Believe it or not, the Mediterranean is not that far away. It’s quite a hike to get there, but it’s nearly identical in latitude — a great predictor of harmonious culinary styles and ingredients. Austin and Cairo are less than a quarter of a degree apart.
The 88th annual St. Elias Mediterranean Festival is closing that gap longitudinally on September 30 and October 4, with food, cocktails, and more. The open-air festivities are loud and certainly not as reserved as many would guess at an Orthodox church. “He’s Baptist, so he’s not supposed to be drinking,” says a festival attendee in a video from 2012, arm around the giggling rule-breaker.
Along with food vendors, who in past years have represented Lebanon, Palestine, Greece, Eritrea, Russia, Romania, and likely many more countries, other craft vendors will run their own bazaar. It’s all set to live music, with both performed and social dancing (like dabke, the Middle Eastern line dance in which participants hold hands), something incredibly rare to run into for Austinites who aren’t regularly involved in these communities.
Nothing is truly Mediterranean without wine, and the festival is known for its wide and sometimes exotic selections. Cocktails will be provided by Absolut and Aperol — the aperitivo maker most associated with the citrusy, bubbling spritz from Italy — and no one is allowed to get tired of dancing with Arabic coffee nearby.
A press release quotes a member of the family that owns and operates Twin Liquors, a current sponsor that has worked with the festival since it started in the 1930s. “Medfest is more than a tradition for our family, it’s ingrained in our culture,” said David Jabour. “We’re honored to continue to play a role in the festivities this year, and look forward to seeing friends and families celebrate with food, cocktails, music, and dancing.”
The nearly 90-year-old tradition has garnered a reputation in its hometown for its uniqueness and high spirits, and is welcoming to anyone interested in the culture. Kids are welcome, and encouraged to join with photos from past years including face painting and a bouncy house.
The 88th annual St. Elias Mediterranean Festival will take place on September 30 from 6 pm to 11 pm, and on October 1 from noon to 11 pm. Tickets ($5 donation) will be sold at the door at St. Elias Orthodox Church on East 11th Street, except for opening to 4pm on Oct 1, which is free.