The St. Elias Mediterranean Festival, Austin’s oldest food-based celebration, turns 75 this fall—young compared to the families who organized it.
“Austin had a large concentration of Lebanese immigrants as early as the 1880s,” says David Jabour, a third-generation Lebanese-Texan, who co-chairs the festival with his sister Margaret. “You know how it is: one family immigrates and the rest find out there’s food on the table.”
That continued, even during the Great Depression, when Lebanese families sold ethnic food on a downtown corner to raise money to build an Eastern Orthodox church. The tradition grew steadily; the festival now attracts 10,000 revelers in a weekend.
They’ll experience music, dancing, and even a live camel, but for Jabour, it’s still about food handmade by individual Austin families like his, using their particular family recipes. He’s constitutionally incapable of choosing between stuffed grape leaves, kibbeh, tabouli, falafel and baklava, among many others favorites, and hopes he won’t be too busy running the event to eat.
“It’s like throwing a party for ten thousand of your friends,” he says, “cooked by a few hundred of your relatives.”
St. Elias Mediterranean Festival, October 5 and 6, 11th St. between Red River and Trinity. mediteranneanfestival.org .