Greek cuisine is justifiably famous for its emphasis on the freshness of the ingredients, and the simplicity of their presentation. Eating is a social occasion, and restaurants and cafes are often filled with the noise of families and friends catching up on events and ordering more and more food and wine. Sit-down meals are therefore convivial affairs that are fuelled by food that is often delivered to the group for sharing, rather than to the individual.
The idea of courses is alien to the Greek mind, and any food that is ordered will arrive as and when it is cooked, rather than being delivered in strict succession. Most meals normally begin with a series of orektika (appetizers) that are placed in the centre of the table and passed around within the group so that each person can fork or spoon off onto their own plates as much of the various dishes as they wish to eat.
These orektika are hot or cold, and often consist of dips such as tzatziki (a yoghurt and garlic dip), fava (pureed yellow peas) and melitzanosalata (a roasted aubergine/eggplant dip); salads made of a mixture of tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers or carrots; cheeses, both fresh and fried; courgette/zucchini or aubergine/eggplant fritters; little cheese or spinach pies; a plate of freshly fried whitebait and so on and so forth. The list is endless, and every restaurant, village and region of Greece has its own particular delicacies.
For those with some room left, these orektika are followed by larger plates of grilled or roasted meat or fish, or perhaps some mayirefta (dishes that have been cooked for several hours, e.g. casseroles) such as the famous moussakas. Desserts are usually simple affairs of fresh or baked fruits, or small portions of sweet confections such as halva (semolina) or baklavas.
These kinds of restaurant-based feasts are a weekly part of Greek family life, but Greek cuisine does not begin and end here. In fact, it is the street food or fast food that is in many ways emblematic of their culinary tradition: a slice of freshly-baked spinach or cheese pie from the local bakery; a toasted sandwich stuffed with sliced meats, slivers of vegetables, and cheese spreads; or a pitta bread folded around freshly-carved chunks of spit-roast meat and garnished with fresh salad and tzatziki sauce, all washed down with a locally-brewed beer or soft-drink.
Although not for the calorie conscious, this food, with its emphasis on freshness, conviviality and simplicity, is quintessentially Greek.



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