Ruling with an iron shish kabob

By By Adam Fifield

By Adam Fifield

Members of the Salt Lake Greek community have no problem shoving their culture down your throat — or at least allowing you to shove it in yourself.

This might be aiding and abetting, but the truth is that the fastest way to Salt Lake City’s heart is through its residents’ stomachs, and moderation, for once, is not a virtue.

The theme of the Salt Lake Greek Festival is that cultural diversity is a dish best served cold, or on a kabob.

For these reasons, locals have crowned the Greek Festival Utah’s “largest ethnic festival,” and with a new four-day format, opening ceremonies will begin Thursday and run through Sunday. Admission is $3, but plan on keeping your wallet open for plenty of substance and sustenance indulgence throughout. Festivities include a carnival, continual Greek dances, music and gastronomy.

“The festival is a chance for the Greek community to shine a little light on our manners,” said Aleka DiLauro, coordinator for the festival. “It’s a chance for people to be Greek for a day.”

But you might need all four days, since even a linebacker might have trouble sampling everything in one sitting. For example, on Thursday — when the menu isn’t as expensive as it will be over the weekend — you have to choose between a classic gyro, souvlaki, chicken a la Grecque — these dishes include all the rice pilafi and spanakopites trimmings — and still have room for galoktoboureko. After Thursday, all the food is purchased “a la carte,” and the possibilities proliferate.

Though culinary excess will be the main drawing point, Greek dancers will entertain every half hour, and the Chris Dokles band will play every night. Also, look forward to food demonstrations and a raffle, with a 2007 Corvette as the grand prize.

This year tops off the 32nd annual Greek festival. Before its current incarnation, the Greek community hosted bake sales and bazaars. This year they expect as many as 50,000 people to attend.

Cooking enough food for 50,000 people is no small task, and it requires the help of the entire Greek community.

“We cook all the food ourselves, mostly with the help of little grandmas and grandpas — mostly grandmas,” said DiLauro.

Many of these cooks began preparing their traditional Greek vittles as early as May, and many have been working around the clock for the last few weeks, said DiLauro.

Even though Salt Lake City boasts many fine Greek restaurants, DiLauro said that some of the dishes featured at the festival won’t be found on any daily menus around town. Her favorite Greek food, Stifatho, is a beef stew with pearl onions, a recipe that “one gentleman has perfected for 35 years.”

The youth in the Greek community take on a unique role during the festival. In addition to helping with food booths, many perform with traditional Greek dance groups. Many U students are members of Dionysius, the premier dance troupe performing at the festival. In addition to Salt Lake’s festival, they perform at similar cultural festivals in Price, Reno and Grand Junction.

“My favorite is a guys-only dance called Hasapikos,” said Matt Hedberd, a member of Dionysius and a junior majoring in biochemistry. “It’s more high-spirited — dancers will jump out in the middle and do tricks, slaps and flips.”

The opportunities to show off for the ladies will be few and far between for Hedberd, since he’s manning the lamb spit during the festival.

It’s hard work supplying an enormous crowd with rotating lamb, and Hedberd said he’ll wake up at around 5:30 a.m. every day during the festival to begin preparations.

“When the festival is over, it’s a big party,” said Hedberd, and he urged anyone looking to raise hell after hours to see him at his spit.

With all the countless volunteer hours put into the festival, and all the traditions and culinary tracts and variants within the Greek culture — indeed all the richness of Greek American society and historical impact — the Salt Lake Greek Festival will urge you to take all of this at “taste” value.

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