Food is the star of Lebanese festival
For three weeks, members of St. George Maronite Catholic Church worked in the kitchen, filling 4,000 grape leaves with meat, rice and spices.
By Saturday afternoon, halfway through the church’s annual Lebanese Food Festival, most had already been eaten. The last few trays were packed tightly inside silver pots on the stovetop, ready to be cooked under Kitchen Captain Yvette Haase’s watchful eye.
Haase pointed to another pot on the burner — instead of using water, she planned to cook the grape leaves with a mixture of water, lemon juice and spices that she’d drained from the previous batch, to give the next pot more flavor.
“One generation to the next,” she said — just like the way the recipes and other Lebanese traditions have been passed down through the community.
Haase, who was born in San Antonio, and Marie Saleh, who moved from Lebanon as a teenag- er, recalled learning from the older women in the church growing up.
Now, they teach the next generation, Saleh said. They start preparing food for the festival in the beginning of October, assembling and freezing the grape leaves and the kibbe, a dish made of beef, onions, cracked wheat and spices.
Those are cooked during the three-day festival every year, when everything else is made fresh to order. Larry Monsour, a retired Air Force colonel now serving as “Captain Falafel,” molded and fried a mixture of chickpeas, which Frank Rizzo topped with vegetables and wrapped in pitas for hungry customers.
The annual event, which includes music and Lebanese folk-dancing, is a celebration of the traditions handed down through the generations, and a chance to share them with others, Father Charles Khachan said.
“We’ve been part of the city for over 100 years,” he said. While the festival isn’t officially part of the city’s tricentennial events, he said celebrating the community’s past and present alongside San Antonio’s history “is even more special.”
“It shows the diversity of San Antonio,” he said.
St. George Maronite Catholic Church was established in 1925, formed by members of the community who had previously been worshipping with other Catholic parishes. The church has been at its current location on Babcock Road since 1974.
At the festival, “we bring people together as a family, and we’re sharing our culture,” Khachan said, gesturing to the booths where lines of people waited to buy food, and the gymnasium, where dancers prepared to perform.
Inside, the Lebanese Folk Dancers of St. George took the stage, while the audience clapped and toddlers too young to join in danced on their own.
Jason Mery, who started dancing as a 4-year-old, watched in between his own dances with his son Keiran, 6, on his lap. He clapped for his daughter, Kalila, 11, who skipped and spun with silver beads jingling on the hemline of her costume.
“Dancing is in my blood,” he said, and now, it’s in his children’s, too. He teaches some of the younger men he performs with, and hopes to teach Keiran when he’s older, he said.
“It’s carrying on something that’s very important to us,” he said.
As all of the dancers performed together in their fi- nal dance, some of the younger children stood on stage waving American and Lebanese flags. At the T-shirt stand, one popular purchase was a shirt printed with parts of the Texas and Lebanese flags and the words “Texas grown, Lebanese roots.”
“We’re not only celebrating,” Khachan said. “We’re inviting everybody to join us.”
Young dancers perform during the 11th annual Lebanese Food Festival atSt. George Maronite Catholic Church. The three-day festival offers a taste of Lebanese culture with food, dance and tours of the church.