Ouzo is the drink for which this country is famous so let’s start with that. Ouzo is drunk here as an aperitif, usually with a little plate of snacks known as meze or pikilia. This drink is usually served in a small glass accompanied by a big glass of water, some of which is best added to the ouzo if you wish to continue with your day. The snack consists of cheese, tomato, perhaps a fish and a few olives. Traditionally an ouzo is always served with a meze or snack, even if this is only a few olives, tomatoes and some bread.
Beers & Spirits:
If you’re a beer drinker bottled lager is the most readily available. The usual brands are Amstel, Heineken and Henninger. Some American brands are now starting to appear on the market especially in bars. If you order spirits with a mixer the shot is fairly hefty so beware – two drinks here might well have you either dancing on, or lying under, the table.
Athens has some great bars with an impressive range of cocktails, wines and spirits. Many also have excellent food which usually includes cheese plates and pasta dishes. Keep an eye out as you explore or look in local papers and free magazines for places you like the look of.
Greek wines are generally served in tavernas although you will certainly find French wines in the better restaurants. Cheapish white wines are Lac des Roches, Apelia and Bon Viveur. Boutari and Apelia also produce cheap reds.
Some medium-priced wines are Tsandali, Ayoritko and Makedonikos, Manzavino and Cellar in both white and red. Naoussa Boutari and Cava Boutari are two reasonable reds. Posher wines are Kouros, Cava Cambas, a ten year old wine with a distinctive wax label, and Hatzimihali which is good in both whjte and red. Other reasonable reds are Manzavino Gold Leaf and Boutari Grand Reserve.
A number of traditional tavernas will also have their own barrelled wins served in jugs. You can sample this if you’re not sure. Generally there is white and kokkineli, a rose wine.
Retsina is a wine which certainly deserves a mention. It is a white wine flavoured with resin. Originally this flavor came from the pine barrels in which the wine was stored and it has become an acquired taste. If you try it while you’re on holiday rest assured it does certainly improve after a few glasses or mixed with soda. It is said to complement the oiliness of Greek food.
A range of cognacs is available in most bars and better restaurants. If you’re a brandy drinker (or even if you’re not) try a Metaxa while you’re here. Seven star is the most expen¬sive followed by five and then three star. The shot is usually whopping and a couple of these with coffee make for a very pleasant end to the day. This could be the opportunity to try a Greek coffee if you’ve never had one. You will be asked if you prefer metrio, which is with some sugar, or sketo which means without any sugar. You’ll have to try one and it does complement the Metaxa.
If you have enjoyed your coffee you might want to take a bottle of brandy home with you and impress your friends ‘at the end of a dinner party. In the chapter headed Shopping are the details of what you’ll need for Greek coffee and here is the recipe.
Fill the metal briki with an espresso cup full of water and add a heaped teaspoon of Greek coffee. Add sugar to taste is desired. Metrio means a level teaspoonful.
Place over heat and stir continuously until coffee comes to the boil and starts to rise. Pour into espresso cups and serve with a glass of iced water, and of course a slug of Metaxa.
It is fun to try some of the food that you had in Greece when you get back home. Buy a bottle of ouzo and your favourite wine and have a special Greek evening one rainy winter evening. Recommended music – Vangelis Papathanasiou (the composer of the music for Chariots of Fire) with Irene Pappas in a production of wonderful old Greek songs. The tape or CD is entitled ‘Odes’, and is available from most record shops in Greece.
And here are some recipe suggestions for your Nostalgia Night. Don’t forget the ouzo and the wine, get out the holiday snaps, and you’ll be back to a summer night in Plaka.