Greeks, to put it mildly, love food. The idea of walking into my Greek grandmother’s home and saying, “I’m not hungry,” makes me laugh to this day. She would never allow visitors, friends, and especially family to go without a bite of something special — even if she wasn’t expecting you.
Thinking of her delicious foods, from savoury bites of spanakopita to sweet treats like loukoumades, made me wonder about other shared Greek food rules. So, I went straight to the source for answers.
Aby Saltiel, the co-owner of Kalesma, Mykonos, one of the chicest new hotels in the islands, is a man who grew up in Thessaloniki, devouring all the best foods in Greece from birth until now. Here are the seven food and drink rules he says Greeks live by.
Greek food and drink rules to know before you dine in Greece
1. Breakfast isn’t a must (but it can be delicious)
Breakfast isn’t as important in Greece as in other nations, though, as Saltiel says, a few new traditions are picking up steam.
“Breakfast is a very debatable issue in Greece. Besides the ‘cigarettes and coffee‘ semi-truthful joke, urban Greeks would traditionally eat yoghurt, milk, and boiled eggs in the morning,” he explains. “Although, in rural areas, everything would depend on the moment and availability. One could see olive oil and sugar on a piece of bread, homemade jams and sheep’s milk butter on bread or with rusks, and in some cases, rice puddings, or even ‘sweetened trahana,’ a fermented, dried wheat.”
There is one more thing Greeks are not only getting into but absolutely perfecting — brunch.
“Greeks enjoy ‘brunches’ all over, just like everybody else in the world, a breakfast service provided by Instagram.”
2. There’s always a salad at lunch
Lunch is a big deal for Greeks, but as Saltiel says, there’s always a little roughage involved.
“Lunch until recently was a full-size family meal, mainly due to the lack of a full breakfast, and it would normally involve the whole family,” he says. “Yes, there’s definitely a Greek salad, or at least a tomato salad when in season.”
According to Saltiel, work and life have changed Greece’s eating habits a bit, but as he notes, “Greek kids, especially after school, do still enjoy a full meal at lunch,” so maybe there’s hope of the traditional lunch returning one day.
3. Dinner is always later than you think
Like most other European nations, Greece is a destination that loves a good late-night dinner. Perhaps, later than most.
“Late, very late, almost vampire time,” Saltiel jokes, “We are a nation in need of sleep collectively.”
4. The wine is just as important as the food
Be prepared to always have your cup runneth over when having dinner with Greeks.
Wine, Saltiel says, “always was and still is” served at every dinner. “The only thing that has changed in the past few years is our need for better wine, and the great thing is we can find it locally and at great prices. When we refer to dinner meals, we use the word ‘trapezi,’ meaning ‘table,’ and that includes food and wine inseparably along with the people present. We don’t dine; we set up the table, the setting.”
5. Sweet treats are an integral part of the experience
“Why should anybody say no to a sweet treat,” Saltiel exclaims about the culture’s love for sugary delights. “We don’t overdo it, except for every single holiday. That’s part of our collective consciousness. That’s how we achieve happiness.”
6. Measuring doesn’t matter
When it comes to precision in cooking and baking, Greeks don’t really care if they get it right down to the last teaspoon.
“As a matter of fact, we do not,” Saltiel says when asked if Greeks tend to measure out their ingredients. “In certain instances, we abide by technique but not measurements. ”
7. Meals are always a shared experience
Sharing a meal with Greeks can mean sharing it with their family, friends, neighbours, or just someone they met on the way to dinner.
Meals, Saltiel says, are “always with family and friends. Actually, except for tourists and visitors, I don’t think I have ever seen someone eating alone at a restaurant. And if so, the restaurant owner will probably keep them company, so he or she won’t end up being alone.”
This story first appeared on www.foodandwine.com
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