Back to Greece
MEALS AND CUSTOMS
Greeks don't like being alone and don't think that anyone or even any
thing should ever be alone. For example, a drink must always be
accompanied with food and food must always be enjoyed with friends. Greek
men can always find an excuse to be with other men and consider it an
unparalleled honor to have guests - even strangers - to share their home
and food. Greek women seriously value their reputation as hostesses and
the very finest will be provided to the guest even if it sometimes means
that the family must do without.
So deeply valued is the concept of hospitality that it is closely
interwoven with a sense of self-esteem in the Greek word philotimo.
Since a part of hospitality is a display of generosity, members of the
Greek family happily extend every courtesy and the best of their food to
their guests. This, however, can have adverse effects. Greek women may be
insulted if only one helping of food is taken; they firmly believe in the
Arabic saying, "The food equals the affection." Greek men may feel shamed
if their offers of hospitality are refused. Moreover, it is often true
that any failed gesture in the ritual of hospitality on the part of guest
or host can be construed as either a personal insult, a family or communal
insult, or even disdain of the ancient gods themselves.
Perhaps it is not even correct to suggest that the treatment of guests is
any kind of "ritual" to the Greeks, for their enjoyment of people and
their warmth of affection are sincere. Thus, if one's appetite is limited,
it may be best to visit during the late afternoon rather than at mealtime.
In Greece, from five to nine o'clock is considered late afternoon when
visitors would be treated to spoon sweets, fresh cool water, and perhaps
Ouzo and pastries. The Greeks delight in their children and it is expected
that visitors will admire the little ones and bring small gifts for them.
But should the guests' admiration extend to a particular object in their
home — in the generosity of most Mediterranean peoples — the Greek family
would probably make you a gift of the admired item.
Age-old tradition even accompanies the offering of refreshments to
visitors. It is the Greek hostess who serves all food and drink while the
host remains at all times to converse with the guests. The oldest guest is
served first. Traditionally, a spoonful of the homemade sweet is taken
together with a glass of water and, before partaking, the honored guest
extends good wishes to the entire family and ends with the expression: "Yiasus!"
This means, "To your good health!" Everyone then sips the water and tastes
the sweet preserves. This will be followed by general conversation. Ouzo
or whiskey may then be served accompanied by the tasty small pastries that
Greek homes never seem to be without, especially when guests arrive.
The pattern of the day's meals varies from rural to urban dwellers. The
Greek farmer rises early, often with little more than grape juice or fruit
brandy to start his day. His noon meal will be brought to the fields for
him by his wife or daughter and the basket will contain a hot soup, bread
and cheese, perhaps olives and raw onions, tomatoes and cucumbers and
occasionally a sweet pastry or fresh fruit. The farmer eats his evening
meal after sundown when the chores are completed. The meal is similar to
the noon one except that a meat dish may be added if meat is available or
if it is not a fast day. The table is set with colorful woodenware and the
women place the meal on colorful cloths woven from goats' wool.
Turkish coffee begins the city dweller's day, while the noon meal may
extend for much of the afternoon and even include a siesta. Many
cosmopolitan menus are available to those in cities, and it is only in
private homes that often the really authentic Greek dishes are preserved
and treasured. Typically a visit to the coffeehouse or taverna ends
the workday from the smallest villages to the cities, and is a habit
continued even in emigrant countries – but only for men. Traditionally
dinner is served very late in the evening – ten o'clock is considered the
usual time. And even after dinner at home it is not considered too late
for an evening visit to the taverns or kafeneion.
Although mealtimes form a pattern there is always time for snacking,
always a place to provide what the mood dictates. The kafeneion is
the Greek cafe where Turkish coffee in its many varieties will be
individually, ceremoniously prepared in a long-handled pot called a briki.
It is also a place where a man may enjoy animated conversation or a quiet
snooze while sprawled out on several chairs. Zacharoplasteions are
strategically located shops which offer tempting varieties of honeyed
pastries, nutted sweets, and fabled candy confections to be enjoyed with
Turkish coffee whenever the urge for sweets insinuates itself. Hunger,
whether for a meal or a hearty snack, may be assuaged at the psistarya,
eateries whose specialties include charcoal-roasted lamb rotated on spits
and served with simple green salad, Greek bread, and the husky red house
And then there are the tavernas, second home to most Greek men. Why not?
For it is here that anything from a small drink to a complete meal can be
enjoyed with conversation and often with debate and frequently with the
insistent and soulful rhythms of the bouzouki. It is in the Greek
tavernas that the guests are expected to walk directly to the kitchen to
make their selections of food (a word or two of advice to the chef is in
order too). Platters are placed on a table and diners help themselves or
they may choose their foods directly from the cooking pots. The meal is
always enjoyed with crusty white bread and wine. It is also in the
tavernas that the lusty combination of good food and drink, good friends
and music together well up in the Greek soul and burst forth in the
controlled exuberance of impromptu dancing. The Greeks have a word for
that impulsive ecstasy of the spirit – they call it kefi.
The Greeks are a people to whom the word zenos means both stranger
and guest; to whom philotimo expresses the sincerely natural
rituals of hospitality; and to whom the height of spiritual pleasure
blends people, food, drink, and music into a spontaneously joyous burst of
kefi. Why shouldn't the Greeks have the right words for the things they do