Meze, appetizers, and the fine art of social drinking

In this corner of my kitchen, the one with the old scratched table and assorted comfy chairs, I often sit with my friends, getting up now and then to put a new plate on the table. Only a fork and a glass are given to each guest, and of course the basket of fresh crispy bread is in easy reach for everyone to freely tear off a hunk and dip it into whatever plate that suits their fancy, or use it to scoop up some delectable morsel.

My most favorite aspects of Greek and Mediterranean cooking is the meze, or appetizer. In Spain they call them tapas, in Italy they are simply the ‘first plates’, but no matter what they are called, they always perform the same function; they either start the meal, or they accompany social imbibing when done over a period of… a few hours! They are typically small portions of dishes; some very simple, others very elaborate, and sometimes they are too heavy in fats or oils to be eaten on their own in larger amounts. They  perform the role of stomach liners which allow you to keep drinking alcohol without sliding off the chair one hour into the get-together… particularly when more potent spirits like tsipouro, raki, grappa, or ouzo are involved.

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(meze examples clockwise from top left: grilled mushrooms, marinated and grilled chicken breasts, spicy deviled eggs, grilled tomatoes, blanched fresh beans with dill & mustard vinaigrette)

Drinking with friends in these Mediterranean countries like Greece, Italy, or Spain, is a common and simple social event. It can take many hours and sitting at a table like this, with food involved, makes for a very different social interaction than  going to a bar. It is more relaxed, more impromptu, more friendly, and it doesn’t necessarily require an invitation, or a lot of planning. Mezes can be a little of whatever is in the fridge; a few pieces of cheese and cold meats, a fresh vine ripened tomato and cucumber cut into wedges with a little sea salt, a quick omelet, some olives and the oil they were stored in (for dipping!), a last piece of stuffed tomato, or they can be dishes, particularly designated as meze, or appetizer dishes.

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So here I sit and reminisce, and I raise my glass to all my friends and all our much disputed topics over many many glasses of something wonderful, all while eating and eating and eating…

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Γειά μας! Cheers!

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