By: Gabbi Sawyer
“The Bahamas is an amalgamation of many nationalities…”, said Chef Simeon Hall Jr.
These words rang in my ear as I walked the grounds of the Greek Festival 2023 held in downtown Nassau, Bahamas. I got to experience the highlights of Greek culture, and they are a people proud of their dual heritage.
The Greek Festival had its inception in June 2003. It stemmed from a conversation between Alexandra Maillis-Lynch and Tony Miaoulis about an idea to host a fundraiser for the Greek Orthodox church. Plans had included spit-roasted lamb in the church’s courtyard and dancing in the street. However, due to Alexandra’s background in catering, this idea quickly blossomed into so much more than a simple fundraiser.
The first festival was the result of community effort and spirit, many coming together to pool ideas. They were dubious as to how locals would respond to the event, as the Greek community was sometimes viewed as ‘closed off’, but the event turned out to be a smashing success. Patrons enthusiastically supported the festival and they loved the food. It also helped to open the Greek community up to the rest of the island.
In the years to follow, a lot more planning and effort went into the festival. They adjusted the time of year that the festival was to be held (not in June like the first year because it was far too hot), they carefully studied weather forecasts, and planned menus to make each event better than the previous one.
Alexandra shared one of her favourite things about Greek culture – the Orthodox faith. Her reason for this is that she fully understands it. She is proud of the way that Greeks have held on to their faith. It is where many factors about the culture stem from. She describes the culture as having a lot of soul, which they try to express through the festival. She hopes that the festival never loses that soul.
Cheerful, smiling faces greeted me at the entrance gate as I paid the entrance fee and was issued a band. I could hear distinct music coming from the central stage. I walked closer, through a sea of people, and could see various cultural dances being performed with great enthusiasm.
Many in the crowd paused to take in the entertainment, while others were joining food lines, excited and ready to experience Greek cuisine. Smoke wafted in the air, emanating from two lambs rotating on a spit. The sound of bells clanking echoed each time a patron took a shot of Ouzo (Greek anise-flavoured liqueur).
I explored the food stalls that were serving up everything imaginable: Lamb gyro, lamb shank, leg of lamb, loukaniko sausage, fried calamiri, mussels, chickpeas, pastitso, souvlaki, maidenosalata and of course Mythos beer. The dessert station offered baklava, melomakarano, galaktoboureko, flodgers and many others.
The indoor market featured items such as pure olive oil, handmade jewellery, spices, jams, dried herbs, cheeses.
Greek Foods/Drinks I Tried at the Festival:
Mythos beer – Light yet flavourful aroma
Lamb Gyro – Grilled pita, spit roasted lamb, garlic yoghurt, onions, cabbage salad Dolmas – Grape leaves stuffed with rice and ground beef
Baklava – Nuts layered between phyllo dough
Crescent Almond Cookies – Semi-sweet cookie topped with sliced almonds
Pastitsio – Baked pasta dish with ground beef topped with bechamel
Spanakopita – Flaky phyllo dough filled with sauteed spinach and feta cheese
Kataifi – Thin strands of phyllo dough with a nut filling and finished with simple syrup
Melomakarona – Oval-shaped cookie soaked with honey
Koulouria – Butter pastry dessert with a hint of vanilla
Karadopita – Walnut cake with syrup and spices
Ouzo – Greece’s national spirt that is flavoured with anise (licorice)
Although the food lines were lengthy, it was worth the wait. I recommend attending the festival in the earlier part of the day to ensure that all menu items are available. All of the food was divine – my favourite being dolmas and of course, baklava.
As the evening progressed, many of the festival’s vendors took center stage and participated in ‘Kalamatianos’ (traditional Greek dance). The atmosphere was filled with smiles, laughter and a strong sense of family. Alexandra explained the esssence of ‘Filitimo’ in Greek culture. It means love, respect, honour and hospitality – which were all encapsulated into the Greek Festival.
**Food is a large part of the Greek culture. Greeks are a hospitable people with a love for offering home-cooked meals. Their food is associated with cooking from the heart, feasting, family time and celebrating.
While there are a limited amount of Greek restaurants around Nassau that serve the most common Greek food, the majority of the food served at the festival is not available year round. You will have to wait until the next Greek Festival which will be held in February 2025!