How to dine like a Greek

DSC06088You’ve found a restaurant that looks good to you. There are lots of people so you know the food is fresh. You survey the restaurant and locate an empty table. There is no host or hostess so you have to take care of yourself. You walk over to the table and occupy it. If there are more of you than there are chairs, get two or three adjoining tables and put them together. If the table is dirty, you can wait and someone will clean it up. If it is clean, sit down and wait. There is no assigned waiter to your table. You may have to wait for a few minutes. If the restaurant is busy, you may have to wait for more than a few minutes. Be patient and take in the sites. It is also a good time to look around you and see what everyone else is eating. If it is a fish restaurant don’t order meat. If it is a meat restaurant don’t order fish. Some restaurants, especially at lunch time, have items on the steam table that you can see and order from. If you are in a restaurant with no visible steam table in the dining area, it’s perfectly ok to ask to go into the kitchen to see what’s cooking, although this is a bit of a dying tradition as restaurants around Athens become trendier and more upscale.
When the server does finally come to the table, he or she will bring along a paper tablecloth, glasses and a pitcher of water, a basket with bread, your silverware and your napkins (usually these last items are in the bread basket, beneath the bread, although, in some trendy “traditional” restaurants, the new style is to have them in drawers at one end of the table). In either case, you can show your server your Greek restaurant etiquette savviness by assisting them: pick up the salt and pepper and napkin holder so they can lay down your tablecloth. If you’re dining outdoors, they’ll need to lean over the table to clip the additional tablecloth, it’s nice to help them by clipping in your side.
If this is the helper, often times a younger member of the family, you may be asked if you want something to drink.
Finally, your server has delivered all the food to their other tables, gotten paid from the tables that want to leave and now their attention turns to you.
Keftedes me SaltsaYou will be told the specials for the day, starting with the “appetizers” then on to salads and finally main plates. We usually forgo the typical one main plate per person rule and order a number of appetizers (mezedes or small plates) a salad, and perhaps one or two main plates to share (depending on the number of people we’re dining with). If you are ordering potatoes (french fries), I recommend telling your server to bring them with your main plate, otherwise they will arrive first, along with your appetizers and salad, leaving you with a plate of cold potatoes to eat with your meat or fish.
If you decide to order the house wine, you can ask for a taste, I would recommend the white wine (lefko krasi). Red house wines can end up being rose, though here again, it is perfectly ok to ask for a taste of their house red. We’re found many a local taverna with rather good local Greek house wines. The white wines are usually dry and pleasant. No fanfare, long bouquets, interesting noses. Just refreshing and easy to drink with any food. White wine is served chilled by the 250 ml, 500 ml (meeso kilo) and even a liter. They can be served in a clay pitcher, a glass carafe but most often in an orange aluminum cylindrical container. The meeso kilo (half liter) is a good size for two people. It is best not to order the kilo size as it gets warm on a hot day. House wines are inexpensive, at the time of this writing the cost is about €8 per kilo. So if there is some wine left after you are done with your meal, you don’t feel like you have been taken to the cleaners.
Beer is sold cold in 500 ml bottles and is not much more expensive than if you bought it at the supermarket or the newsstand / kiosk (yes, you can get your newspaper and your beer at the same place!).
Another option if you are going the mezedes (or small plate) route is to choose ouzo. In some of the more upscale restaurants we like, we’ve found that we can keep the size of our bill down by ordering ouzo instead of a fancier bottle of wine.
Soft drinks are also available. You may even see the table next to you mixing Cola with their wine! I have never tried it, but as my good friend Mr. John Mole will tell you, it may be a continuation of a habit that started in the ancient times.Greek steam table
A meal is often accompanied by a complimentary dessert, in the summer most of the time a plate of cool watermelon, in the winter a plate of homemade halvah.
That’s it. Don’t forget, order small, order lots, put it the middle and take your fork to it. It is the Democratic way our ancestors passed on to the world. If you run out of something everyone liked, order more. Vote by fork!

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