Thursday, July 22, 2010

Big fat etiquette

Such a great scene. The appalling nature of the meat abstinence would have been the same in many homes I knew growing up, including my Grandmother's. That has little to do with being Greek, but big fat family meals and the sentiment of cooking for you, that is woven into Greek DNA.

As it happens, I'm a little obsessed with Greece, Greek food, Greek wine, and now, Windex. Not the Greek diners we New Yorkers knew as kids: Formica counters, old warped travel posters of Greece, and some gyros tossed in to lend authenticity to a menu from which I shamelessly ordered vanilla coke and egg salad. If only I had known.

Like every place and culture, dining with a Greek family has some big fat etiquette and I tell you this only because I hope you know one, and I hope they invite you for a meal, and I hope it is around Easter. Fates willing then, you have some time then to brush up your Greek; study even. There is a lot to learn: The Greeks are a vertible crossroads of cultural food touches; marked by wars, invasions, occupations, and great growing land. Their tables are a literal feast of flavor, color, laughter, and joy.

"In the villages, the traditional way of dining is still observed, and very pleasant and relaxed it is. A table is set up in a courtyard and on it is spread a variety of mezethes for guests and family to nibble on for and hour or two while they chat and wind down.

Every meal is preceded by mezethe's, 'To prepare the stomach for the onslaugh to come,' as one ancient Greek writer exxplained.

When the mezethes are finished, bread, salad, and a main course are set int he center of the table. Vegetables are usually served later, separate from the main course.

Family and guests alike are expected to serve themselves to the food provided and to pass their wine glasses to the host to be filled...

Taking large helpings of everything at the start of the meal, to show appriciated for the food, would actually be an insult to the host, implying there might not be enough food to go around! Instead the diners helps themselves to the same dish several times, proving to the host they are enjoying themselves with the food he offers.

When we serve Greek food at home, these customs can pose problems. Our guests, used to spending less time relaxing before dinner, can easily mis-judge the pace of the meal and become full on mezethes! Thus, it is better to serve just a few mezethakia suck as olives, feta cheese, salted almonds, and peppered figs with drinks. Then, at the table, serve two or three more substantial mezethes as a first course.

In traditional Greek homes no separate first or soup courses are served (a soup is sually served as a compelte meal), so the main course is served immediately after the mezethes.

Fresh fruit, or perhaps pudding or ice cream usually completes the meal.

After the meal, and away from the dining table, Greeks often enjoy honey-rich pastries, candies, or syruped fruit (glyka) with coffee. For us these treats make delectable desserts."

- The Flavors of Greece, Rosemary Barron (William Morrow & Co, 1991)

Or, maybe, it would be best to go to Greece in person.

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suburban prep said...

I have been to Greece once just a bit over 18 yrs ago. My brother is married to a woman from Greece. They go there a few times a year.
This coming months issue of Savour Magazine is all about Greek cuisine.

Stephanie said...

oh, DO go! it is heaven on earth! There is nothing quite like dining outside, in a courtyard in the shade, or at a table right on the water, the freshest food and good company...and the quality of the light there is simply divine.

JMW said...

This sounds like an ideal way to truly enjoy the gastronomic experience!