Food & Dinning in Chalkidiki
The Greek Taverna
Youll find that the Greek taverna can cater for your every need! While some offer a huge menu featuring traditional and local speciality dishes, others may have a few daily specials announced by the waiter. All, though, will be equally accommodating if you simply want a beer and a plate of chips. Often you may be invited into the kitchen to actually choose your meal, in which case pre-cooked food will usually be reheated to a lukewarm temperature unless you ask otherwise. Lukewarm seems to be the way the Greeks like it!
The kafeneion (café) in Greek villages is essentially a men only experience where men go to meet their mates, read and discuss the papers and drink coffee over a game of backgammon. However, visitors of both sexes are usually warmly welcomed and its an ideal opportunity to meet the locals and try the coffee. Remember, sugar is added to Greek coffee (café hellenico) before its served at the table, so to specify how sweet you want it, ask for glyko (sweet), metrio (medium), or sketo (no sugar). Frappe (iced) coffee is a delicious alternative in summer.
Youll certainly find typical Greek dishes such as tzatziki
(a yoghurt, cucumber and garlic dip), taramasalata (fish roe pureed
with lemon juice, oil and either bread crumbs or potato)and humus
(chickpea dip), which are now so familiar to us. Every taverna though
has its own variation on the theme.
Its Greek salads (horiatiki salata) which often make such a big impression on visitors. You may be able to make it up yourself from the bowls full of lettuce, slices of onion, tomato, cucumber, olives, and chunks of feta (a salty and crumbly sheeps milk cheese), with oil and vinegar in bottles to drizzle liberally over the top.
Look out also for dolmades (vine leaves stuffed with minced beef and/or herby rice), melitzana (aubergine - fried or as a dip with tomato and onion), gigantes (giant butter beans in tomato sauce) and saganaki (fried or grilled feta cheese).
Staples youre likely to see on most menus include moussaka
(layers of minced lamb with aubergine and white sauce), sikoti (grilled
liver fried with herbs and garlic), stifado (a casserole often based
either on veal, rabbit or beef with herbs, vinegar, tomatoes, onion
and garlic) and fricassee (lamb or pork pieces cooked in a lemon and
egg sauce). Pastitsio is also frequently on offer - a minced meat
pie including macaroni, tomatoes and cheese in a bechamel sauce. Meatballs
come under various names - biftekia, soutsoukakia or keftedes - according
to their shape. Again, you can expect variations on different islands
or in different tavernas.
Barbecued meats and fish can be particularly tasty - look out for souvlakia (lamb, pork or veal grilled on a skewer), kotopoulo (chicken) and gyros, similar to a doner kebab.
There is usually excellent fresh fish available although itll probably be the most expensive dish on the menu. Frozen fish, however, should be cheaper with frozen prawns (garidhes) for example, around a third of the price of fresh ones. Youll come across kalimari (squid), barbounia (red mullet), astakos (lobster) and marides (whitebait), a cheap option but very delicious. Fish is sold by weight, so make sure you know just how much money youll be coughing up when you order!
Vegetarians neednt worry too much, as plenty of vegetables and fruits are used in Greek cuisine. Standard dishes include briam (aubergines, courgettes, peppers and tomatoes - ratatouille style), melitzanes fournou (aubergine baked with tomatoes and onion), kolokithea tiganita (courgettes fried in batter) and fassolia and bamyes (green beans and okra served in a tomato sauce with herbs). If youre lucky, the taverna owner may even prepare something especially for you, from seasonal vegetables around at the time.
Pastries are the most common type of dessert, and its best
to go to a kapheneion to find them or to the speciality shops called
zacharoplasteio. Both serve delicious sweets such as baklava (filo
pastry with honey and nuts), kadaifi (similar - but with shredded
wheat instead of pastry), bougatsa (flaky pastry with a cream and
cinnamon filling), loukoumades (doughnuts laced with cinnamon and
honey), nougat and halva. A taverna may offer some simple fresh fruit
to follow a meal, fruit salad, ice cream - or perhaps some creamy
Greek yoghurt, again with wonderful honey.
Summer fruits include melon, watermelon, peaches, apricots and, later on, figs. If you come at Easter time youll find the huge juicy oranges which are grown and sold all over Greece - and at prices very much cheaper than were used to.
Retsina will undoubtedly be on the wine list in every restaurant
its flavoured with pine resin and is something of an
acquired taste! House wines are much cheaper and vary greatly so its
really a matter of experimenting wherever you go.
Greece is famous for two drinks in particular - Ouzo, and Metaxa. Ouzo is a strong aniseed drink similar to French Pastis or Ricard and normally served to mix with water, which turns it milky white. Its also great with orange juice or lemonade, as fruity alternatives! Metaxa is a Greek brandy, which is graded in stars according to quality. While 7* can be drunk neat and 5* is fine as a mixer, its advisable to steer clear of 3* unless alcohol content really is your sole criterion!
When that lunchtime moussaka was just too long ago, its time to make for a bakers or a kiosk, where youll find delicious little filo pastry pies. Fillings can be sweet or savoury according to your craving, and include cheese (tiropitta), spinach (spanakopitta), minced lamb (kreatopitta), creamy vanilla custard (bougatza) or apple (milopitta).