Armenian Food and Dance Festival

In the early afternoon on Saturday, October 1st 2005 I stopped by the Armenian Food and Dance Festival in Oakland for a look around and some lunch. (Sorry, no link -- this festival has no web page. It was hosted by the St. Vartan Armenian Apostolic Church, if that helps.) Organization-wise it was not unlike all these past church-sponsored Greek festivals.

I arrived at the Bazaar (for that is what it called itself) at around 1pm while it was still getting started. (I believe they planned to have a night of dancing and close at midnight, the latest of any festival I've attended.) After glancing at the four vendors, one of which was the Armenian Rugs Society, "dedicated to the identification, preservation and dissemination of knowledge of Armenian rugs," I followed my nose to the food.

The menu included the usual kebabs, chicken, pilaf, and stuffed grape leaves, and a few more unusual items. I went for the two items I don't think I've seen before (or at least not recently): one, Koofta, "meatballs" stuffed with meat (and spices, butter, and parsley); two, a cheese beoreg , a pastry filled with Jack cheese. When I ordered, following a couple and a family that went for the usual items, the woman helping fill the plates said, "Ah, someone who knows what the hardest items to cook are." :)

The koofta was excellent. The meatballs, about three inches in diameter, really did taste like (and were) meat stuffed with meat -- the texture of the outing filling was distinctly different than the ground meat inside. And the spices were great! Looking the recipe up online, it appears the shell is produced separately and gets its consistency from mixing meat with bulgur, plus it being on the outside when the meatball is boiled.

The cheese beoreg, much like the Greek equivalent (both being filled folded flakey many-layered pastries), was also good. I'm always worried about ordering cheese-stuff items (like quesadillas) because cooks frequently overdo it on the cheese (in my opinion) and make the dish overwhelming. But this dish had just the right amount of cheese -a fairly thin sliver- inside.

While eating I settled down outside to listen to some musicians and crowd-watch. (They also had a stage inside but that wasn't being used yet; they were still setting up the dance floor.) The crowd here was older than most other festivals; I was only one of a few people below forty. The music, played by a few old guys, was very good. The two main instruments -I had to look up the names afterward- were a qanun (basically an Armenian lap-played harp) and an oud (a Middle Eastern lute).

I also tried a beer they had that I hadn't seen before: Kilikia (light). It was light like a Pilsner but tasted really hoppy and even bitter. I think it was skunked. I couldn't drink much: I had to pour it away. Later I checked and found that my taste buds weren't off; the beer is panned there. Well, either that or a lot of reviewers got skunked beer.

After relaxing a bit, I remembered that I wouldn't be having dinner for another eight hours (until after I finished playing BANG 12, an evening puzzling scavenger hunt). So, I figured I should eat more. (Yes, this was just a rationalization. Really what it comes down to is that there was more food I wanted to try.) Hence, I went to the table outside with many other items, all vegetarian.

The odd feature of this table was that it wasn't mentioned on any official literature from the Bazaar about food. Nor was the table even on the festival map. And the festival wasn't very big; it's not like they could have forgotten about it! I wonder if this was a last-minute vendor that is actually competing with the culinary items of the festival itself?

In any case, I got some more food:
* Mock keyma. Bulgur (parched cracked wheat) mixed with green onions, red onions, green peppers, and spices. Tasty. Mock because there was no meat involved. I'd like to cook this sometime; seems like it would be easy.
* Imam bayildi. Eggplant stuffed with a tomato, onion, and pepper mixture. Decent but a bit oily.

Before I left, I glanced at the very large deli take-out section. (Most festivals, if they have one, have a very small one.) This one was impressive and had many items whose names and appearances I didn't recognize. Sadly, I passed on everything since I didn't feel comfortable leaving food in my car for eight hours.

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