Drive near St. Matthew Assyrian Chaldean Catholic Church and the flavors of shawarma, dolma and tabouleh waft across Sixth Street.
Assyrian music plays in the background.
Vendors offer sweet desserts, pickled vegetables and an assortment of retail items.
Folk dancers swish and hop through sets.
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But it’s the classic dishes that star at the Assyrian Chaldean Food Festival, a cultural celebration and the church’s main fundraiser.
Now in its sixth year, the two-day event – it continues today – draws 700 to 1,000 people from across Northern California, said Basil Aboona, president of St. Matthew’s council.
“We do it to bring in the community and teach people about Assyrian food and culture,” Aboona said.
Birta Youkhanna, waiting in line for vegetarian dolma, said she comes every year. “I love the food. It’s so good,” she said.
“You have to try the tea after eating,” advised Rima Aldawood, seated at a table with her extended family. They come every year to listen and watch, but mostly to enjoy sitting down to break bread with friends and one another. “The food is amazing,” she said.
Daughters of the church began cooking Monday for the festival, which this year fell close to two feast days and other church-catered occasions, Lena Warda said. “It was challenging,” she said with a smile.
Asked if she had had her fill of filling grape leaves, Warda laughed. “We never get tired of it. That’s the thing – it’s so good,” she said.
The festival includes children’s games and raffle drawings.
Also today in Ceres is another Assyrian food festival, this one at the Assyrian Cultural Center, 3119 S. Central Ave. It runs from 11a.m. to 7p.m. and includes live music and dance performances.
Tickets are $14 in advance, $17 at the door, and include dinner. Tickets are available at David & David Home Decor, 1700 McHenry Ave., Suite 62A, Modesto.
For more information on the festival at the Assyrian Cultural Center, call (209) 480-9293 or (209) 456-6746.
Next weekend, the celebration of culinary treats continues with the Greek Food Festival at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, 313 Tokay Ave., Modesto. It runs Saturday from noon to 9p.m. and Sunday from 11a.m. to 7p.m. and includes an authentic Greek dinner, church tours, an agora (marketplace), pastries, and a coffeehouse with Greek music and dance.
Tickets are $14 in advance, $17 at the door and $8.50 for children under 12. To learn more, call (209) 522-7694.