Friday, September 28, 2012

Stranger in Greece Finale: The Greek Food Post

My Stranger in Greece series was suspended for a year because of many distractions, but after being reminded of my delightful honeymoon in Greece by various travel-related TV shows, I have been inspired to finally close the series with this long blogpost about Greek food.

A must on all Greek dining tables, olive oil and red wine vinegar
Let me make some disclaimers regarding my views on Greek food. I don't like Greek food, it is certainly not one of my favourite cuisines, and even though I have been there twice, spending a total of more than 2 weeks there so far, I can't say that I know the cuisine well. Everything I share here are just my own views about Greek food, and to remind myself of the good food I had there, and hopefully will give you some inspiration when you visit in the future.

During my first visit to Athens (it was a business trip), I loved everything about Greece, except for the food. I remember the yucky Greek Salad, with RAW onion, RAW GREEN bell pepper (!!!) and a big block of almost tasteless Feta cheese on top. It was a torture finishing a bowl of it. The Greek restaurants were not very good makers of Italian food too, as the pasta was almost always overcooked and pizza soggy. Of course, the fried cheese with lemon which tasted like my puke did not help. The best food I had that time was the ice cream, which I believe is not exactly a Greek specialty.

Yes, that's you, Mr Feta-which-looks-like-Tofu
Determined not to face the same problem during my honeymoon, I did an extensive online research before we departed for Athens. The result was an unforgettable trip to Greece and a refreshing new interpretation on Greek food. If you are from Greece, I would like to clarify again that my post is not an accurate portrayal of true spirit of Greek food, but more of a show of the aspects of Greek cuisine an Asian like me truly appreciates:

1. Wine, wine and more wine!

Greek wine is not the most famous internationally, I understand why, but it is an absolute essential to have their food with some local wine, as most parts of Greece have their own winery, especially on the beautiful Greek Islands. 

Most restaurants have barrels like these to serve their table wine
Because of the dry climate, the grapevines on the Greek Islands usually look small and shrivelled, as are the grapes, thus they have a high concentration of sugar within the fruit, which results in many wines tasting very sweet. Many red wines are very clear and lack body as well, but the whites we have tried were generally excellent, so please indulge yourselves with white wine when you are there ok? With wine costing as little as bottled water, the choice of beverage is obvious.

If you are dining in front of such a backdrop, how could you skip the wine?

Bread, wine and Fanta
However, for some reason, if you are really NOT into wine, something that I highly recommend would be the Fanta in Greece. I drank so much of it until my wife called me "Fantaboy". It tastes distinctly different from the deep orange versions we get here in Southeast Asia. It's lightly coloured and tastes extremely orange-y, not to sweet as well, perfect!


2. A total respect for seasonal produce

While at Athens, our hotel was not in the touristy old town, so we had a chance to visit a local market and a supermarket to see what the locals were buying and eating. It really did not feel too safe wandering outside the tourist area and the people were not very nice to Asians, but we did manage to get a feel of what we wanted.

Beautiful aubergines with white streaks. It's unfortunate the rare white ones were not in season
Olives from a specialty store
Would be a dream if I could find fresh cheap tomatoes like these in Singapore or  Thailand. The species we grow are really quite bland. Great peaches available too!

Cherries, strawberries, apricots were in season too, absolutely fantastic
I have always told people that the first step to making a great dish is to obtain the best ingredients. If I had affordable fresh produce like what I had shown you above, I would be the happiest cook in the world. If you have the sweetest aubergine or the freshest fish, you don't have to do much to make your diners happy.

A tail of supremely fresh grilled wild seabass served with grilled summer vegetables, served with just some salt, olive oil and lemon, simply divine (Santorini)


Simple fried battered aubergines, one of the best dishes of our entire trip, we just added salt and pepper! (Mykonos)
Chicken Souvlaki, simple grilled chicken skewers (Santorini)
The Greeks' total respect to seasonal produce really impressed me, and it's proof again that simple is the best.

3. Hearty hearty comfort food

Who doesn't like a pot of rich stew on a cold winter night? In fact, I love hearty comfort food on hot summer afternoons too. This kind of food is what Greeks are fantastic at making, and what I adore. We did not order a single plate of Greek salad during our trip, and I don't think we will if we are ever going back again because there are just so many richer and more delicious choices for us!

Baked stuffed tomato. Unspectacular, but it will do for me (Athens)

Greek slow-baked lamb with cheese and summer vege, if this doesn't warm your tummy, nothing will (Santorini)
Probably Li Li's favourite, baked stuffed aubergine (a version of Moussaka?) Comfort food at its best (Santorini)
Grilled chicken with lemon baked potatoes (Athens)
The dish above was part of our very first and very last meals during our honeymoon. Even though the chicken was a little over-done, till today, I still dream of those soft fragrant and slightly sour potatoes. I tried to cook it a few times, but tasty as they were, they fell well short of the ones I had in Athens.

So this is the Stranger in Greece's version of delicious Greek food. You will realise that I did not have any salads/desserts in my introduction, as we really tried very few of them during our trip.

If you are going to Greece and are really interested to try what I have shown above, do drop a message as I think I still have all the names of the various restaurants we visited and would gladly share them with you.

Meanwhile, this should be the very end of my Stranger in Greece series. Hopefully, I will travel extensively in another country to start another similar series on my blog soon. Before that happens, do enjoy my life story in Thailand!

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