BELLINGHAM - The smell of fried food warmly welcomes visitors from the moment they pull into the parking lot at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church for the annual Bellingham Greek Festival, which started Thursday, Sept. 6, and runs through Sunday, Sept. 9.
Tokens purchased from a tent near the entrance can be traded for traditional Greek and Lebanese dishes, including spanakopita, gyros, baklava, namoura (a sweet cake), kourabiethes (cookies coated in powdered sugar) and loukoumades (honey-soaked doughnuts).
Like the pulsing live music, fast and then slow, the crowds came in waves for the tasty fare Thursday afternoon.
Parishioners start baking some of the more time-consuming sweets in July to prepare for the busy festival, the church's main fundraiser.
Alexandra Diamant and Kanella Fotopoulos, both Greek natives and longtime members of St. Sophia parish, helped run the tent dedicated solely to making fresh loukoumades on Thursday afternoon.
The women used a special bowl with a hand crank and an opening on the bottom to drop small bits of sweet dough into hot oil. After a few minutes of frying, the doughnuts are soaked in a honey, orange, cinnamon and water mixture and allowed to cool. A bit of cinnamon is the finishing touch as the doughnuts are served.
About 100 Greek and Lebanese families attend St. Sophia. The parishioners love putting on the fundraiser, which has been around for as long as most can remember and has become particularly popular in recent years, Diamant said.
"You know, once that movie 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' came out, I think we doubled our numbers," Diamant laughed. "I think people saw the culture and they loved it, and so they come here to really experience it."
Apart from food and live music, the festival offers dancing, tours of the church and a beer garden hosted by Boundary Bay.
Festival enthusiasts Amy Woodfin and Tonya Erickson, on their lunch break from St. Joseph hospital on Thursday, said they make a point to come every day of the annual festival.
"I usually come out four times or more to take full advantage of the whole weekend and all the great food," Erickson said. "You've got to enjoy it while it's here."
IF YOU GO
What: The St. Sophia Bellingham Greek Festival will run through Sunday evening, Sept. 9, at the church, 510 E. Sunset Drive.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 7 p.m. Sunday.
Parking: In the lot or nearby on the street, or take alternative transportation.
Church tours: Offered each day at 1, 3, and 5 p.m. (no one wearing shorts allowed in church).
Cost: Admission is free. Tokens sold near the entrance must be used to purchase food and drinks but unused ones can be sold back for cash when you leave. Most dishes cost between $2 and $13.
Reach SAMANTHA WOHLFEIL at email@example.com or 360-715-2264.