We regard “to greek” as a verb. “We greek” or “do you want to go greek with us?”, it does not sound strange to us. We became acquainted with the land and food early on. Not all experiences were equally great, but they have provided great memories and a love for Greek food.
My first encounter with Greece was a 15-day trip with a friend. It was our very first encounter with air travel; I had just turned 20 years old. We landed in Athens and had a hotel near the Corinth Canal in Lecheon where tourism was still in its infancy.
I do not remember much of the food itself, except that each evening we were sitting at a table with checkered rugs on a terrace on uncomfortable wooden chairs together with another couple and a newly married couple wanted at no expense to dine with others at a table, which was found very remarkable by the staff.
Then followed trips to Kos and Corfu for a week each. Together with my mother, I stayed in a wonderful apartment on Kos with great views over the sea. She had then discovered the medicinal Ouzo. It was good for her rheumatism, she said. That medicinal we still find a strong excuse to enjoy this delicious anise drink unscrupulously and we highly appreciate a glass of it, which is offered as an aperitif by most restaurants in the Netherlands and Germany today.
In the larger and more westerly Corfu my mother and I (my current (travel) buddy just came into the picture, but was not allowed yet) stayed in a hotel where the restaurant was too small and had to be eaten in two sessions. If you were in line for the first session and the room was full then you were unlucky and you could try again two hours later.
If Greeks have adapted their hotel kitchen to the tourists, as we found it on Crete, then you are really unlucky! When the holiday was over, we first had a nice Greek meal at home at the local Greek in Brabant. It was a brilliant holiday, but that hotel food was a disaster. A stark contrast to what the locals put on the table. With a rental car we have made beautiful rides across the island. At one point we were hungry and decided to look for a lunch opportunity. We parked the car and found an almost deserted village. After a few steps we reached a small restaurant that was open. It was a scantily decorated place with some older locals on rickety wooden chairs at a table with a red checkered cloth on it. We did not have high expectations. We ordered something by chance, because our Greek does not go beyond kalimera, ouzo, gyros and tzatziki and the men did not know English. But we noticed quickly that wasn’t a problem, because the food we were served was delightful! For a few euros we have enjoyed the food immensely and our love for Greek food has really come to fruition.
You can also have a totally different experience in a Greek hotel. We have mouth-watering memories of our hotel on Zakynthos. From our hotel room we had to go down some stairs, cross a path and go down many more steps, because the restaurant was beautiful down by the pool. The dinner buffet was really exquisite and we always ate too much. Walking up the stairs to our room to belly was also a real test. Almost every evening we dined there, the “ice rabbit” passed by our table. A skinny young woman who only went to the buffet once and then came back with a plate with some iceberg lettuce on it. The nickname “ice rabbit” is then quickly and not very creatively invented. We just could not comprehend that with so much excellent food you could only put lettuce on your plate. A greater contrast with our plates and walks to the buffet was not possible.
Rhodes presented us with a similar experience as in Crete. The hotel food was not bad, but not what we expected. A few apple wedges is not what we call a dessert. Further it was just the standard international kitchen. That is just not it for us. When we are abroad we do not only want to get acquainted with nature, special places, villages and cities, but also with local food. We rented a “doghouse”, as we have come to call the car that looked pretty square but was quite suitable for holidays on our destinations. With the “doghouse” we toured the beautiful island and a particular lunch we can remember well. After a beautiful drive through a lot of nature we suddenly came across a remote restaurant with a beautiful location. It was situated high in the mountainous area. It had a large terrace and wonderful views over the surrounding areas and we enjoyed the local pallet of goodies.
When we make a trip to Germany we “test” many Greek restaurants. Eating out with our eastern neighbors is almost synonymous with Greek food. Whether it is in the Ruhr area, Berlin, Bavaria or the Black Forest, we find a Greek on our path. The nice thing about Germany is that you often get a plate of salad in advance. You can already have the vitamins inside, right?
In London we also have an address where you can eat delicious Greek food. It is nice to see that every country gives its own twist to Greek food. Here we got an etagère with a lot of smaller sized dishes and at other times we chose a kind of wraps.
We also found traces of Greek cuisine outside of Europe. In Florida you even have a town on the west coast, Tarpon Springs, which is mainly populated by Greeks. It was once created because thousands of Greeks emigrated towards the end of the 19th century. Today it is a tourist attraction with many Greek shops and restaurants and sponges. Of course you can eat Greek food there and we did that too. The first time by chance, the second time, years later when we visited Florida again, was deliberate. Both times we were presented with a gigantic plate of delicious food that we could not finish. In restaurants on the other side of the ocean, the waiters regularly ask if you want a “box”, so that the food you cannot finish does not have to go wasted. Here we have eagerly used it, so we could eat it later. A little thing …. do not warm up the food in the styrofoam box, because the microwave, which you find almost in every hotel room in the USA, does not like it much. We tried it, because we had no other kitchen equipment available with a low wattage and a short period of time. We quickly removed the food and ate it up lukewarm. Even in the Netherlands we now dare to ask for a box, because how sin is it to throw away all those goodies?
In Canada we have seized the opportunity to eat Greek in the neighborhood of Halifax. It was great to eat something different than burgers and related American tinted meals.
In Kerkrade, Valkenburg, Bergen op Zoom, Wageningen, Roosendaal, Ede, Papendrecht, Dordrecht, Steenbergen, The Hague and we must not forget Goes, we have regularly enjoyed dishes with gyros, saganaki, tiropita, tzatziki, souvlaki, sousuki, moussaka, baklava, lamb chops etc. Sometimes it tasted better than the other, but we always went home satisfied.
At home we now make our own version of moussaka. We used a package in the past, but they are no longer sold. So we started working with aubergines / courgettes, minced meat, potatoes, cheese and so on. The result is always a not to be sneezed full baking dish that spreads a lovely scent through the house. The feta can no longer be ignored from our kitchen as well as the love for the so-called Greek farm salads and many Greek cookbooks adorns the counter!