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Greek island taverna

Eating in Greek tavernas

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Kefalonia recipes

Greek taverna
Greeks share metzes

Greek food STARTERS (metzes)
Tsatziki: garlic yoghurt
Choriatiki: feta salad
Dolmades: vine leaves
Gigantes: butter beans

Food served lukewarm

Souvlaki: kebab
Keftedes: meatballs
Stifado: beef and onion
Kleftiko: baked lamb
Moussaka: mince
Brizoles: chops
Kotopoulo: chicken
Pastitsio: macaroni
Gemista: tomatoes

Zaxa taverna
Honey used in cakes

Greek food SWEETS
Baklavas: honey pastry
Mila: apple
Karpouzi: watermelon
Stafilia: grapes
Pagato: ice cream

Greek food is not all peaches and cream. It can be healthy - plenty of salads and olive oil - but it can be rather boring too. Dishes are mainly borrowed from the Italians and Turks and involve either stuffing ingredients into a pot and boiling them in oil or in stabbing them with a skewer and setting fire to them. But it's not all a dog's dinner. Chicken is cheap, lamb delicious, omelettes wonderful and yoghurt and honey out of this world.

Meals Most hot meals in Greece are served lukewarm. Dishes are cooked in the morning and reheated for the evening customers. This is not done for economic reasons, it's a cultural thing. Greeks believe tepid food is better for the digestion and more agreeable in a hot climate - and who is to say they are not right. Some visitors find this difficult to stomach, used as they are to meals served up piping hot to combat the cold.

Olive oil Many meals arrive swimming in olive oil, once scorned by tourist visitors but now known to be very healthy. A European study found the Cretan diet to almost guarantee and long and active life consisting as it does plenty of olive oil and fresh vegetables with a little meat and washed down with red wine.

Fruit Dishes are often displayed in cabinets outside the taverna and customers are also welcome to wander around the kitchens. Some like to display the menu on neon-lit advert hoardings, usually so bleached by the sun that meals bear a more than passing resemblance to diseased vomit. These tavernas usually have touts to drag in diners from the street. Avoid both the touts and the tavernas. Waiters all get a percentage of the take in their wages so it is not strictly necessary to tip - but, hell with it, you are on holiday after all. Extras on the bill are usually local taxes.

Service Service is sluggish at best. Expect to wait to order, to wait for your meal and to wait for the bill. Note how irritating it can be to wait for service while watching the sun set on a balmy evening outdoors.

Eggs Greeks eat little in the morning so hotel breakfasts tend to be spartan. Eggs are overboiled until they turn green. Go for the yoghurt and honey as Greeks excel in producing both.

Fish Fish tends to be expensive (despite the well stocked Med on the doorstep) and looks even more so as it is usually priced by the kilo.

Food Some tavernas still offer a 'free' gift of food or drink after a meal. You may get apple slices with nutmeg, baklavas or even an ouzo brandy. Too often this happens on your first visit only, although some continue the tradition.

Greek beer
Mythos beer

Greek wine and beer

Greek wines have had a deservedly dire reputation for years. Ask for red wine in a heavily touristed area and you will get a bottle of sour plonk pulled straight out of the fridge, virtually undrinkable. Things have improved recently thanks to subsidies to winemakers to modernise their plant and there are now half decent wines to be had. Even the cheap and cheerful Demestika, once nicknamed Domestos, is now not too bad.

Names to look for are Boutari and Rotonda for reds and Lac des Roches and Achaia Claus for whites. Many islands have their own distinctive labels. Crete, Santorini and the Ionian islands of Kefalonia and Lefkas are notable examples.

Retina Retsina is Greece's best known wine with a distinctive taste of pine resin inherited from pine plugs once used to seal wine jars. Pine needles are now added to flavour the fermenting wine. Kingsley Amis likened drinking it to swallowing a boiled-down cricket bat. It is an acquired taste and is best drunk cold. Draught retsina is a big improvement on the bottled stuff and, strangely, tastes best of all from the can.

Ouzo Ouzo is a lethal aniseed flavoured drink best given a wide berth unless you are prepared to pay for the best. The best is distilled on Lesvos and is about 50% proof. Greek brandy such as Metaxa and Botrys are sweet and coarse. Metaxa with coke is a popular drink in cocktail bars.

Beer Beer is mostly imported lager with Heineken and Amstel available everywhere. Greek beer is worth a try and if you spot Hellas or Mythos on the shelves then ask for it. If, like me you prefer your beer warm, then shrug off the laughter and insist on a bottle that has not been in the fridge - at least it won't taste like you are drinking your own teeth.

Coffee Drinking Greek coffee is like crunching volcanic sand and best avoided. Nescafe sachets are ubiquitous and exorbitantly priced. Expect to pay through the nose for soft drinks, especially fresh orange juice, although, it has to be said, the stuff is absolutely delicious.

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