The Fish Section of the Athens Market
I’m food obsessed enough that Greece probably wouldn’t be my favorite place in the world if I didn’t like the food there, and Greeks are food obsessed enough that I fit right in. When I’m around my Greek friends, many of the day-to-day conversations between family members and neighbors are about what someone is cooking for lunch, or what they’ve eaten at the most recent meal. In the city some of these meals may be eaten out, but even in the city almost everyone would agree that the best Greek cooking is found in the homes. And away from the city, where most rural people sit down every day to food that is family farmed, ocean fresh, and beautifully prepared, is food that I think would please and impress anyone.
From the beginning, though, even before I’d ever been inside anyone’s home, I was hooked by the food in Greece. The clean, sparkling flavors of so many things made their impression, and even without the experience of home cooking it was clear that this was a place where people cared how things tasted. Most visitors to Greece, even the ones who aren’t all that food oriented, come away with a memory of something wonderful they had to eat. Maybe it’s the salad of beautifully ripe summer tomatoes, or the fish that had just come out of the ocean that day on an island somewhere, the little souvlaki stand on the way home from the beach, the lusciously ripe peach whose juices run down their hand while being eaten, even the bottle of ice-cold lemonade in a café one hot afternoon, all little bursts of fresh, intense flavor that were so perfect and pleasurable. And then there is the bread, fresh-baked every day, and the few solid, satisfying dishes that actually work in the tavernas worth their salt, the stuffed tomatoes, or fried squid, the stews, or, when you can find them, the seasonal dishes like artichokes cooked with fresh peas, dishes worth trying to recreate.
Good Greek food relies on pristine ingredients and a caring cook. The current “fresh, seasonal, local” maxim, so often repeated but too little heeded, is the bedrock reality of Greek dishes. One of the reasons that much of Greek cooking doesn’t translate successfully is because most Greek restaurants, even in Greece, don’t, can’t, afford to keep that high a standard of ingredients. And, maybe because most taverna food is so mediocre and because the recipes in most Greek cookbooks result in something plain and heavy, Greek cooking has not transplanted well to other countries.
But times change, and now, in America, there are farmers’ markets with high-quality produce almost everywhere. It’s become possible (if the money is there) to get almost anything in a pretty clean state. And even if the money isn’t there but the desire is, you can still do a lot in the world of Greek cooking without taking out a small bank loan.
Greek cooking doesn’t require you to have a vast pantry of exotic ingredients, so, with just a few good-quality kitchen staples and fresh ingredients, you’re on your way to delicious Greek food. Here you’ll find some basic recipes, a few seasonal menus to give an idea of how meals could be organized, and of course the best recipes I’ve come up with for my own favorite dishes, some of which are really quite simple. There are links to some sites that feature Greek foods, and some related articles of interest as well. I hope they’ll help you recreate dishes you’ve enjoyed, entertain you, and maybe even inspire you to try something new.
Καλή Όρεξη • Kali Orexi • Good Appetite!