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Middle Eastern Food Festival Comes to McLean

Meats, sweets, music and games highlight Labor Day festivities.

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Marianne Tahhan, Barbara Fleshman, Jennifer Bawab, back, and Nikki Haddad take orders for the Middle Eastern main dishes sold inside the hall of Holy Transfiguration Church in McLean.

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Omar Samaha tends to meat roasting on spits at the Middle Eastern Food Festival. The meat made its way into kebabs and gyros.

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Father Joseph Francavilla will conduct tours of the ornate Holy Transfiguration Melkite Greek-Catholic Church.

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Middle Eastern Food Festival co-chairs, Hani Tahhan, Marianne Tahhan, Mona Samaha and Joe Samaha with Holy Transfiguration priest, Father Joe Francavilla.

What do 2,000 pounds of meat, more than 10,000 pieces of confections, live Middle Eastern music and dance and a moon bounce have in common? The annual Labor Day weekend Middle Eastern Food Festival of Holy Transfiguration Melkite Greek-Catholic Church, that’s what.

Meat — beef, lamb and chicken — is barbecued outdoors. Inside the Church hall is a kitchen making fresh platters and wraps and a staging area for live Middle Eastern dance.

"Almost everything we offer is made by church members," said Jo Ellen Quint, food coordinator. "Some sweets are outsourced for larger inventory. Otherwise, we’d be baking all-year long."

Quint said that, although the festival increases the number of sweets available for purchase each year, every year they still sell out.

"Eating is a basic human activity," said Father Joseph Francavilla, Holy Transfiguration priest for 37 years. "When you sit down and share a meal with people, how can you be an enemy with them? You can’t be an enemy with someone you’ve shared bread with."

Francavilla called Middle Eastern hospitality legendary. "Welcoming guests, sharing food with them, is part of their culture," he said.

The ladies, he said, make marvelous food, the kind they make at home for their families. Showcasing their cooking skills was a no-brainer. "People know that when they come to these ethnic festivals, they’re going to get homemade food, authentic, really good food," Francavilla said.

"OUTDOOR GRILLING is so enticing because you can smell the aromas of the meat and the spices that they use," said Quint. A spit-roasted lamb dinner, with rice cooked with ground lamb, onions, aromatic spices and pine nuts, and sides of salad, yogurt sauce and pita bread is $12.50. A m’nezzeleh platter, baked eggplant stuffed with ground lamb, onions, aromatic spices and pine nuts, and served with rice and vermicelli, salad and pita bread is $8.50. Sandwiches and wraps, from kebabs to kafta of ground beef and lamb to gyros are priced from $6.50 each.

While the spiced fragranced beef, lamb and chicken are the big draw, a variety of vegetarian dishes are available, as well. There are falafel burgers, baba ghannouj, a popular Arabic green bean and tomato dish called loobyeh, and a vegetable platter featuring loobyeh, spinach pie, hummos and tabbouleh with rice and pita bread. Placing sample platters on a display table proved the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words, Quint said. Guests unfamiliar with Middle Eastern food choose their foods from the display.

Grilled hot dogs are available for children, and the sweets table offers American-style pastries, as well as the syrupy, nutty, orangey, fragranced Middle Eastern sweets. Strong, dark Arabic coffee and American coffee are sold, too.

Not that anything other than food is anticipated at a food festival, but for families, there is live music, dancing, games, a moon bounce, activities and tours of the uniquely ornate Middle Eastern church, Holy Transfiguration. The church, in the Spring Hill area of Lewinsville Road, is adorned with colorful and gilded statuettes and paintings in the Eastern style. Church tours will be conducted throughout the afternoon on both festival days.

"You’re going to get your money’s worth at the food festival because it is a family event," said Francavilla.

HOLY TRANSFIGURATION Melkite Greek-Catholic Church is located at 8501 Lewinsville Road, McLean, in the Spring Hill area. See www.holytransfiguration.org or call 703-734-9566 for more information on the festival.