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Despite our general admonition to patronize the tourist restaurants in Athens, you’ll want to try a typical Greek taverna (that’s spelled “TABEPNA” in Greek) at least once. And there’s no need to worry about the absence of an English-language menu in these establishments, because the custom at tavernas is to go into the kitchen and select your courses from the pots on the stove!
And by the way, don’t worry about the price of what you’re ordering. Hope and I had one of the thirstiest and most famished evenings of our travels when we last dined at a taverna, choosing two bowls of delicious tomato soup to begin, then two huge Greek salads, one veal and vegetable casserole, one order of moussaka, one beer, two orange drinks, and one iced coffee.
Grece Style Food and Drink
As earlier noted, virtually all the Athenian restauran ts we’ve discussed are tourist restaurants, equipped with menus printed in English or French. Because of that, and because few of our readers (induding your author) can read Greek, we have not included a translation of Greek menu terms in our menu chapter, appearing further on in this book. But we do have some menu comments:
When in doubt, ask your waiter for “moussaka”-a staple dish served in many of the Athenian restaurants and in all of the “tavernas” (smaller and totally unpretentious restaurants). Moussaka consists of baked, ground meat, covered with vegetables and spices, and sometimes topped with alayer of dough or mashed potatoes.
lts quality varies from place to place, but if you’re lucky, you’ll make a wonderfully tasty meal of it. And it’s filling: you’ll be more than stuffed if you have, for dinner, a plate of moussaka, a tomato salad, bread and wine. Eaten in the normal taverna, that combination should never cost much.
We’ve already mentioned “dolmothakia” (rice and meat in vine leaves). For a lighter snack, ask for “souvlakia,” which are roasted and spitted chunks of lamb, Havored with oregano.
The Greek table wine is “retsina” -a red wine Havored with resin (pine sap)-and it’s death to American tastes. To get it without the resin, specify that you want your wine “aresinato.”
The Greek aperitif-a before meals drink-is “ouzo,” which is terribly cheap, and is taken either straight or in water (which it turns cloudy white). A Seven-up type drink, which Hope very much likes, is “garzoza” (or at least that’s how it’s pronounced!)
Greece has always looked toward the sea and lived by it. Of necessity she must continue to do so. Because of her geographical position and because of the limited resources of her land, the Greeks have been a maritime people since the earliest times.
The mountains which break up the land seem to push the people into the sea, and indeed they make land travel and land communications so difficult that by comparison sea travel has always seemed simple. The land itself is so lacking in fertility that extensive agriculture is impossible. Thus the Greeks have been forced to import a large part of their food and to turn to the sea to gain their livelihood.
In Greece, the sea seems to be everywhere. The Aegean, the Ionian, and the Mediterranean all wash Greek shores, and these shores are so cut up and so strewn with islands that the sea penetrates everywhere. The coastlines and islands in turn shelter the sea and do away with the fear men have always had of vast unbroken stretches of water.
The Greeks are not such a people as would fear the sea, no matter how far it stretched. By nature they are adventurous and enterprising. Their love of adventure makes them good sailors, and added to this their capacity for enterprise makes them the best of sea-merchants.
Seamanship is an old Greek tradition. Children have been trained from the cradle to become expert sailors. It has been customary for seamen to take aboard ships and sailboats children ranging in age from 6 to 13 so as to accustom them to the sea. When an island was sighted, the children were called on deck, told the name of the island, its ports, and the most navigable routes around it. If, on the next trip, they had forgotten, they were punished. In like manner, children were thrown into the sea to teach them to swim. Nothing was overlooked in an effort to make them skillful and brave seamen.
The skill of Greeks at sea includes not only seamanship but also trading. The Greek was and is a sailor-merchant. There has never been absentee ownership of Greek ships nor have Greeks put their money in enterprises involving ships run by others. Even today, when there is a class of rich Greek shipowners owning sometimes large numbers of ships, such owners have nearly always been identified with ships and are in general successful sailor-merchants.