BY VALERIE SIMONIAN
MONTEBELLO—More than 3,500 people gathered on Saturday, May 22nd at the 3rd Annual Armenian Food Fair and Fest on the Holy Cross Cathedral grounds to enjoy Armenian cuisine, culture, and wonderful entertainment. The Armenian Food Fair and Fest, now in its third year, attracted crowds of people from areas throughout Los Angeles, Orange County, and the San Fernando Valley.
Guests enjoyed delicious Armenian food including festival staples, beef, lamb, and chicken kebab, along with the newest addition to the 2010 AFF Fest, the “Mezze Mobile,” provided by All Service Catering, featuring “Hye Nachos,” rotisserie chicken sandwiches, and plenty of mouthwatering mezze.
The Official Grand Sponsor of AFF Fest 2010, Mr. & Mrs. Joe and Nevair Samuelian and Family of Nationwide Environmental Services, provided generous support to AFF Fest 2010. With theirs and countless others’ generous contributions and support, we were able to provide continuous entertainment, authentic Armenian food and pastry, shaded table seating under an enormous tent, beautiful grounds, history and culture, plus fun and excitement for the entire family. The Hosharian Bros. Band performed live music throughout the day with a special performance by world famous oud player, John Bilezikjian. Among the highlights were a “dumbeg” drum circle performed by community members, children’s entertainer, “Maggie,” and dance performances by local dance ensembles of Alex Dance Studio.
The lavash prepared on tonirs seemed to be the talk of Fest 2010 and was headed by Maro Tarpinian and Suzanne Babouchian, who worked tirelessly preparing lavash the entire day, along with Vartkes Marjik of Zankou Chicken-Montebello and community member, Zabel Iknadossian. Festival goers had the choice of topping their lavash with cheese, zahtar, spinach, nutella, or red pepper paste. This year’s piroshki preparation crew, headed by Manik Ajemian, made sure to not run out of this high demand delicacy, and guests had the chance to sink their teeth into the homemade delight. The beer and wine garden offered guests imported Armenian Kotayk beer, domestic beer, and Armenian wine.
It was a competitive day for backgammon enthusiasts who enjoyed an intense game at the backgammon tournament. The champion of the tournament was Stan Sarkisian.
This year’s raffle winner, a festival guest, was happy to take home $2,500. The Kids Zone included a Velcro wall and dunk tank, sponsored by Club Mesrobian Alumni, a spectacular pirate ship bounce, a castle bounce, and plenty of games and prizes. A number of cooking demonstrations were available for festival goers to learn how to make Armenian Rice pilaf, Persian-Armenian pilaf, jajekh, khadayif, and Napoleon pastry. Cathedral tours guided by the Holy Cross clergy were available throughout the day. Guests had the opportunity to learn about the history and traditions of the Armenian Church and Christianity.
More than forty shopping vendors and promotional booths were available for attendees to visit.
Among the exhibitors was the Armenian Gampr Club of America, showcasing the Armenian gampr dog, the national dog breed of Armenia. Festival goers had the opportunity to visit with authentic gampr dogs and their endearing puppies, a big hit with children and adults alike.
Food Fair guests who visited the cultural booth had the chance to trace the timeline of Montebello Armenian-Americans from the days of ancient kings to 2010. Ancient history was reflected through the help of curator Maggie Mangassarian-Goschin, from the Ararat Eskijian Museum at the Ararat Home, who had Armenian antiquities on display. Highlights included a tapestry which once belonged to Armenian kings, an antique belt made by people of Van, old Armenian coins, iron artifacts, and much, much more.
Also at the cultural booth was distinguished Professor Emeritus Carroll Kearley, of Loyola Marymount University, who autographed copies of his most recent book of poems, The Armenian Watchmaker, and shared his knowledge and wisdom with guests. In addition, this booth told this community’s history through a display of photographs from the Funkerkaserne camp for displaced WWII Armenians in Stuttgart, Germany. Along with the photographs, the cultural booth exhibited timeworn video footage of this group of refugees who founded the Montebello Armenian-American community.
Finally, the cultural booth represented this community’s future through Armenian-themed art created by its children. Work shown included beautiful, decorative aprons adorned with Armenian motifs, collages of Armenian churches, and three-dimensional sculptures representing Armenian history and mythology.
A festival guest, Natalia Oganesian, admitted to holding back tears of joy after watching a traditional Armenian dance performance by a dance ensemble from Alex Dance Studio. “Understandably, during the course of our lives, we often let go of our culture/traditions; seeing such young children perform traditional, Armenian dances put tears in my eyes, not the sad kind, but the kind where you just stop and think to yourself, ‘WOW, this is awesome, and we’re so fortunate as a community to have these kids, parents, and their instructors to make sure our culture is maintained and stays strong.’ Simply put, it was really beautiful,” said Oganesian.
The thought of our traditional dances continuing on from generation to generation combined with the traditional costumes and time-honored, beautiful melodies caused many to become proud, yet emotionally moved. Guests were able to take a look back through the cultural booth exhibit, see how far we’ve come, and see yet just how much we have held on to, all in one day. The 3rd Annual Armenian Food Fair & Fest was a significant and proud day for the Montebello community. The day was undeniably filled with cultural pride, great warmth, and hospitality.
Individuals who wish to participate in AFF Fest 2011, which is scheduled to take place on Saturday, September 24, 2011, please contact Holy Cross Cathedral at (323) 727-1113 or visit us at www.armenianfoodfair.com.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jake Hagopian