Tavernas and Kafeneeos are the center of Greek life. They are embedded in Greek culture and history.
This is where people meet for a quick cup of kafe or to linger over a meal. No matter how small a village is, there is always a taverna or two. They date back to ancient times when men would sit and philosophize about life, politics, weather, and the like. In many places, especially in rural areas, rooms are attached for those who don’t want to venture far from the village square.
When we arrived in Athens, we were eager to have Greek food…alas, the city was in lock-down and the only thing we could do was get it delivered. If we ventured out, it was take-away. Delicious nevertheless, but the menu options were limited.
When the country opened, tavernas and restaurants were allowed outdoor dining. Everyone made a mad dash to them, including us! It was like a switch that was turned on and everyone could now see the light…the beautiful Grecian light created by the sea and sky.
Some of my favorite places are along the shoreline where tavernas are lined up in a row. Staff members stand outside next to the menu board and call out their special of the day; they invite you in to taste their fare. They size you up and try to determine where you are from and in what language you speak. They try English, French, Italian, German, etc. It is amazing that they converse enough to bring you in, seat you, and then take your order in so many different tongues!
Each taverna and café has a place on the beach under a thatched or wooden top, with colorful tablecloths and napkins, various style chairs, and interesting décor. Some tables were set up right on the sand, just a few feet away from the water. The most popular color choice is blue, of course. Perhaps representing the glorious sky and celebrated seas of Greece. You can’t help but notice how often blue chairs are used and to us represent the best in Greek dining. These are the ones we picked most often – a throwback to the memories we have from visiting Greece in our youth.
As the weather gets warmer, bathers set up their towels on the sand, leave their bags at their table, order an enormous number of appetizers and aperitifs which they nibble on throughout the day, and spend the day swimming and eating. Many stayed into the evening having yet another meal.
New arrivals appeared right around 8:00pm and the tables filled up quickly. Greeks, as most Europeans, eat late. They stay till midnight and on the weekends till 1 or 2am. You can always tell who the tourists are – they show up at 6:00pm and are done by 7:30! Sad to say, we were part of this group, although as the summer progressed, we too started eating later and later. We met such interesting people from all over the world at these tavernas, both the diners and the dining staff!
In addition to the delectable food, the key to eating out in Greece is that you can sit at your table as long as you want – nobody bothers you to hurry along so they can seat other people. Greeks do not just eat – they dine. They also order food in layers – appetizers, then salad, then the main meal, then fruit, then dessert. It takes hours! They linger and this is the custom. Unless you flag down the staff, they do not present the check. This is true for lunch and dinner. Kafe drinkers are notorious for buying a single cup at 3:00pm and staying till 8:00pm!
The views from many of these tavernas are stunning. They include the sea, a lake or river, bridges, and mountains; they are set on sidewalks, beach fronts, village squares and rooftops. As we traveled around, we discovered the most charming little tavernas in coves, in tiny hamlets, and on the side of the road. The most modest of décor was often simply the best!
The names of these places made sense and, in some cases, made us laugh. Greek gods are natural; we saw Poseidon and Neptune all over Greece and they were typically seafood places. Aphrodite, Zeus, Apollo – they were all there. Zorbas was another one we encountered in numerous towns. But quite often, we saw Platanos (which is a large plane tree) on the beach with no foliage in sight! Or Meltemi which is the warm wind where towns where the heat pounds on you daily with no breezes or sign of relief.
There are numerous modern kafeneeos with the high stools and tables that the younger people enjoy sitting at daily. Very crowded at certain times of the day and very loud, both in conversation and music. We avoided those. We prefer tiny places with six or eight tables, grandma in the kitchen, the grandson bussing tables – you know which ones I mean: the family-owned restaurants that span generations. Nothing beats food that has passed the test of time.
The absolute best part? The twinkle lights that are turned on above the tables when the sun has set, but that in no way compare, to all the brilliant stars in the night sky above. Being able to see this natural beauty every night for six months, we know, for sure, that we have Retired Well, Helene
All photographs From the Personal Collection of Helene and Zaf.
For more information about Greece, please visit: www.greecetravel.com