Greek meze dining is a small plates meal shared in the middle of the table with family and friends. But it means to us so much more than that, as meze incorporates our Mediterranean way of living and desire for “get-togetherness”. Guests on our food tours often ask us: “Why Greeks are out for dinner till late at night on a regular weekday, don’t they have to go to work tomorrow? Or “How come Greeks, even in hard times, still go out and enjoy themselves, instead of staying home and saving money?
Let us explain: Greeks are somehow possessed by an invincible force to go out and gather around the table with friends and family. For us, it’s like going to therapy. We talk and laugh for hours over food and drinks, share our worries, encourage one another and then we go back home, feeling relieved, like all our problems vanished.
Meze food is interwoven with the Greek word “parea” which means “a group of friends who gather together purely to enjoy each other’s company and celebrate the simple things in life by eating, drinking and having fun. Our own favourite Greek word is “meraklis” – a person who enjoys good Greek food and drinks so much, that a dinner with friends takes the form of a ritual, like a private Holy Communion.
In the Greek drinking culture, alcohol is always accompanied by food. We do not drink to get drunk and intoxication is frowned upon. Drinking Greek wines and spirits has a certain role: to lift your spirits and help you open up, talk freely and truthfully. No wonder why ancient Greeks did not allow non-drinkers attend their symposia, their convivial discussions that involved a lot of Greek wine and entertainment.
In the countryside, life is slower and more spontaneous. On the way home from work, you might bump into friends who already sit down for meze food and drinks. As naturally hospitable Greeks, they will tell you: ”Sit down for a meze, just for a while…”. Don’t be fooled, it’s never “just for a while”. Before you know it, you will end up spending the whole night eating and drinking, having the time of your life! Meze restaurants in Greece, sometimes involve Greek live music and dancing to lift the spirits high!
In Greece you find hot or cold meze, as an appetizer or a whole meal. The food offered is diverse and the options are endless. On the Greek food map, each region offers its own, delectable treasures. On the island of Crete meze can be a small plate with tomatoes, cucumbers, pieces of local graviera cheese, olives and paximadi (twice-baked barley rusks), and seasonally artichokes, that accompany perfectly the Cretan firewater, raki or tsikoudia. In the North, local cuisine is a blend of Greek Macedonian, Thracian, Balkan, Ottoman and Jewish influences, so the tastes are stronger, like pickled or spicy foods, cured meats and marinated fish, all perfect pairings to the grape distillate called tsipouro.
Nothing compares though to the city of Volos in Central Greece, the Greek capital of meze and tsipouro. In the local meze joints, you just order your tsipouro drink- with or without (aniseed). Meze comes for free with each bottle, so the more you drink, the more food you get – mostly fish and seafood specialties of the house, that become more elaborate progressively.
Here’s a few words for you to unlock the mysteries of the Greek tapas culture:
Mezedopoleio / Ouzeri / Tsipouradiko = Different words that signify more or less the same thing – a Greek restaurant to enjoy meze recipes.
Poikilia = meaning variety in Greek, poikilia is a combo platter with different meze in small portions.
Ouzo = anise-flavoured, high-alcoholic Greek spirit to sip slowly with meze. Served with water, ice cubes and a touch of magic: when it comes in contact with water, ouzo turns from a clear into a cloudy white drink. Best consumed at a local tavern by the sunset, listening to the gentle splash of waves and eating freshly-caught fish and charred octopus – the ultimate Greek summer feeling that can make any nostalgic, expat Greek run to the airport and take the first flight back home 🙂
Pastourmadopitakia. Pastourmas is a traditional, “smelly” cured beef that, although for some locals it’s too much to be eaten plain, when it is cooked into a pie with crunchy fillo, kaseri cheese and tomato, vanishes from the table in no time!
Dolmadakia. Stuffed grape leaves with rice and herbs. One of the many Greek vegetarian dishes you can easily find all around the country.
Kolokythokeftedes. Keftedes means fritters in Greek. The most popular are the ones with zucchini, but almost any vegetable will do to make these delicious Greek meat-free patties.
Usually “baptised” in rich yoghurt-based tzatziki dip, one bite is enough to make you a believer 🙂
Bekri meze. Drunken (man’s) meze. Pieces of pork cooked in wine sauce with colourful peppers and spices. Bring on the table a glass of red wine and fresh, hand-cut fries to dip in the sauce and you’ve quickly unlocked the riddle: How to make a Greek man happy.
Kalamarakia. Crunchy fried calamari – another summer darling, usually ordered together with “htapodaki” (octopus). Squeeze extra lemon* on top and enjoy while it’s still crisp!
*Greeks are highly addicted to lemons and squeeze them on top of every grilled or fried meat, fish or cheese. Recommended to do the same, as it’s very refreshing for your palate.
Dips. Tzatziki might be our national dip/sauce/spread, but it’s not the only one. Τhere’s a whole variety of Greek dips out there, the most common being melitzanosalata=eggplant dip, taramosalata=fish roe dip and tirokafteri=spicy feta dip.
Saganaki. Pan-fried Greek cheese. Crunchy on the outside, oozing on the inside. What more to ask for.
Bougiourdi. We are always impressed to hear that most of our guests taking part in our food tours never had baked feta before! What a pity! It’s never too late to taste this simple, yet wonderful Greek dish, made with feta cheese, spicy peppers, tomatoes and herbs.
Marinated anchovies. The Greek sushi. Ok, not actually raw, but still super fresh, cooked only in salt and vinegar, served with extra virgin olive oil, parsley, oregano, garlic and chilli. Hard to go back to the canned ones after that!
Snails. Raise your hand if you love them like we do! Hohlioi is a food from Crete cooked in a pan with olive oil, vinegar and rosemary. Even if you are unfamiliar with the Greek escargot, we encourage you, like our guests, to follow the “one-bite rule”, take at least a bite before you decide whether you like it or not.
Already booked your tickets to Greece? Joining a culinary walk around Athens to learn the secrets of meze sounds like a good idea? Both our Taste Athens walking food tours (morning and evening) take you on meze adventures, as we consider it an integral part of our culture. If you’d rather book a private food tour for your group and family, check out this & this option or contact us to create a tailor-made foodie tour especially for you.