Six myths about Greek food debunked
Greece’s culinary traditions date back thousands of years and have gained increasing popularity in America since Greek immigrants first started opening restaurants here to share their cuisine. Over time, Greek dishes and dining experiences have been changed to suit the American patron and his or her palate.
1. The myth of the Greek diner
Ownership of diners in America seems to be primarily Greek, but that doesn’t mean that they resemble restaurants in Greece. In Greece you won’t find the huge portions that characterize Greek dining in America and many restaurants don’t even use menus. Instead, guests are told what is available that night and invited to view the kitchen and perhaps choose a fish they would like to eat. Meats and fish are billed by weight and everything is served a la carte and in small, tapas-style portions.
2. It’s all about seasonality.
What is in season dictates what a Greek restaurant will serve. Tomato salads (such as horiatiki, a village salad of tomato, cucumber, onion, feta, olives, salt, oregano and olive oil, shown above) are eaten all the time in the summer, but disappear in the winter. When it gets cold, dishes like pork with celery (which has yet to make it to America) are popular.
3. Yes, gyros do exist in Greece.
They are, however, a lot smaller and generally cost about a euro and can’t be found in restaurants. Gyros are made with stacked chunks of pork and seasoned with paprika or cayenne.
4. Saganaki does not.
Saganaki is kefalograviera (a hard Greek sheep’s milk cheese) that is flambéed as it is brought to the table (“Opa!” the waiter will yell). It was actually invented in Chicago’s Greektown and can’t be found in Greece.
5. Many popular Greek dishes have yet to make it to America.
One example is Yiaourtlou (grilled gyros swimming in yogurt), which was probably considered unappetizing by Americans. Similarly, kokoretsi (spiced involuntary organs wrapped with intestine, shown above) is not served in America. The wide variety of braised meats that are cooked with a vegetable or pasta and served as a single course are also unique to Greece. Sometimes you can find a dish like this on the specials menu of an American restaurant. Although horta (boiled dandelions served with lemon and olive oil) can be found on some Greek menus in America, the other seasonal greens that are often served in Greece (vlita, stamnagatha, seskoula) have yet to make it on American menus. In Greece, these greens are often served with zucchini, beets, broccoli and potatoes as a combination plate for a first course salad.
6. In the mood to try the most authentic Greek food I’ve found in Boston?
Many Greek restaurants in America serve items from a cliché repertoire of authentic dishes and the best selection I have found in Boston is at Desfina (202 Third Street, Cambridge, near the Kendall stop on the Red Line). Although it’s not the best Greek food stateside, the food is good and the selection is about as traditional as it gets. For a truly Greek experience, try almost any combination of the appetizers (I recommend the skordalia, a garlic spread). For an entree, try one of the meat dishes, the grilled octopus or the mousaka (layered eggplant, potatoes and ground meat with béchamel sauce). It may not be quite the same as being in Greece and the feta may be lackluster, but Desfina certainly satisfied my craving for Greek food.
Kali orexi (bon appétit)!
Cover photo source.