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About Greek taverna Posted by on Mar 28, 2018 in Culture

Food is is one of the most important elements of Greek culture. As a Greek living on Greece, I am interested in the Greek American eating habits, and particularly in the type of food the menu in a Greek American taverna consists of.

Image via Pixabay by dimitrisvetsikas1969 

After watching some videos and reading the menu of random Greek American tavernas (“GA taverna-s” in this post), I decided to write a post about the food experience in a typical Greek taverna (“GR taverna-s” in this post) in my country.

To avoid any misunderstanding, I would like to make clear that I don’t intend to judge anyone or to state that GR tavernas are better. Actually, I find the effort of the Greek owners of GA tavernas to maintain and to promote the Greek culture, remarkable. Besides, as I have never dined in a GA taverna, I don’t want to make assumptions nor generalizations. There are differences even between the tavernas in Greece: a taverna in an island of massive tourism is not the same as the taverna in a small or remote village. I just want to point out a couple of differences between the GA and the GR tavernas.

#1. Some information on the dishes

GR tavernas do not serve food such as humus, tubule, felafel and lamb souvlaki. Felafel and humus are very trendy at the moment and are found in street food restaurants in urban centers. The equivalent of humus  is fava soup or puree (φάβα is a type of legume) and can be eaten in any GR taverna.

#2. Belly dancing performance

In Greece, belly dancing is performed only in Middle Eastern, Turkish or Egyptian restaurants, as it is not a Greek dance.

#3. Traditional Greek dances

After watching many videos, I suppose that one is not very likely to see traditional Greek dances in a GA taverna. About a GR taverna, this is also the case. Is there a way to know if the music and dance  are traditional? Yes. Any composition with drums, keyboards and bouzouki accompanied by dancing is not traditional. I would say it is just a “tangle” of sounds and steps.

Syrtaki, the most famous Greek dance, is not a traditional dance but a choreography made for Zorba the Greek. It is very nice to watch and the music is nice to listen to, if the instruments are not electronic.

#4. Plate smashing and “opa!”

Yes, plate smashing is still popular in Greece but not in a typical taverna. People smash plates in a μπουζουξίδικο, the famous bouzoukia.

 “Opa!” (“Ώπα!”)  is an interjection expressing different emotions, depending on the context. The “opa!” that foreigners know is another tourist “attraction” and we do not use it so much. To put things into perspective, imagine being in an American diner in Greece, watching men in boots and cowboy hats making acrobatics with a lasso, screaming “heehaw!”.

#5. About the taste

Most of my students tell me that they don’t know if the food they had in a GA taverna was original or if the food tastes the same and has the same quality as the typical Greek food. About the quality of food, there is good food and bad food in any country. About the taste, I always assumed that it is difficult to find good  Greek products outside Greece and I changed my mind only after I had the best feta cheese in my life in Massachusetts. Moreover, traditional Greek cuisine is simple and most recipes consist of ingredients found in America, although olive oil is expensive and would probably not be an option, so I don’t see any reason why the food in GA tavernas would not be good.

As always, if you have comments, feel free to post them! Γεια σας!

Photo via Pixabay by congerdesign

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About the Author: Ourania

Ourania lives in Athens. She holds a degree in French Literature and a Master’s degree in Special Education for Children. Since 2008, she has been teaching Greek to foreigners.


Comments:

  1. Simon:

    In the UK many ‘Greek’ tavernas are run by people of Cypriot origin. So they tend to serve Cypriot type dishes eg sheftalies and loukaniko. Houmous is pretty ubiquitous though I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in Greece.

    • Ourania:

      @Simon Yes, I have been to Cypriot tavernas in London. The decoration and the food were absolutely great! In Greece, you can find humus in a street food place or in a Middle Eastern restaurant. We also make it at home.

  2. Neil:

    I have lived in the USA since 2002. I am from the UK and used to go to Greece all the time in the 90’s at least twice a year from 93 onwards. I have to say that the ‘Greek ‘ food that I have tried here is nothing! nothing like in Greece. I once had a xoriatikn that was 20 cm high, it had everything in it including lettuce(loads), which as far as I know is not in xoriatikn…but to make sure you knew it was Greek it had olives and feta! Amazing! I have tried a few other Greek dishes which I have seen here but the reality is actually quite sad, they are nothing like real Greek dishes. To cap it all off, yeeros are called Gyros..spazw to kefali mou! At least I can get ouzo here at a decent price!Aspro patw! 😉
    I really enjoy your blog posts Ourania, sas euxaristw polu. My Greek is slowly becoming worse since I don’t use it as often but I still love the language immensely.
    Me pollous xairetismous
    Neil

    • Ourania:

      @Neil Hello Neil,
      Thank you very much for the information shared! I really appreciate it. I am so sorry to find out that the Greek food in the USA is not good. I knew about the lettuce in the salad, I saw this on some menus I checked. My American students confirmed this. I wonder why the Greek owners call this salad χωριάτικη… I think that Gyros (τζάιρο) is hilarious 🙂 But, personally, I find such things rather cute.
      About the language, please don’t worry about the mistakes. I have been learning English since I was ten and my posts are full of mistakes. Besides, understanding and embracing the culture is more important, I think.
      Yes, we use the word παρεμπιπτόντως, I think it is translated as “by the way” and it is a very nice word indeed.
      Thank you for your kind words, keep enjoying Greece and collecting nice experiences!
      Χαιρετισμούς από την Ελλάδα.

  3. Neil:

    Just goes to show how bad my Greek is getting…I even spelled xwriatikn incorrectly! Now if I had remembered to use the correct alphabet I might not have done it.
    By the way, is παρεμπιπτόντως used much in Greece? I was taught it in Kw in about 95 i think…great word.

  4. Neil:

    Hi Ourania,
    Thank you so much for your reply. Yes it is translated as by the way, I guess I was too subtle in my question lol…
    :)By the way :), is παρεμπιπτόντως used much in Greece?
    Greeks tend to own all the diners over here which is cool; I live on Long Island and they’re all Greek owned here as far as I know. Unfortunately, same again with the foods…all seem to be americanised.
    When I started learning Greek I tried to immerse myself in the language and learned a load of tongue twisters. That could be a good subject for a blog post.

    Καλό Πάσχα!

    • Ourania:

      @Neil Hi Neil,
      The tongue twisters post sounds very good! Thank you! I will write it sometime in the next month.
      Παρεμπιπτόντως is rather “sophisticated”, so it is not used by teenagers or people who use simple words in conversation. However, we use it much.I guess it depends on the social and educational background of a person. A synonym would be “με την ευκαιρία” (me tin efkeria).
      I know there is a very good restaurant in New York, called Milos. It is not a taverna, I would say it is a posh restaurant (I mean it in a good way 🙂 ) and is very expensive. Some friends of mine were there two years ago and they really liked the food. The Greek dishes were like the ones we have here and the quality is very good.This restaurant is in other cities too, including Athens, and its standards are really high. The Greek dishes on the menu (they offer non-Greek dishes as well) are original. They even serve avgotaraho, the Greek caviar, which is a delicacy even here.

      Καλό Πάσχα, επίσης!

  5. Neil:

    Hi Ourania,
    many thanks for the extra info, I hadn’t realised it was sophisticated…cool! 🙂
    The words ‘very expensive’ is usually enough to make me run a mile!..being a thrifty Yorkshireman. But thanks for the recommendation.
    Im curious, do you find your English speaking students have a good grasp of English grammar? When I first began learning Greek I had real problems because my knowledge of EG was terrible. I taught myself EG and then found that learning Greek was much easier. Usually listening to someone speak English is enough to work this out..listen for when they use I instead of me is a good one to listen for. If one does not understand the grammar of his own language how can they learn another language?
    I hope this is ok to post this Q here..not sure where else to post it.

    Neil

    • Ourania:

      @Neil Hello Neil,
      Most of my students don’t have a good grasp of English grammar. When we teach grammar to beginners, we avoid using terms such as “nominative”, “accusative” or syntax terms, such as “subject” and “object” etc, because they make no sense to the students. We teach there structures with examples. However, at a later stage, they need to learn these terms for practical reasons: it’s like driving a car. We don’t need to know the word “gear shift” or “wheel” to drive a car, but it is more practical if we do. I hope it makes sense 🙂
      The most challenging part is when they do not know the difference between a verb and an adverb, or a noun and an adjective. We have to teach basic knowledge from scratch.
      I am not sure that one needs to understand the grammar of their own language. English grammar is so different from Greek grammar and I understand why it is not taught thoroughly at schools. In any case, we always start teaching Greek grammar with examples. When watching videos, I notice people saying “he don’t” “or we didn’t hear”, but so far none of the students I have worked with speaks so bad 🙂

  6. Neil:

    ps the grammar in the above is not too good! lol

    • Neil:

      @Neil Hi Ourania,
      so sorry for the late response. I hope had a great Easter.
      Whilst I understand your reasoning, I know that this method doesn’t really work for me. I found that if I knew why a different form of word was used it made more sense to me; as well as having the ability to make my own sentences and not having to learn two separate ones for the same purpose.
      I would like to learn more idioms though and these are in a league of their own. This is a reason I like your blog as you put in more depth of understanding to the uses of words. I liken the knowledge of grammar to that of a house footings/base…if the base is no good then the house may last for a while but it will ultimately fail; whilst a house with a stable base will last.
      My next Q is that of pronunciation of classical Greek. Have you come across the work of Ioannis Stratakis? Podium-Arts on youtube…worth a look if you havent. I understand that generally classical Greek is taught in Greece using modern pronunciation, correct? This is how I approach it. Your thoughts 🙂

      Geia
      Neil

      • Ourania:

        @Neil Hi Neil,

        Thank you for suggesting Ioannis Stratakis. I didn’t know about him and his work is very interesting!
        Yes, in Greece classical Greek is taught using the neo-hellenic pronunciation and there are good reasons for that 🙂
        About grammar, this is an interesting topic so I will write about it in two weeks. Next week the post will be about the use of και because there are many colloquialisms which confuse the non-native speakers, so stay tuned!
        Καλή συνέχεια!

        • Neil:

          @Ourania Oh good I’m glad you found his work interesting! His version of the Hippocratic oath is exceptional.
          I will look forward to the use of και, sounds very intriguing!

          Ευχαριστώ πάρα πολύ.
          Στο καλό.

  7. graham:

    one of the worst mousakas i ve ever had was in a taverna at the port at monemvasia whereas i ve had some of the best greek cuisine here in australia notably at ya yas in cairns. interesting that the photo shows sweet basil, i found greek basil more prominent in greece – the taste is stronger and the plant more resilient.

    • Ourania:

      @graham Hi Graham,
      I am sure that good Greek food can be found outside Greece. Mousakas is a “sad story”. I have stopped eating that in tavernas because most of the times what they serve is a mixture of grease, a thick layer of bechamel and undercooked potatoes and it takes me one day to digest. I prefer making my own at home. I checked the menu of yayas, (I was curious :-)) it is authentic and if the quality of the raw materials is good, I don’t see any reason why the food would not be good.There are just a couple of differences (i.e. in Greek tavernas chicken sikotakia are never part of the menu but it doesn’t matter)but what struck me was the use of Bulgarian feta! I guess the Greek one is rare or too expensive. It is sad though.
      About the basil, yes, we do use the plant with the short leaves, the Greek basil, as you say, and the one on the photo is used in salads or in Italian recipes. I did not like the photos of the Greek food I found and I chose this one because I found it more “generic”.
      Thank you for your comment!

  8. Mary:

    This was a very interesting and helpful article and it has left me with a lot of questions!

    Having never been to a taverna in Greece (GR), I would be interested in hearing more about what a typical menu consists of. Can you take a photo (or a few) of a non-tourist area taverna menu and then explain it to us? What are the typical dishes in a (GR) taverna?

    I personally am very interested in the truly traditional foods (and recipes) of Greece. This is NOT meant as a criticism of any restaurants outside of Greece that are owned/operated by Greek individuals or any Westernized Greek recipes or dishes—clearly these dishes and restaurants are popular and I wish them success.

    Having said that, I personally want to know more about the culinary traditions and authentic recipes (food and other healing remedies/folk customs) of Greece. These traditions have a lot of health benefits. Are there any books/websites/videos that you recommend? Again, I live in the West so I am not criticizing anybody—I am just seeking out ‘old world’ recipes. Thank you so much!

    • Ourania:

      @Mary Thank you for your interest!
      These topics could be presented in a future blog post.
      I don’t understand what kind of books videos you are interested at. Videos about restaurants, recipes etc?

  9. Mary:

    Hi there!

    I was thinking about books or even YouTube videos that contain information/recipes on traditional, non-Westernized Greek foods and also possibly food folklore or traditions.

    Also, thank you for possibly covering my inquiries in a future blog post!