Tucson gets a taste of Greek

Children perform a traditional dance at the Greek Festival in Tucson, Arizona. Photo by Ashlyn Hertzberg.

When the savory smells of grilled lamb filled the air, Tucson locals know is that of time of the year, the Greek festival.  

Those who think of cuisine in Southern Arizona, they typically don’t think of Greek food. In today’s society, there is a limited amount of access to Greek food, especially in Tucson. 

Though Greek food has always been a difficult cuisine to find, within the last month, Arby’s has added gyros to their menu.  Gyros are one of the most well-known food items within the Greek culture. The addition of this item to fast food shows the possibility that Green cuisine is slowly making its way into mainstream food trends.

George Markou, owner and chef at Pelio Grill, has had his restaurant on University Avenue for the past 15 years. During this time Markou has seen how Tucson has begun adapting to the Greek culture.

Markou said when he first opened his restaurant, his was the only restaurant that offered Kalamata olives and feta cheese. Now, you can essentially go anywhere and order a “Greek salad.”

Markou has witnessed changes to Greek food culture, but doesn’t believe the addition of it to fast food companies considers it to be real Greek food.

“It’s the same way Taco Bell isn’t Mexican food,” Markou said.

Variety of Greek food from the Greek Festival in Tucson, Arizona. Photo by Ashlyn Hertzberg.

Andi Berlin, the food writer for This is Tucson, says the Greek smaller population size in the West Coast limits the availability of  Greek cuisine. 

With the addition of Greek fast food, Berlin believes this idea may not be successful in places like Tucson. “A fast food concept might work in major cities, but I could never see anything like that in rural areas where people are more conservative and scared of the “other”, said Berlin.

With there being many misconceptions of what is considered Greek, once a year the Greek Orthodox church of Tucson hosts a festival to give the community a chance to emerge themselves within the Greek culture.

Lois Kotzambasis, a long time Tucson community member, has been attending and assisted with the production of the festival for 45 years. Being a part of such a small Greek community, Kotzambasis said the festival is their way of standing out in Tucson.

“They can see who we are,” Kotzambasis said.

Jim Anagnostopoulos the parish president of the Greek Orthodox church in Tucson and Kotzambasis both hope to correct the misconceptions the public may have by bringing Greek traditions to Tucson.

The biggest misconception, according to Anagnostopoulos, is that many believe that if they are eating Greek yogurt, they are eating Greek food. As the Greek culture comes with many misconceptions, Anagnostopoulos hopes to change these perceptions. Similar to Kotzambasis outlook, he said he believes that hosting events like Greek Festival will allow the community to get a glimpse into the Greek culture.

Preparing pitas for the food at the Greek Festival. Photo by Ashlyn Hertzberg.

 

“We are Greek. We don’t blend into any other cultures, we are our own stand-alone culture. We have our own views, we have our own lifestyle,” Anagnostopoulos said. “Just being here and seeing how we dance, seeing how we cook and produce food, visiting our chapel during the festival and learning about Orthodoxy as a whole is what we hope to gain out of the community.

Ashlyn Hertzberg a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at ahertzberg@email.arizona.edu.

 

Click here for a Word version of this story and high-resolution photos. 

 

 

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