At the food fair, two cultures and one big feast

Head to the Serbian tent at the Greek Food Fair for service with a smile. (Photo: Anne Kranovich James)

By Michael Morain

Six or eight barrels of pickled cabbage arrive today at St. George Greek Orthodox Church for this weekend’s 44th annual Greek Food Fair. Soon, a chatty kitchen crew will rinse off the brine, peel off the leaves and then stuff each one with sauteed onions, rice, and smoked ground beef and pork.

It’s an Old World specialty, but it isn’t Greek. It’s Serbian sarma, prepared with love (and a lot of Old World work) by the parishioners of St. Demetrius Serbian Orthodox Church. Shortly after they opened their church on the north side of town, in 2013, they asked longtime Greek Food Fair organizer Kathy Breese to help them start a food fair of their own.

Her response was practical: “Join ours. It’s easier.” After all, many of the Serbian Orthodox folks had worshiped at St. George before they built St. Demetrius.

So now at the Greek Food Fair’s Serbian tent, you can feast on sarma, flaky tubes of phyllo dough filled with meat and cheese (Serbian pita) and a crepe-like dessert (palacinke) laced with Nutella or strawberry jam.

St. Demetrius volunteer Anne Kranovich James, whose grandparents came over from Yugoslavia, started pickling her cabbages for the fair about seven weeks ago, around the start of Orthodox Lent. “The Serbs don’t buy anything pre-made,” she said.

She spoke under the din of an ice cream maker in the St. George fellowship hall, where volunteers were prepping for the masses. 50 pans of baklava. 100 loaves of sweet bread known as tsoureki. Up to 2,000 of each kind of cookie and pastry: shredded phyllo puffs (kataifi), clove- and cinnamon-spiced walnut cake (karithopita), butter cookies dusted in powdered sugar (kourambiethes). See also: fried puffs of dough drizzled with honey (loukoumathes) and a spectacularly named lemony custard (galaktoboureko). They’re all a delicious mouthful.

Breese has volunteered since 1998 and said her favorite fair fare is the ergolavo, a crispy-chewy cousin of the almond macaroon with a dollop of apricot filling. “That’s what I have for breakfast every morning” during the fair, she said.

She also mentioned this year’s new sausages (loukanikos) in three varieties — leek, orange and a Cypriot version soaked in red wine.

But even with all her Greek favorites, she’ll save room for a Serbian cabbage roll. “That’s the food I like to eat,” she said. “It’s just so good.”

Heads-up: The Greeks have been using coins since the seventh century B.C.E., but this year’s fair is going cashless, so bring your credit or debit card. The event is open 5-9 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday at 1110 35th St.

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