By Restaurant Manager Georgios Korakianitis
With influences from Turkey to Italy, Greece has a vast and unique culinary landscape that has captivated a global audience.
In Greece, bread, olives, and olive oil are the pillars of the Greek table wherever you travel, from an upscale restaurant in Athens to a farmhouse on Crete. You’ll have a hard time finding a family gathered around a table without this trio, not to mention a fresh bottle of wine.
What many travelers do not realize is that Greek cuisine not only features many typical Middle Eastern foods, but is also strongly influenced by Rome, tracing back to when the Romans conquered Greece in the 2nd century. So you’ll see plenty of pasta and sauces alongside yogurt, rice and rich sweets made from nuts, honey and sesame seeds. Arab influences have also left their mark on the southern region of Greece, which means you’ll see spices such as cumin, cinnamon, allspice and cloves in the dishes. Greek coffee, of course, traces its roots to Turkey, while potatoes and tomatoes were brought from the New World after European explorers landed in the Americas. In Greece using local ingredients isn’t a trend, it’s simply how we cook – we use what is in season and what is available in our region.
Every Greek meal is fresh and inviting, but it also takes you on a journey through Greece’s history and thousands of years of growing, cooking and eating. As you will discover once you sit down to eat in Greece, no meal is ever “just a meal” – our celebration of life and dining is one in the same. So I invite you to discover more about just a few of the many Greek ingredients featured on board that capture the essence of our joyful and timeless cuisine.
The national cheese of Greece, feta can only be produced in Greece – and only in specific regions such as the Peloponnese, Lesvos and mainland Greece – due to its Protected Designation of Origin. By law, feta is produced from either 100% sheep’s milk or a combination of sheep’s and goat’s milk. It’s the crowning centerpiece on any Greek salad and is a key ingredient in traditional dishes such as spanakopita, feta saganaki – a delicious filo-wrapped feta drenched in honey and coated in sesame.
This king of Greek table olives is favored around the world. The almond-shaped, deep purple olive is noted for its rich tangy flavor that is often smoky or has hints of wine. Kalamata olives are typically left on the tree to mature a bit longer and are only harvested once their color begins to turn dark. They are usually stored in olive oil or vinegar, and are typical in Greek salads and make a great tapenade.
Very difficult to find outside of Greece, caper leaves are typically pickled or boiled and then preserved in jars with brine, similar to caper berries. In fact, when our ships leave Greece, we purchase enough caper leaves to last until the ship is planning to return. Our chefs like to use them in fish dishes and salads such as the heirloom tomato salad.
A bold and briny ingredient, capers are picked, cured and sorted according to size. Harvesting capers is an arduous process since they can only be picked by hand every spring. They are ideal for garnishing and add a punch of flavor to sauces, salads, pasta dishes, fish and lamb. We use them most often on board in with our featured Greek fish at the Chef’s Greek Market Dinner, as well as in a variety of pasta dishes and salads.
Filo dough is an unleavened tissue-thin dough that is stretched or rolled so thin you can see through it. This type of dough is very versatile since it can be layered, filled, folded, rolled and even turned into cups, flowers or spirals. On board, we use filo in various Greek recipes such as baklava and spanakopita, as well as dishes such as strudel, pastilla and tartlets. Filo-based pastries are made by layering many sheets of filo brushed with olive oil or butter, filling it and then baking.
Recommended Greek Beverage
Cellar Master’s Notes: A dry white wine, Assyrtiko is unique to the Mediterranean in that it achieves ripeness while maintaining high acidity. The wine is light in color with greenish tints. On the palate a fresh fruitiness is apparent with the development of a pleasant acidity and minerality, the latter derived from the unique character of the geology. Best served chilled, between 46° to 50°F.
Pairing Suggestions: Fish, seafood, a range of salads and traditional Mediterranean vegetarian casseroles.
Metaxa 5 Stars
Cellar Master’s Notes: Metaxa is a Greek brandy which is sweetened, usually darkened with caramel. It was created in 1888 by Spyros. Due to his amber color and quality, Metaxa is named “the smoothest amber spirit under the sun”. There are notes of bitter orange, rose, apricot and violet on the nose. The palate is balanced with notes of peach, raisin and light oak.
Pairing Suggestions: Chocolate, coffee desserts, fruit cake or a mild double cream cheese.
Ouzo by Metaxa
Cellar Master’s Notes: This ouzo is distilled in small, traditional copper stills according to a time-honored recipe from Asia Minor. Served with water or ice, the crystal clear liquid turns milky white, a magic transformation that is typical for this aperitif. Enjoy it straight up as an aperitif with ice and water or on the rocks. Spices such as star anise and mastic are combined in a unique mix which gives Ouzo by Metaxa its distinctive, rich aroma and a taste that is full and balanced.
Pairing Suggestions: In Greece, ouzo is typically accompanied by meze dishes, so try it with grilled squid, Kalamata olives or feta cheese and grilled bread.