I can remember Greece in many ways, but most of all I remember every moment of genuine hospitality and great food. We were always welcomed into homes, and feasts lasted for days!
The experience is somewhat different than one tends to imagine. You know some of the flavors and cuisine, but you never truly understand it until you are there. As with other cuisine, all the basics show up; Gyro's, Tzatziki, Baklava, Feta cheese and Dolmas, but you are really in for a surprise when a Greek is your host.
The difference between what you think you know, and what it’s really like when you are there starts with the products. The tomatoes are so ripe you smell them from afar, the phyllo dough is as thin as lace yet magically crisp, and as for the dairy, from yogurts to cheese, particularly feta, nothing is more vibrant. It's no wonder the ancient Greeks designated a God to dairy. Aristoaios , the son of Apollo, earned his name from "Aristide" meaning "most useful," especially when it came to cheese crafting. Cheese shows up in eggs, appetizers, deserts and more.
There is much to be explored from the beautiful coastal areas that are alive with the maritime culture, to cities like Athens, rooted in centuries of history. Athens Is regarded as the “cradle of civilization” and the birthplace of democracy, and coincided with Alexander the Great and the Ottoman Empire. Greece held center stage for millennia, and so the food comes from a rich history and culinary culture.
Being in the top ten countries with the longest coastlines, it goes without saying that fish is something not to miss when you are in Greece. Because of its trade and seaports, all of Greece seems to blend with much of the Mediterranean Sea and you can see traces and variations of Greek seafood dishes in neighboring countries.
Did someone say Souvlaki!? Well my trip wouldn't be complete without those little skewers of meats marinated with lemon and oregano. Pita? Well the pita we know here pales in comparison to the pita you are served in Greece. The smell of freshly baked pita wafts through many streets, like pockets of fragrant clouds, and preludes the light feeling and savor of this delicious bread.
Much of Greek cuisine’s favorite dishes are the sum of family recipes passed down through generations and as such, the best of these dishes always feels like grandma made them. The Moussaka is just one of those dishes, when you eat an expertly prepared moussaka in Greece, you know that generation upon generation have enjoyed that family recipe.
My biggest surprise was a Soutzoukakia Smyrneika, which is minced meat sausages ( Kofte,) spiced with cumin and cinnamon and served in a garlic tomato sauce. Surely an influence of centuries of Ottoman rule, but still demands accolades for a dish made right.
Not to worry my dear vegetarians, Greece has much to offer you too. Gigandes Plaki could satisfy any craving, beautiful gigantic white beans in a tomato herb stew, and it goes without saying, that when in Greece, Spanakopita is a must have for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike!
If you make it to Greece, and don't give up your diet for one piece of Baklava, you haven't lived! Rich with honey and syrup and packed with chopped nuts, each bite leaves you wanting more, and there is an endless variety of Baklava to choose from: pistachio, walnut, hazelnuts, honey, rose water or orange blossom, where to begin? It’s easy, I'll have one of each! A little known trivia is that in Greece, Baklava is supposed to be made with 33 layers of dough, referring to the years of Christ's life.
If Baklava isn't your addiction then head for the Kourabiedes and Loukoumades. Kourabiedes are also known to us as the airy and flaky, melt in your mouth (wedding) cookies from Greece that are doused in confectionery sugar. This might sound like a definite sugar rush but there was nothing the Greek monks of Mount Athos in Macedonia didn't have a cure for, thus the birth of Tsipouro in the 14th century. Tsipouro is clear distilled spirits from left over wine grape skins, and this 45% alcohol, either pure or anise flavored, is tainted with spices and herbs that will clear the palate.
In reflection, it is amazing to see the ruins of Athens and taste Ancient Greece in its purity. Much like its history, Greece is exactly what it claims, Greece is a great feast!
Stin iyia mas! (cheers, to our health!)