live entertainment will transport you to a village square that’s an ocean away. Layalina, a Middle Eastern folk band, is new to MedFest this year. Said Teodora, “Their melodic and mellow tunes are most wonderful to relax to with a great glass of wine or beer that we have available at the festival.” You don’t have to tell me twice! Layalina will be playing the afternoon of September 27th (Saturday).
The music won’t fade with the light of day. The Greek entertainers of LAAND and the Arabian sounds of DJ Ahmed will keep everyone dancing long after dark.
Did I mention dancing? The UT Dabke Dancers will be performing at 7 PM and 9 PM on September 26th, and at 4 PM, 7 PM and 9 PM on September 27th.
Also in the early evening on Saturday the 27th, there will be a special Greek dance performance from the Transfiguration Greek Orthodox children’s group. It’s always such a delight to see these young ones embrace the rich Greek heritage and share it with others.
Marketplace and Tours
When it’s time to walk off that baklava and maybe a cannoli or three, the colorful marketplace will come in handy. You’ll find everything from local artwork to hand painted Ukrainian eggs.
Tours of the historic St. Elias Orthodox Church will also be available.
Event for All Ages
Another thing I love about MedFest is the generational diversity. You have to remember that many of today’s volunteers represent the third generation of St. Elias families. For the community at large, the event is perfect for families, couples, students…really anyone who knows how to enjoy good music and good food!
For younger visitors, many fun activities are planned for the Kids’ Oasis. There will be shaved ice, popcorn, games with prizes, balloon artists, face painting, a photo booth, and LEGO-based activities from Austin-based Snapology.
Why MedFest Matters to Austin
Our lives are enriched by diversity, and grounded in history. MedFest encapsulates both, and Austin’s culture is richer for it. Festival Chairman Teodora Pogonat echoed the same concept, “I see [MedFest’s] impact on cultural awareness within the Austin community. There are so many unique things about the Mediterranean region. You can go to the festival for many years and still find something new to experience and learn year after year!”
MedFest 2014 is running from 6-11 PM on Friday, September 26th, and 12-11 PM on Saturday, September 27th. Tickets are available for $5 from any Twin Liquors location or at the gate. For more information, check out MediterraneanFestival.com or follow MedFest on Facebook and Twitter.
Have you been to MedFest? What is your favorite memory?