The recent issue of Saveur draws the hungry reader into a lair revealing Greece’s most prized possession: her food. For this trip to Greece, that magazine has since become my most coveted travel possession. Through delayed flights, a two-day London stopover, a creepy hostel stay, train troubles, baggage malfunction and countless hours in airports, that magazine, with a fiery cover shot of roasted red peppers bubbling over with olive oil and cheese, has remained tucked under my arm.
I nearly cried (shouts and tears) when grabbing the copy in the middle of a North Carolina Harris Teeter. I felt a sense of enchanted awe when I peeled back the pages to discover classics like hortopita, true Greek mezze and a hearty pastitsio flaunting its robust reputation, the noodles, tomato, cinnamon, bechamel and, of course, meat, saucing it up on a two-page spread.
There isn’t a Greek dish in those pages that I haven’t tried before, or have not appreciated as immensely as any of the storytellers, each of whom write inspired tales of memories at a Greek table and travelling through the country’s rich diversity of cuisine by way of windy mountain roads, new friendships with villagers or candid encounters with proud restaurant owners and seasoned home cooks.
It’s not that these recipes, images and stories are foreign to me. I grew up groaning at the thought of another bowl of lentils or more slabs of moussaka on my plate, yet now these foods are staples in my own kitchen that I can’t imagine living without. I can’t help but feel an awe, and excitement, that stems from a deep appreciation for these foods and the hard-working familial and cultural history behind them. And, of course, I also feel a strong sense of pride. I wouldn’t be Greek without that stubborn little devil following me around everywhere.
So I set off for Greece with Saveur in tow. I’m here now, on the island of Andros, the second largest of the Cyclades cluster in the Aegean Sea, where my grandmother was born and raised. And Saveur’s Greece issue, with its binding now pebbly with coarse sand and pages sticky from the salty breeze, gets stuffed into my bag before I set out on each day. I’ve been here less than a week, and I promise you I could already write my own magazine detailing everything I’ve eaten. In fact, I promise you I will, in the form of blog posts and vibrant photos (by way of the stunning colors of Greece, which make it really difficult to take a bad photo).
Right now as I type, on a balcony overlooking the Aegean, my grandmother, Yiayia Eleni, is arguing with her brother over what to cook for tomorrow’s lunch. Tomorrow isn’t a special occasion, and we all just woke up from a food coma after today’s unneccessarily ridiculous lunch spread (all gone without complaints, though). But food is constantly the next task at hand. We have giant lemons from the trees out front, figs from the trees out back, wild capers, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplant, onions, grapes, olives and even wine and raki, all “dopio” or homemade. A frappe may set you back 4 euros at the local kafenio, but we’ve got food at our fingertips. As do most Greek villages, where “locavore” isn’t acknowledged as the next big thing; it’s always been this way. I realize how lucky the Greeks are for this, and how lucky I am to be here this summer. See you at the table.