Springtime in Astoria–by Muckster via Flickr
Every year, I eagerly await springtime in New York. I get giddy just thinking about the Bronx Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Garden, window shopping for cute warm-weather clothes, and once again resuming my quest for the perfect iced coffee. Springtime also calls for fancy dresses and fun festivities in honor of the spring holidays, including Eastern Orthodox Easter, also known as Easter Sunday.
I spend the week in Astoria where I live, and on the weekend, I head home to Connecticut in time for midnight service at 12 a.m. on Easter Sunday. Later that afternoon, my family and I indulge in a fabulous traditional Easter bash with a smorgasbord of Greek food.
The holiday is the most important religious day of the year for us Greeks, my extended family puts extra effort into planning Easter Sunday each year. To address the inevitable question I’ve been assaulted with since grade school, “Why is my Easter different?” To condense a long and complex answer, we still follow the Julian Calendar that Julius Caesar established in 46 BC. Like Western Easter, Eastern Orthodox Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox. Unlike Western Easter, our Easter must be observed after Passover.
By now, both Easter and Passover may be long forgotten by most New Yorkers. Not so in Astoria, where the largest concentration of Greek-Americans in the United States reside. Any day of the year, places like Plaza Meat Market or Akropolis Meat Market have whole, fresh lambs in the windows, ready to be dressed and roasted. Ocean Fish Market has whole fishes like smelts and porgies on ice out front. Around this time, however, these shops increase their inventory for Greek Easter. People place orders weeks in advance for the meatiest, juiciest legs of lamb.
Flower shops like Annis Florals and Teddy’s Florist start featuring daffodils, crocuses, roman orchids, and even pussy willows. These hearty blooms thrive in the rocky terrain of Greece, and their long flowering season makes for the perfect Easter centerpiece or hostess gift no matter the date.
Markets like Titan Foods, EuroMarket, Mediterranean Foods will see shortages in their baking aisles as mothers scoop up spices, nuts, butter, phyllo dough, flour, and honey.
Easter dinner for me means roast lamb and traditional sides of dolmades (grapes leaves stuffed with herbs, rice, and ground lamb or beef) and fasolada (stewed green beans in a thick, fragrant herbed tomato sauce). For dessert we have baklava (baked phyllo dough filled with crushed walnuts or pistachios, seasoned with spices and drenched in simple syrup), as well as koulorakia (butter cookies washed in egg yolks and scattered with sesame seeds, formed into fun shapes like braids, bows, and figure eights), and kourabiedes (walnut sugar cookies baked into rounds or crescents, and then dusted with a layer of confectioner’s sugar).
If anxious grocery shopping and hours in the kitchen doesn’t sound relaxing, go out on Saturday for a traditional homestyle Greek meal in Astoria instead. Some of my top restaurant picks include: Taverna Kyclades, Gregory’s 26 Corner Tavern, Aliada, Zenon Taverna. After dinner, stop by Artopolis or Güllüoglu for some Greek coffee and a few syrupy sweet goodies.
Springtime has finally reached New York. With plenty of sunshine, warm winds, and longer days, this makes for the perfect time to experience Astoria’s vibrant culture while also seeing – and tasting – the delicious selection of foods associated with Greek Easter.