Fishing is one of the main occupations here on the island, and sardines from here are famed all over the world. I personally do not eat sardines or really small fish for that matter, I prefer a much larger white fish with a subtle flavor. Greeks on the other hand savor eating small fish and drinking ouzo. In my next post, I will share with you about ouzo, but for now I let’s talk fish and eating out.
Every seaside village has a harbor and they are always full of parked fishing boats. In the mornings, you can see the fishermen, who have just returned from sea, cleaning their nets for the next day’s outing. Most of them have a cigarette hanging out of their mouth and hands tougher than leather, not to mention their fish cologne.
Of course, where ever you smell fish, there are cats and where ever you find cats, there are dogs. Within walking distance of all harbors you will definitely find a ψαροταβερνα, psarotaverna, a fish tavern, and probably more cats. They make some of the freshest and most delicious fish I have ever tasted, but naturally for a good chunk of change. Still, anyone that comes to Greece and likes fish must splurge and eat at a fish tavern at least once, maybe twice. It is always accompanied by ouzo and other μεζέδες, mezedes, appetizers of cheese, veggies, ect. It is very common when going out for lunch or dinner in Greece that you eat family style, sharing everything. There is even a basic meal that is always ordered with slight variances.
For a typical meal among friends or family you would find the following options.
Wine, usually a house white or red
Ouzo, a must if eating fish
Beer, choice of Amstel, Heineken, or Mythos (Greek beer)
A basket of fresh bread
Salad. Either traditional Geek salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, feta, and olives or a warm salad of village grass served with lemon and oil (V’s favorite)
Fried Cheeses. There are too many wonderful varieties to mention them all, but most common are either a hard, salty cheese that is grilled or a lightly fried cheese log filled with ham and white, soft cheese
Sauces. Typically at least one of these three dips are ordered and served. Tzatziki, a yogurt and cucumber dip; Tirosalata, a blend of feta and slightly spicy green pepper; Melizanosalta, eggplant salad.
Veggies. Almost always an order or two of potatoes or homemade fries, accompanied by any variety or zucchini, eggplant, dolmades (rice stuffed vine leaves), or any other vegetable the restaurant has made for the daily menu.
Fish, chicken, lamb, souvlaki, beef, goat, or any of the traditional dishes that have been prepared. Usually, a local taverna has a daily menu and not something set that you can find anytime you want. They produce what is in season and what ingredients are on hand, not always what they have written on the menu.
Dessert. A highlight of eating out is that it has become customary to offer a sweet after your meal, this ranges from a simple serving of Greek yogurt with nuts and honey, to homemade cakes and ice cream, to a passed down family recipe of baklava. The great thing is that it is always included, meaning no extra charge!
Another huge difference about eating in Greece (or just with a Greek for that matter) is how long the lunch will last. Unlike in the US, meals typically last anywhere from 2-3 hours, and rarely under that time frame. They are also followed by a coffee for another couple of hours. Seriously, when we make “dates” to go out with our friends, it is an all day affair. Most Greeks love eating, sharing food, and having social time while soaking in the sun, talking, and smoking. I have finally gotten used to this custom lasting so long, but the first few times I found myself just plain tired, bored, and full all before the main meal had arrived. I eventually learned to pace myself and let go of the 45-minute “sit down, eat, leave” routine that most Americans follow suite to, especially since I have waitressed.
All in all, I think Greeks (and the rest of Europe) have this part of life figured out better than us Americans. Why should we pay to stuff our faces and then be rushed out? Isn’t it better to enjoy life with your family and friends, which includes prolonged dinner and coffee dates, averaging to a third of your day instead of only an hour here and there.
This week, live a little Greek and take a 2-3 hour lunch. Heck, why not even go home and take a nap after you finish so that you can experience siesta too :)