The sun is out and I am craving Greek food, and not what we Americans call a Greek salad and a Gyro. I am talking about a real authentic fully loaded table of dishes. My cravings have brought back wonderful memories of some of the best meals I’ve eaten in Greece, two of which happened on the same trip. One was my first full dinner in the middle of the streets of Nafplion where I was almost hit by every car that drove by, and the other was in the hills near Sparta atop of the peak in the olive groves.
I have only been to Greece twice in my life, and I dream of going back many more times. Flaming up saganaki at Greekfest for a few days at my familys church doesn’t even come close to being there. I flew into Athens, Greece for work a few years ago. I am not one of the lucky people who can sleep on a plane. I have an overactive brain most of the time and sleeping anywhere other than my own bed is nearly impossible. The flight was nine hours, overnight. We were greeted at the airport and quickly shuffled into our mini tour bus for the next few days, and headed south out of Greece for the Peloponnese. We crossed the Corinth Bridge and made our way to Skouras vineyards for a light Greek lunch and wine tasting. If I wasn’t exhausted by now, the food and wine weren’t any help. We then headed to check into our hotel in the beautiful city of Nafplion, Greece. It is an ancient city like everyplace in this part of the world with hilltop ruins and an island fort just off the shoreline. I was informed that it is a weekend getaway town for the rich Athenians, like Cape Cod or the Hamptons minus the million dollar sprawling estates. We had time to check into our rooms and do whatever for a few hours until we had to be ready for dinner. I didn’t dare lie down, because I knew it would be lights out. I decided to walk around the city and shoreline instead. A few hours later, we all slowly gathered together and made our way to dinner. It was a brisk ten minute walk from our hotel near the center of town. We walked the streets as if they were sidewalks; mopeds, and cars sporadically buzzed by us. We came to our restaurant situated directly at the corner of two main streets. Our table for about ten people was set up in the street, as close to the restaurant wall as possible. I was the last to sit and got the seat located almost in the intersection. Mind you, the streets are old cobblestone skinny streets, not four lane highways flooded with 3000 pound beasts. Wine was poured for us out of unlabeled bottles both red and white, and slowly, plates of food began to hit the table. There was side plates full of olives and feta, trays of lamb and beef, fish fresh out of the Mediterranean grilled and simply drizzled with olive oil and lemons. I can’t remember all the preparations, but it was served family style, which is the best way to serve Greek in my opinion. Nearly every few minutes, I would see ahead of me or hear from behind the hum of a car getting closer, and not discerningly slowing down. When you are trying to relax and enjoy a meal with the smell of the Mediterranean off in the distance, stressing about the pain of a small car sideswiping you doesn’t make things easy. The cars were only as far away from me as the distance from my elbow to fingertip. As everyone drank more wine, the jokes of me becoming a Greek hood ornament increased. Although, it was a nervous dining experience, I would do it over and over again, because the food was exceptional.
The next day we headed south again, making our way over the mountains, through Tripoli and on into Sparta. We eventually met up with friends who are olive growers. We visited their facility and they drove us in the back of pickup trucks high into the olive groves. I did learn that olive trees will only grow from seeds that have been digested by birds, and not simply planted in the ground. Yes, I thought it was weird as well. They set up a late lunch for us up on the pinnacle of one of their hills. We could see for miles. The vast landscape was spectacular. They put out a spread for lunch that was some of my favorites. There was a “real” Greek Salad which was simply, chopped tomatoes, feta, sesame seeds, and olive oil. They had a tray of spanakopita, kreatopita (like spanakopita, but made with meat instead of greens), cheeses, and of course olives. Now I have eaten a lot of spanakopita in my life, but the one they had tasted nothing like my mothers or grandmothers. I asked why and they said we make it with the greens from the groves, mostly dandelion and mustards. It was a great lunch and a view.
The Greeks no how to keep is simple and as I try to get through life a day at a time, I am learning that keeping it simple is the way to go. Now if I can only find some real Greek food right now. Opa!