There are a lot of perks to growing up Greek: a big family, Greek weddings, Greek dance, John Stamos, etc. But the single best part is the food. Our culture stems from the kitchen. Seriously, if we’re not eating, we’re dancing. Walk into any Greek kitchen, avoid the yelling (they’re just talking), and you’ll find many of the same things.
If you’re Greek, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re not Greek, then I’d love to share with you what some of us are way too familiar being brought up in a Greek kitchen:
1. You bathe in olive oil
Okay, slight exaggeration, but olive oil is everywhere in your house. You were even blessed with it when you were baptized. You have backup gallons in the garage and you eat it with everything. But it’s not just any olive oil, it’s Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil – probably brought from a village in Greece because anything less would be unacceptable.
2. Salt, pepper, oregano on everything
These are the go-to ingredients in the pantry. Grilling meat? Salt, pepper, oregano + olive oil. Sautéing veggies? Same thing. Eggs? Yep.
#GreekSpoonTip: Crush the oregano in your hand as you sprinkle it to release its aroma.
3. You were threatened with the wooden spoon
You may have never been actually hit with it, but the threat was always there when you misbehaved. And it was horrifying.
4. Freezer is packed with homegrown frozen vegetables, homemade sauce, your Yiayia’s spanakopita, and a small goat
I’m not sure what it is with Greeks packing their freezer like they are preparing for the next Great Famine, but it works. Everything is bought fresh and in-season, and whatever isn’t used is put in the freezer for future cooking. With guests in and out constantly, you always have to be prepared to put something on the table. Your Yiayia, or Greek grandmother, made sure to teach you that.
5. Microwaves are the last resort
My Papou, or Grandpa, refuses to use the microwave. If you want something reheated, it goes on the stovetop or in an oven. It really does make a significant difference in your leftovers. You can’t make things crispy again in a microwave.
6. You always cook with other people in mind
“Philoxenia” is a word we use in Greek. It literally means “the love of strangers.” Greeks always invite people into their home and make them feel welcome. They will make sure to offer food and drink, and no is not an answer.
You never go anywhere empty-handed and you sure as hell never leave empty-handed. So when you cook, you make sure to make extra, just in case someone stops by and you have plenty to share. Even with the economic crisis in Greece, people are no less hospitable. You will still leave with food in your pockets.
7. Bread, feta cheese, and olives for breakfast, lunch and dinner
These are always on the table in your Greek home in some way or another. For you Xeni out there (our polite way of saying “those that are not Greek”), take some fresh bread, crumble some Greek feta on it, add some Kalamata olives and go wild.
8. Your American friends like your mom more than you
I love my mom and I’m pretty sure she is the reason I have friends. Your Greek mom is embarrassing as hell at times but makes sure your friends are her friends too. She’ll feed them even if they aren’t hungry and learn more about them in one night than you knew in your four years of friendship.
9. Measuring cups are not a thing
You get frustrated when you’re trying to learn a recipe from a relative because they don’t actually have it written down and they eyeball everything. It’s always “a little bit of this” and “a handful of that.”
10. You avoid saying “I’m hungry” in Yiayia’s house
Unless you are fully prepared to be offered a 13-course meal in front of you, you do not use these words.
11. The bottom of the salad is always fought over for dipping bread rights
The “zoumi,” or juice, is the best part of the Greek salad. All that tomato juice, olive-oily, crumbled feta and onion goodness is something of the gods and finishing off the salad by dipping fresh bread in it is worth the fight.
12. You smell like what your mom made for dinner
The whole house is constantly filled with the aroma of food because chances are your mom started cooking in the morning.
13. You never leave food on your plate
It is not an option. If you don’t finish, you could expect to be followed into your class with your leftover breakfast as your classmates stare at you (true story). But you also have to make sure not to eat too fast, because if there is a clean plate in front of you, you can bet more food will be added to it before you even take your last bite.
14. Your addiction to caffeine started with frappés
Your dreams of summer include drinking these on beautiful Greek beaches. Starbucks has nothing on this perfect frothy and ice cold coffee made with Nescafé Instant Greek Coffee.
15. Easter means a lamb on a spit
Roasting lamb on Greek Easter is a Greek tradition. While other kids dream of Easter bunnies, Easter to you means finally getting to eat meat after the Lenten fast. One year, I was a little too excited and sent my American friends a picture of me holding the ribcage. They were not as amused.
16. Americans ask you to bring baklava whenever you ask what you can bring to their party
I’ve helped my mom make it plenty of times, but that stuff takes some practice to master. They think you can just whip it right up, but you smile and do it anyway because the people love it and it secretly makes you feel awesome when everyone’s talking about your baklava.
17. You eat black licorice and you think it’s ouzo-flavored
You didn’t understand how Papou could down so many shots of this hard liquor, aka Greece’s national drink, without falling over. That man has built up a tolerance. But a bottle is always sitting on your counter casually because if your relatives aren’t drinking it, your mom is cooking with it.
18. You didn’t realize how healthy you actually ate until all of America was calling your daily food their new “diet”
The “Mediterranean Diet” makes you appreciate that your mom cooked real food for you throughout your life. You also felt extra cool and healthy because you ate Greek yogurt before it became popular. That stuff was our baby food.
19. And most importantly, you see food as a way of bringing people together
You love food because well it tastes fantastic, but it’s also the main part in all things social. It’s a way to connect with others and show them you care about them. And as much as you try to hide from your Yiayia and Papou, you secretly hope you are going to be just like them.