Impressions of Greek Cuisine
06 October 2013 | Symi, Greece
Modern Greek cuisine has naturally evolved from traditional peasant cooking and in our experience has not travelled too far in an adventurous direction. Reflecting on the delicious subtleties of French cuisine and the interesting but fairly predictable Italian cuisine of fish, meat, olives, tomatoes, basil, capers, olive oil combinations with or without pasta, the Greek cuisine comes in third with much the same combinations as the Italians with less basil and more lamb evident. Also immediately apparent is that the Greek people generally have considerable more girth than the French or Italians, which is at least due in part to the high fat content in the diet. Lamb served with french fries ( at least to tourists), full cream thick yoghurt and feta cheese as staples are clues.
We have enjoyed the 'Greek Salad' throughout our journey, the surprise being a flat slice of feta cheese atop the salad. Early on, Brad innocently asked pointing to a salad on the menu if this was a 'Greek Salad', to which the reply came 'they are all Greek salads on the menu'......doh! There are some more adventurous forms of the salad to be found and the best has included capers, pinenuts and anchovies with very delicious tomatoes, served with absolutely fresh ingredients, dressed with balsamic vinegar mixed with olive oil.
Fish is readily available but often not all that appealing, due to size and cost. Small fish such as red mullet and sardines are commonly on the menu, served fried and piled high on the plate. The trouble with the red mullet is that the bones are sharp and numerous but the sardines are tasty and delectable. Sea bream and bass have been available but our best fish meal has been the rarely seen red snapper, fresh from the trawlers and costing a hefty €55 per kilo with serving size around 1.2 kgs. The best fish restaurants will bring a tray of fish to the table to allow personal selection but recently we were taken to a chiller fridge with stainless steel drawers that had fish separated and graded according to size. Octopus is generally available, served in a variety of ways: fried, marinated or added to pasta. It has is a light and tasty firm flesh and has always been tender. We have seen large octopus left dangling on a timber horse in the sun, probably already having had a good thrashing. Calamari is also standard fare but shrimps when available are small or frozen when large and not at all like our Australian 'monsters' in flavour.
Greek natural yoghurt deserves a mention, which is a stable in the diet. We have happily added it to our breakfast menu on board but one cafe breakfast we were served a large yoghurt goblet with fresh fruit topped with honey...yum. Frozen yoghurt is plentiful on the streets served in cones and a common offering on the dessert menu is natural yoghurt served with Greek honey and nuts (pistachios). Feta cheese is also plentiful and is commonly served in restaurants fried with sesame seeds as a starter.
Talking desserts, we have rarely ordered dessert and it seems you never leave a meal table without being served a sweet treat such as baklava or almond flavoured syrupy slice along with a liquor or port and surprisingly we have not been offered ouzo. The one exception was a recent meal at 'La Vaporetta', (unusually) an Italian restaurant in Symi, where we all chose a seafood pasta dish and had hot chocolate soufflé to finish and served with lemon gelato to our surprise. Talking chocolate, it is available but not a feature in the diet.
Lamb has been tender and is mostly slow cooked. There are a range of cuts that we don't recognise, but when cooked on the bone it is delicious. Lamb shank, lamb cooked in garlic and a lamb dish slow cooked with capsicum, tomatoes and cheese have all been enjoyable. Lamb souvlaki has been available but we have not ordered it. Giros of either pork or chicken served in pita with chips and a slither of tomato was probably the worst quick lunch meal we've eaten and it gave us all indigestion.
We've done plenty of meal preparation on board particularly when in isolated anchorages. We rotate the chefs and have had some really enjoyable meals served in the Trilogy style. The pressure cooker is an effective way of creating tender flavoursome meals in one pot and tasty pasta or rice dishes have been easy to prepare. The most memorable meals were a chilli based pork pot roast and kofta meatballs braised in a tomato and zucchini based sauce. Fresh fruit and vegetables are available but somewhat scarce away from the bigger centres. Most sizeable townships have a bakery but a lot of what is on offer are dried breads. With the freezer in action, we have been able to buy rustic style bread sticks for toast and alfresco lunches and have it whenever desired.
We learnt only yesterday from the restauranteur at Nireas Restaurant in Rhodes ( Certificate of Excellence 2013 from Trip Advisor), that in truly traditional Greek tavernas, food is served as it is ready in the kitchen and comes to the table for sake of freshness, rather than to a menu plan. This made us relax when salad came well before the calamari and octopus and the grilled vegetables (chosen as an appetiser) arrived last. The question remains in our mind, is this true or was it a ploy to take pressure off the kitchen staff and keep the guests from hassling the floor staff when things are completely out of an expected sequence?
As always we have enjoyed the beer of the land, with draught Mythos in chilled glasses being our preference throughout this voyage. We have been mostly happy with the house wines served in half or one litre carafes, which are light flavoured compared to French or Australian wines. All up, we have tried to carefully select where we have eaten, with a lot of help from the internet and we feel we've experienced good but not exceptional cuisine. No complaints about the service, which has been cheerful and accommodating, and the generous custom of sweet treats and liquors to complete the meal is a very nice finishing note.