Greek Festivals–Taste of the Danforth.

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What is it about Greek Food Festivals? 

I understand the draw to the Non-Greek community as the experience of a different culture especially it’s food without having to leave your own community is exciting, delicious and fun.   But, the draw of the Greek community is what often puzzles me.

Yes I understand that those born and raised outside of Greece do feel a need to preserve and save traditions, but it is much more–more than this Greek boy from Athens understands. Seriously–your Γιαγια (Greek grandmother) just made tiropita on Sunday so why the need to head to Greektown and pay for the same stuff?

And the Greek Dancing? Don’t even get me started! The six months I have recently spent in the USA, I have danced more of the traditional dances than I think I ever danced if you combined them all στιν Ελλαδα (in Greece).  Most of all, I have a huge distaste for the screaming of ‘OPA’.  I can’t ever remember being at an event or wedding EVER in Greece where I  heard this phrase bellowed out. It drives me mad!

But love them or not—the Greek Festival is something unique. I had to eat my words (along with some great food) recently when I found myself at Toronto’s, Taste of the Danforth.

Greek Town

 

Why was I in Toronto you ask?

My wife, Nicky and I are currently living in the USA for what will be about one year. Nicky recently had to go back to Greece for two weeks this summer to take care of some family issues, and, let’s be honest, sit on the beach. Living  near the Canadian border, we jumped at the opportunity to purchase an economical ticket with a flight departing and arriving out of Toronto, Canada.   A few hours drive would save us a lot of money—and who doesn’t need to save money?

For Nicky’s return on August 9th, I had decided rather than drive up to the airport to pick her up and return home on the same day, I would call an old friend, who was living just outside of the city, and get together.

My friend was happy to hear this and assured me he would take care of all our weekend activities.  Friday evening, we had a wonderful dinner and show in the city. Saturday was a day to sleep in, lounge by the pool, and simply catch up and revisit memories.  That evening we went to a club and I felt 25 again! Crashing into bed that late Saturday night, my friend told me to sleep well and that tomorrow we would be visiting Greektown for a food festival.  Are you freaking kidding me!!!! This was the thought in my head!   Ever since I arrived in North America people have been dragging me to Greek churches, social events, and restaurants. Why? Why???   But as an appreciative guest, I simply smiled and said,” Great, how nice.”

 

The Taste of the Danforth.

This is no ordinary Greek Festival. The Krinos Taste of the Danforth is the biggest Greek street festival in North America .  A huge celebration of Hellenic cuisine and culture it has approximately 1.6 million attendees annually and 2015 marks it’s  22nd anniversary. In the last 20 plus years it has grown from being a Greek only festival to one that encompasses some other cutlrues that have made thier home in the area.

Danforth Street Greek

Greek souvla many

Avli Greek Restaurant

Danforth Street is the main street through Greek town and during the festival is blocked off for miles made available only to pedestrians. The local restaurants take their food out of the kitchen and into the street. The sights and smells of souvlaki, gyros, olives and greek salad fill the air. One food there that confused me, Greek quail? That must be a Greek-Canadian thing since I never felt quail to be one of the traditional foods of my people. There was spanakopita, kabob, even Nescafe frappe (which isn’t easy to find in North America). I have to admit that, I was feeling better about the Greek festival with my Nescafe Frappe in hand:)  This tasty beverage is something I am really missing from Greece.

Happy Greek grill

Shaving Gyro

I learnt that The Festival began in 1994 when a group of restaurateurs on the Danforth tried to come up with ways they could entice people to visit their establishments. They figured if they banded together, they would be better off able to combine their resources and advertising. They decided to set up work table stations so visitors could try food fare from many different restaurants.

Pita and souvlaki

Omonia Restaurant

In the first year, approximately 5,000 people attended the Festival where twenty-three restaurateurs participated.   The following year, attendance grew to 100,000, and by 1996, the festival was so large that the Danforth had to be officially closed, so as to accommodate over 500,000 visitors. Today, the Festival has grown to approximately 1.6 million visitors during the course of three days and two nights.

Greek souvla

Taste of the Danforth isn’t just about the food, it’s also a chance for the Greek community to share its heritage. There was a main stage in the center and smaller stages throughout the festival playing traditional music and song throughout the evening. Many of the chefs had their own radios blasting traditional and modern Greek music from tiny little speakers.  Of course no Greek festival is complete with out Greek dancers, and there were several shows. I did enjoy the Oriental Belly dancer.

In 2013, as part of the Guinness World Record attempt for the World’s Largest Zorba Dance, money was donated to Prostate Cancer Canada. In 2014, proceeds from the Guinness World Records challenges for the “Largest Tug of War” and “Most People Participating in a Standing Long Jump” were donated to Athletics Ontario.  This year, there was an attempt at two more records–Most People to Eat an Olive in 8 Hours and the Most People to Make a Penalty Kick in 8 Hours.

The Festival is also philanthropic as profits from the Festival are donated back to the community. Over the years, more than $2 million has been donated to the Toronto East General Hospital. In 2012, an additional $500,000 was committed to pediatric care.

Pantheon restaurant

 

MEGAS

My buddy and I ate our way walking down the the street. I was glad that occasionally there was a food vendor that wasn’t Greek.  I enjoyed a taco that I had more than anything else.   I also had a pork souvaliki that was very good, a frozen ‘Greek’ yogurt ice cream cone, a fresh salad, another taco, churros, one of those barbequed quails, three Nescafes and two Mythos.  We even stopped at a large liquor store that boasted the largest selection of Greek wine outside of Greece.  I thought I would treat Nicky to a bottle of wine.  As I was eating my food, I realized I was also eating my words, as I was having a good time.

Wines of Greece

$4 Greek Frappe

I bid my friend farewell, headed to the airport and picked up Nicky. On the ride home I told her all about the festival and she looked at me with pity and fear that she would have to hear my complaining of yet another person taking me out to a Greek day or evening. She was however very surprised when I explained how I enjoyed myself.  I think for me—it was the Nescafe and Mythos. Two things I find myself missing while away from home in Athens. Who knows maybe next year I’ll have even a better time and as I find that the longer I am away from Greece, the more I may enjoy these types of events.

 

http://tasteofthedanforth.com/#about

Nicolas and Nicolette Kounelis are the husband and wife team who created the blog “The Adventures of Nick and Nicky”. Read more on our About Us page!

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