When you are in a foreign country and going don’t speak the language, you might feel some trepidation about eating and spend your time ferreting around supermarkets or the ubiquitous ‘mini-markets’ in Greece, looking for things that can be unwrapped and eaten. The mini-market is the equivalent of the British corner shop.
There are two basic types of restaurant in Greece, the taverna (ταβερνα), which is generally cheap and provides you with traditional Greek food, and the estiatorio (εστιατωριο), the slightly more expensive restaurant. Fear not! The Greeks are proud of their cuisine and will help you make your choice! They will try to persuade you into having a seafood platter which is probably the most expensive dish on the taverna menu, but be firm and ask the price before ordering. Large fish are sold by the kilo, so again, ask for it to be weighed in front of you and then decide whether or not you want it.
As for wine, ask to have a carafe or half carafe of the house wine.(Often it’s sold by the kilo.) It will probably be as good or better than the stuff you pay more for which comes out of a bottle. You can choose between red or white although sometimes there is also a rosé on offer. Have a Greek coffee to end your meal with a Greek brandy perhaps (Metaxa) which comes with stars 7 stars being the most expensive and smoothest. As an aperitif, try the ouzo – with water and ice. You can get small bottles of it to share as these give you two measures. You can put the water in the ouzo or drink it on the side. There is also raki which is a clear ‘brandy’ or perhaps I should say firewater which is not to be confused with Turkish raki.
Greek coffee is basically the same as Turkish coffee, but if you ask for a Turkish coffee you will be told that there is only Greek coffee and some waiters may get a tad huffy. You get it in three ways, sweet (glyki), semi-sweet (metrio) and with no sugar (sketo).
I have terrible trouble ordering coffee for myself as I don’t like sugar and skata (meaning shit) is very similar to sketo! I was once in a mountain village in Crete with other people and managed to get the order done in Greek until it came to my coffee when I asked for the wrong type! The caféneion we were in had seen better days and had a sad, grimy calendar on view which was several years out of date, and oil stains up the walls. We were sat at a rickety table on similar chairs outside this establishment and the owner thought I was being rude and casting aspersions on her establishment. I hastened to apologize and explain my slip, but I lapsed into Turkish which was frowned upon! There was a priest and a student sitting behind us and after they had stopped howling with laughter, the priest explained that I was a tourist not a snooty Athenian. After that all was well as I had tried, at least, to speak Greek.
Incidentally there is also a Greek beer called “Fix” which used to be around in the 1980s but which was discontinued, although it’s back again now. Mythos beer is very good and cheaper than the more famous international brands.
A Greek menu is full of surprises but more of that in my next post!