Armenian Food Festival celebrates culture and community

The 62nd Armenian Food Festival in San Francisco celebrated the beauty and variety of Armenian traditions and culture with food and festivities

Alexis Briano and her daughter Colette (middle) on the dance floor with another child during the Armenian food festival on Sept 15, 2019. (Photo by William Wendelman / Golden Gate Xpress)

Music and the smell of grilled steak and spices wafted through the air of the crowded outdoor tent. People of all ages gathered for evenings full of laughter, full bellies and plates heaped with rice pilaf, lule kebob and boereg. 

The 62nd Armenian Food Festival and Bazaar at St. Gregory Church in Saroyan Hall celebrated the culture and community of Armenians in the Bay Area. For three days from Sept. 13 to 15, the festival showcased traditional Armenian dishes and desserts, and booths for local Armenian businesses. 

Since 1958, the festival has brought the Armenian community together at the biggest Armenian food festival in Northern California. 

“This festival is a way for us to share our culture and traditions with everybody,” said Mato Senekeremian, SF State alumnus and co-chair of Armenian Food Festival San Francisco. “We’re trying to preserve our culture and move forward into the future.” 

Festival organizers emphasized the importance of several generations within the Armenian community in San Francisco coming together. Senekeremian said volunteers at the St. Gregory Church spent three months preparing the food for the festival. 

Volunteers from St. Gregory Church make soorj, a traditional Armenian coffee on Sept 14, 2019. (Photo by William Wendelman / Golden Gate Xpress)

“This is just a snapshot of what it means to be Armenian,” Lori Bardizbanian, a volunteer for the event, said. “We like to sit and eat together, have great food and good coffee. There is a cheerfulness to Armenian culture that we want to share.” 

The main attraction was a booth where church volunteers served hundreds of cups of tea and strongly brewed Armenian coffee called soorj to eager guests. Many attendees enjoyed a cup of soorj with a piece of baklava or choereg, a sweet, buttery bread. All of the dishes and desserts were made in-house at the church kitchen. 

“I was looking for something fun, unusual, cool and delicious,” said David Back, who was celebrating his 35th birthday at the festival. “We’re lucky that there are a lot of fun cultural events in the Bay Area.” 

The festival featured musical performances from Armenian artist Vrej Sahagian on the main stage. Students from KZV Armenian School, which is next door to the church, performed a traditional Armenian dance called Kochari. 

“People can come and have a cultural experience and learn something new,” said Arsen Shirvanyan, a festival organizer and government affairs director at the Armenian National Committee of America. “The best way to fight against hate is through education like this festival.” 

Mayor London Breed attended the festival as Saturday’s special guest along with district attorney candidate Suzy Loftis. In

Mayor London Breed on stage at the Armenian food festival. (Photo by William Wendelman / Golden Gate Xpress)

her speech, the mayor said she admired the resilience of the Armenian community and urged voters to vote for Loftis in the upcoming election.

“And I’m going to make sure I get some food,” Breed said.