Sunday, November 21, 2010

Greek Dining

Julia and I were both very much looking forward to some Greek food, especially Greek salads and gyros. But we were both very surprised by all the variety of delicious food that the Greeks throw together. We tried as many new dishes as we could but I feel like we missed out on a few other great ones. Food wasn't exactly cheap in Santorini so we tried to balance out where we ate. So if we had a fancy dinner one night we would be eating gyros the next night, which wasn't bad at all. One restaurant that we visited a couple times in Fira was called Mama's House. Our first time there we started chatting with our waitress and found out she was from Georgia (the country) and spoke Russian (we got a little practice in) so we had a great time talking with her and wondering how she ended up in Santorini (for 15 years already). She was very helpful and even told us what dishes not to get because it would upset our stomaches (we where having a late dinner around 10 PM). We highly recommend eating here at least once, you'll love it.

One of our favorite dishes was the local Santorini 'fava'. It's a puree made from the legume- not from the yellow split peas as in the rest of Greece. The fava is a puree made of the hulled, then sun-dried, then boiled legumes. Santorini's fava is considered the best in the world. Which sounds like a big claim, but we tried fava in Rhodes, and it wasn't nearly as good. We would eat this with bread all the time, it was delicious. It is usually topped with chopped onions, olive oil and Kalamata olives. This dish alone is worth a trip to Santorini.

We had a couple traditional Greek dishes with the very delicious Santorini eggplants. The white eggplants of Santorini are very sweet, with very few seeds, and can be eaten raw as if they were fruit. Moussaka was a tasty dish consisting of three layers: a bottom layer of sauteed eggplant slices; a middle layer of ground lamb cooked with onion, garlic, chopped tomatoes, herbs and spices (cinnamon, allspice, and black pepper); and a top layer of bechamel sauce. Looks a little like lasagna. The dish is baked until the top layer is browned and served lukewarm.

Another traditional Greek food that almost every restaurant served were stuffed peppers, stuffed tomatoes and stuffed grape leaves called dolma. The stuffed peppers, tomatoes, and grape leaves usually consist of some sort of ground meat, rice, onions, herbs and are usually served warm. The dolma is very similar to Ukrainian holubtsi (same filling, just wrapped in cabbage leaves), which we've been eating all our lives.

We had quite a few delicious gyros. Since we've had them in the States (and loved them), we were really looking forward to tasting the real thing. A gyro is a pita stuffed with roasted meat pieces, lettuce, tomatos, fries, onion, tsaziki sauce, and sprinkled with paprika. Every gyro stand stacks pieces of meat on a tall vertical spit, which rotates constantly so the sides are grilled. Then they cut off the edges to get fresh shavings that are put in the gyro sandwich. We had a couple places that were our favorite and we would visit them often for a tasty lamb gyro, which was inexpensive (about 2.5 euros each), quick and delicious. The gyro stands are open late and its a good meal to get to go.

Another thing to mention is that the Greeks don't skimp on the cheese when it comes to their dishes. The Greek salad comes with a huge block of feta cheese (which is topped with olive oil and oregano), not the measly crumbles we're used to in America. You can find it on every single restaurant menu in Greece. The salad didn't disappoint, we ate it quite a bit.  Greek salad is a mixture of tomatoes, green bell pepper, cucumbers, onions, Kalamata olives and capers, topped with olive oil.

We tried Greek coffee for the first time as well in Santorini. Greek coffee is made with the grounds boiled in the water and served in the cup where they settle to the bottom. The coffee is never stirred, which means no milk or sugar. It is drunk very slowly and is usually accompanied with a cup of cold water. Or dessert. Julia was not disappointed with the varieties of baklava (thin pastry layers soaked with honey and filled with chopped walnuts, sometimes topped with chocolate or pistachios), melmakarona (honey and walnut cookies), and kok (cookies filled with cream and dipped in chocolate).

The common knowledge that Greeks are hospitable is no lie. We were treated several times during our stay. While eating lunch at a cafĂ©, we watched the weather outside change dramatically to a rain downpour. As we waited it out, the owner of the restaurant decided to fire up his crepe machine (which we didn’t even know he had since there were no crepes on the menu) and brought mini Nutella crepes to our table as a treat. We repeatedly received knocks on our hotel door from the hotel manager holding a tray with glasses of local white wine and potato chips. It’s not uncommon for finer restaurants to bring a glass of dessert wine after a meal. One of our favorite gyro stands was called Lucky Souvlakis, and on our last night, the owner there, nicknamed “Lucky” shared his life story with us and insisted on tequila shots as if we were close friends. We heard about his wife and kids, his October birthday, his trips to southern CA, and his hobby of quail hunting on Santorini island.

Hope you're not too hungry. If you are, sorry in advance for this post.


Greek salad
Dolma (vine leaves stuffed with rice mixture)
Eggplant Nests (roasts eggplant stuffed with beef, veggies, and smothered in cheese sauce)
Amberjack fish
Greek Salad
Bread with Kalamata Olive Tapenade
Basil Tomato Pasta
Greek Coffee with Baklava
Moussaka (thin slices of eggplant over ground lamb with Bechamel sauce on top)
Lamb Souvlaki (similar to a shish kebab)
Pasta with Bacon, Chicken and Veggies
Breakfast Crepe
Kok Cream Puff
Lamb Kebab
Greek Spinach Salad with walnuts, apples, pomegranate and cheese