Unique things to see, do and taste in Greece
After reading this blog we rather hope that you will come on a Greek yacht charter with Kavas yachting to sail around our beautiful seas.
There are however a couple of additional things that you should do to catch the vibe of what makes us tick here.
While many people visit Greece just for the sun, sea and partying, others want a little taste of our country.
We will come to the don’t at the end!
Food you should try
Even if you don’t get heavily into our ancient culture and history, you should try the six things below - moussaka tzatziki feta cheese, frappe coffees, open air cinemas and kiosks - for a little flavour of what we in Greece hold dear.
Is one of the world’s most famous Greek exports. Layers of aubergine, cheese 'béchamel' sauce, and minced lamb / onion, as well as a variety of herbs and spices form a hearty meal that you can enjoy over a long lunch or for a great dinner.
While you may have eaten it in your homeland you should never leave our country without having tasted one made here in Greece!
Is a refreshing, light dip or sauce that will enliven your tastebuds with a bit of meat or even as part of a vegetarian dish.
There are three major components to this - yoghurt, garlic and deseeded cucumber - though some add dill or parsley for an added zing to the taste.
Is tangy, pickled cheese made out of sheep’s milk (70%-100%) and goat’s milk (up to 30%).
Though you can buy it in almost every supermarket in Europe (and increasingly in the USA) you will only rarely find a Greek import in your home country. Why? Here in Greece we eat almost every morsel we make. As such you may be fond of your Greek inspired cheese but in most cases, you will only find Greek feta in Greece!
Though we do suggest you attempt to try feta, while out and about eating from our bars and restaurants you will probably find it hard to avoid the stuff. We love it so much that we eat feta with almost everything.
On some of our islands in the Aegean, we have some of the oldest and fittest people on the planet. Feta may have something to do with it - it is full of the good fats the body needs, is more digestible than cow’s milk cheese, and is one of the healthiest cheeses you will find anywhere in the world.
ouzo - not just a drink: a Greek national pastime
ouzo is brewed from grapes that have been used in wine, and then flavoured with the anise spice as well as a variety of herbs and spices peculiar to the distillery it makes it.
Though many say that the island of Lesvos makes the best in Greece, don’t be afraid to hunt down a local variety on an island or in a village - there are probably as many flavours and variations of this drink as there are islands across the Aegean and Ionian Seas.
Ouzo may be said to be a pastime as much as a drink in itself. The key is to eat mezedes as you drink, but don’t rush as you do. Sip it - don’t shoot it.
Savour the flavours on your palate as the alcohol blazes fire down your throat. While it is very strong (46% alcohol isn’t unusual) and you will get through a lot on a long session, the idea of ouzo drinking is to lubricate a sunny, lazy afternoon with friends old and new.
Ouzo is not like vodka or tequila - it is definitely not for getting drunk! You will have the king of all hangovers if you start banging shots down your neck. If you chill out, let the mezedes nibbles absorb some in your belly and get through a bottle over 4-5 hours then you are doing it right.
Perhaps take some home with you? You certainly won’t find a brand like ouzo Giannatsi even outside of Plomari let alone in a specialist booze shop outside our country. This comes in two strengths, the 42% and a 45% one. Some say Barbayannis is the best ouzo in the world. A popular also ouzo you can have in almost all tavernas is is Plomari (photo) which is brewed in Lesvos island.
Do be careful of the rot gut versions sold to tourists - for your boat you may do well to ask a local what they drink as opposed to the rubbish that is sold in nasty tourist traps...
It's about ice instant coffee. This was "invented" in 1957 by a Nescafe representative in Thessaloniki so is no ancient custom like tea in China but is something almost everyone from this country has grown up with and appreciates.
There are three versions of frappe - sketo (no sugar), metrio (with 1-2 teaspoons of sugar) and glyko (3-4 or more) for those with a very sweet tooth. Another adjustment is 'me gala' for those who want it with milk.
The frappe is made with:
- a small shot of cold water,
- 1-2 teaspoons of Nescafe instant coffee,
- ice cubes,
- milk as required.
Some throw all this in a blender and blitz it, while others put a few ice cubes in a shaker and rattle it around - both create a frothy, full flavoured drink that should not be missed while on a trip to Greece!
Open air cinemas
Do you like watching a movie under the night sky?
Before the internet changed communications around the world forever, those of us born in the 1970’s and 80’s look back fondly to the time when having out at an open air cinema was an important part of our social worlds. Some may say it is still better than Facebook or Twitter as you can see, touch and smell your companions, and enjoy the forgotten art of conversation!
Entering the open air cinema you will find three things that are almost always there. At the gate will be honeysuckle or jasmine climbing plants, while the ground has a layer of gravel. Being for a social occasion you will always find a bar to help you relax and enjoy your time with your friends. These sights, sounds and tastes make for memories of childhood cherished by many a Greek in their late 30’s and up to this day.
There used to be at least one open air cinema in every town and in bigger cities such as Thessaloniki or Athens, every district.
Open from May until October every year, they are a highlight of the social calendar as you can enjoy the warm evenings with a beer, with your friends. The movie is an important part of the occasion but so is the physical act of hanging out with your buddies.
As with so many things, the modern world has killed off many open air cinemas due to people preferring to stare at their tablets or phones rather than spend time with their friends and loved ones. You will find just a few open air cinemas left - the party island of Mykonos has one with hammocks for those too dazed and confused from partying to sit in a chair, Naxos, and Athens.
One thing to note here - the film usually starts at 20:45, just when mosquitos most like to have their dinner. Cover yourself in mosquito repellant before you go as you really don’t want to be the highlight of the movie experience for both man and beast!
The're just mini markets called 'periptera'. While you will see many of those on the streets of towns and cities around Greece, in just a few years time they will die out altogether, again in the name of this questionable concept of 'progress'.
According to the Culture Trip magazine:
Regulated to cover only 1,3 m x 1,5 m, these pocket-size convenience stores usually have three windows and one door, from where the peripteras, or kiosk operator, comes in and out.
Periptera are important mini hubs at the centre of community life all over the country, selling chilled drinks, newspapers, sweets, cigarettes and over the counter pharmaceuticals.
They adapt to their surroundings so you may find a serious newspaper like the Economist in central Athens while only Greek newspapers and magazines in a neighbourhood far from the tourist trail.
Periptera have been around since 1911 but an edict passed by our government in 2015 means that licenses to run them will no longer be renewed. Once important family businesses passed through the generations and ensuring there would always be bread on the table for many, they are about to die off completely.
After they are gone you may well have a choice of chain supermarkets that undercut the kiosks in price, but isn’t it better to support a local business than to save a few cents by supporting shareholders who aren’t exactly short of a penny or two?
Here on the Kavas blog we frequently say how unique the individual islands can be in our seas. Emblematic of this is Mastic liqueur, a slightly aniseed flavoured drink that you have with mezedes.
Chios Mastiha is the drink you should search out as part of your gastronomic adventures in Greece. It has European protection and can only be called Chios Mastiha if it is brewed on the island of Chios. You will discover a brandy and liquorice flavour that sits well with your mezedes as you explore the bars and restaurants of an evening.
Mastic (in Greek, 'mastiha') is a resin that is bled from Mastic trees on in the south of the island of Chios. You can get mastic trees in other parts of the world but you cannot get the mastic resin from them, a peculiarity that has lasted 2500 years since the resin’s discovery.
You can chew the resin like chewing gum. The flavour starts out bitter but becomes delicious as you chew. The name indeed stems from the word 'to chew'. To shortcut the initial disappointment it seems the locals of Chios found that refining it into an alcoholic drink gives you all of the pleasure and none of the unpleasant taste.
...And one don't: Toilet paper!!!
Unless you are in a new hotel, never flush toilet paper down the loo here. If you do, our sewerage pipes are usually so narrow you could be in for a nasty surprise when the toilet backs up and floods the bathroom - not a pleasant thing to discover for someone with a hangover in the morning!
We keep bins beside the toilet and you throw your soiled paper in that. In hotels you will that maids empty this bin daily. A common tip for those who might not like the smell is to bring some nappy / diaper bags with you to Greece and to leave your used toilet roll in that. While not exactly eco-friendly it will save you from the smell...
So there you have it - six do’s and one don’t for your trip to Greece. Even if you aren’t into seeing the ancient relics and history, it is worth trying these things out if only to have some authentic memories of our country during your yacht charter in Greece!
See also ↠ Boat friendly recipes