There I was, driving slowly down Ventura Boulevard in traffic, looking around me, when I saw an interesting banner. It read “Assyrian Food Festival” at an Assyrian church down the street from my home. Interested, I spoke to a couple of friends about it. “Syrian?” asked my friend Jenn for the tenth time. “No,” I said. “Assyrian. With an A.” “What’s the difference?” she queried.
I have to admit, I didn’t know. So before I went to St. Mary Assyrian Church in Tarzana, California today, I did some research.
The Assyrian Empire started somewhere around 2500 BCE in the city of Assur (hence the name) in the region of Mesopotamia just up-river from Babylonia. Reaching its peak around 700 BCE, the Assyrians ruled much of what is now Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Egypt, Turkey, and parts of Iran and the Arabian Peninsula.
Even after the dissolution of the Empire as a political entity, the Assyrian people remained distinct. They adopted Christianity en masse, and continue that practice today through the Assyrian Catholic Church – not affiliated with the Vatican. They have been a heavily persecuted minority in Muslim-controlled countries, hence the large population in the United States. There are still nationalist visions for the group, and the Assyrian flag was displayed prominently all over the event.
This was my first time inside an Assyrian church, and it was stunningly beautiful! There was an airy feel owed to the windows and cloud-painted surfaces.
The food was an assortment of items I recognized from that part of the world like kabobs, rice, and yogurt, along with some new things I’d never experienced. And a few I even had a rough time pronouncing.
The food was good, though the yogurt soup with vegetables and rice was incredibly acidic. Dessert also didn’t disappoint. Our first pastry disappeared before I could learn the name – though it was scrumptious – but I managed to save the apricot pastry just long enough to take a picture.
Everyone there was incredibly welcoming, and very eager to teach about their culture. The festival continues tomorrow (June 25) from 12-10pm, and I encourage anyone in the LA area to venture there. There is no charge to get in, and food prices are reasonable. If you miss it, it is an annual event that I will be sure to visit again next year!