Words & Deeds

Deli Days isn't happening this year. But the Russian Food Festival is this weekend

When Rebekah Moser heard that Deli Days was taking the year off in 2018, she could relate.

A committee member of Boise's annual Russian Food Festival, Moser remembers the plug nearly getting pulled on St. Seraphim Russian Orthodox Church's fundraiser a couple of years ago.

"We had a bunch of people that were gone," Moser says, "and I was like, 'I don't know if we can do this!'"

Another parish pitched in. The event, started in 2005, survived and thrived. It keeps growing steadily every year, Moser says. From 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, she estimates that "several thousand" Boiseans will devour a smorgasbord of homemade deliciousness in the parking lot at 872 N. 29th St.

"I don't know if we ever counted," she admits.

The Russian culinary showcase is part of a dining trifecta that gets Boise mouths watering each spring. Two weeks later, the Greek Food Festival will get the tzatziki sauce flowing June 1-2 at Sts. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church, 2618 W. Bannock St.

Normally, Deli Days follows in mid-June. But after 30-plus years of hot pastrami and other Jewish kosher food, volunteers at Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel decided to rethink the future. Deli Days had gotten so popular that it became difficult to accommodate the hungry masses, and a congregation committee member told Boise Weekly: "We don't want to bite off more than we can chew."

Chomp into piroshki action instead. The Russian Food Festival menu also will include beef stroganoff, shish kebab, stuffed peppers, Russian crepes, chebureki, borscht, salads and a variety of desserts. Main dishes such as the stroganoff with rice and noodles or shish kebab with rice will cost $11. Other items typically run in the $3 to $5 range.

Piroshki is the Russian version of one of my fondest culinary memories as a rural kid in Nebraska: a runza. (In Kansas, they're called bierocks.) It's dough with meat and veggies baked inside. There's a beloved chain of Runza fast-food restaurants in the Midwest. Expect handmade piroshki at the Russian Food Festival to be of considerably higher quality.

"We do make everything from scratch," Moser says. "We don't buy anything predone."

Between dishes, festivalgoers will be able to take guided tours of the church. A local iconographer will paint on the premises, too.

Because there's one less food festival this spring, Deli Days' absence theoretically could boost attendance at the Russian Food Festival.

If the event does get more crowded, organizers might have to consider adjustments down the road. Church members have only so many hands, not to mention freezers and refrigerators. And the capacity of the site itself can't magically get bigger.

"We are limited to what we can do because we can only put a tent over the parking lot. That's it," Moser says. "We have talked about moving it to another venue, but we really don't want to do it. ... Part of it is to introduce people to the church as well."

The Russian Food Festival plays a vital role in church finances. Money raised this year will go straight into building renovations, Moser says.

In other words, don't expect the Russian Food Festival to take a year off anytime soon. Even if tired volunteers might be tempted.

"I don't see that happening," Moser says. "Trying to restart it would be too hard."

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