There’ll be fancy dancing and grooving music and other things going, but let’s cut to the chase: Surrey’s Greek Food Festival is, without question, all about the food.
Skewers of chicken and pork souvlaki, plates of barbecued lamb, quality calamari, sweet loukoumades and more will be served during the 27th annual event, which starts Friday (June 8) and continues until June 17.
The menu also features Greek salad, spanakopita, roasted potatoes, baklava and, of course, pita with a side of tzatziki sauce.
For 10 days, the smell of all that food will fill the air at the corner of 96th Avenue and 132nd Street, site of Sts. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church.
“We can seat anywhere from 500 to 600 people at any given time here, that’s our capacity,” said Antonios (Tony) Ziskos, president of the fest-organizing group, Greek Community of Surrey and Fraser Valley.
“I think on good days, we have a minimum two turnovers, or three, because some people buy food to go, some stay for an hour, and some stay for longer, especially if they’re interested in the programs we have and the dance groups. This year we have the best program ever, as far as cultural dancing goes. We have groups that will keep us entertained for the majority of the time we’re open. So we encourage people to come watch all the different dancers we have, and this year they’re not all Greek.”
The event runs from 4 to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday, and from noon to 10 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
A Kids Zone will be in operation at the festival on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 2 p.m., and tours of the church will take place on Saturday, June 9 only – at noon, 2 and 4 p.m. – as part of the Surrey Doors Open event.
The festival has changed quite a bit over the past couple of decades.
“For one, we’re on a bigger property now,” Ziskos noted. “We used to be on 84th and 160th, a lot smaller, and the past three years I’ve been personally involved and hands-on, it’s been getting better and bigger. We moved onto this property in 2010, and the first couple of years people were a little bit confused, looking for us over there, but now everyone knows we’re here, for eight years. So now the only thing we need to do is feed everybody properly, give them good entertainment, good programs, and hope, cross our fingers, that the weather will co-operate.”
For the close to 10,000 people expected to attend, festival organizers have again secured parking space on the lot at AHP Matthew Elementary (13367 97th Ave.). The school is located about a block from the event site, where large white tents fill the church parking lot.
Money earned from food sold at the fest helps the community group fund programs for kids, outreach work in Surrey’s poorest neighbourhood and more, Ziskos said.
“In the old days, we used to go around and ask the Greek restaurants for a small donation of food for the festival, but we don’t do that anymore because the quantities are bigger and the numbers are larger,” he explained.
“This is the biggest function we do, as a way to raise funds, and we do smaller ones throughout the year, too – karaoke and dinners, other successful ones,” Ziskos added.
As for the menu, a BBQ Lamb Dinner plate is priced at $18 this year, and comes with rice, roasted potatoes, Greek sales, bread and tzatziki. The side dishes are also served with skewers of chicken souvlaki ($16), pork souvlaki ($16) and vegetarian plates of spinach or cheese pie ($14).
For those hungry for something much larger, a whole lamb with all the trimmings goes for $350.
“One thing we’re very, very proud of is our barbecued lamb,” Ziskos said. “People know that we serve some of the best lamb around, because it’s cooked over the coals, real wood coals, and people watch it turn on the spit, and every year we get nothing but comments, and people keep coming back.”
For 10 days, “we become a 500-seat pop-up restaurant here, and we try to give people their money’s worth,” added John Kantarakias, who helps organize everything. “Our loukoumades are famous here, too, you know. Timmy and his little bits, step aside, we’ve got this one.”