Greek Restaurant Etiquette
The Greeks love to eat. (Who doesn't?) Many Americans have a fear of coming to Greece because they are afraid of the food. There's nothing to be afraid of. It's not like Mexican or food from the far eat. Nothing is so spicy you can't eat it and the seasonings they use are the very same ones you have on the spice shelf in your Kitchen. And unlike the crappy oil that terrorizes the hearts of many Americans, Olive oil is good for you and will keep you alive long after many of your friends have taken the next step in their spiritual evolution.
What usually happens when you walk into a restaurant is after finding a table (almost always outdoors between the months of May and October), you will be permitted or encouraged to go to the kitchen to see what they have to offer. There will be a large steam table full of pots with different dishes in them. Pick out what looks good and don't be afraid to ask your cook, waiter or host "Tea eeneh aftoe?". You have just asked "What is this?" Not all restaurants are the kinds that display their food in the kitchen, but you are welcome in just about any kitchen to pick out your fish or look at the meat to see if it is fresh.
You will notice that in Greece the waiter will not come up to your table every three minutes to ask how you are doing or if he can get you anything else or fill your glass with every sip you take like they do in restaurants in America. If you want something else it is your job do get his attention and anything goes within reason. And unlike in America where you get your meal and eat it and that's the end, in Greece it is OK to keep ordering. If something delivered to another table looks good, ask what it is and get it. Nobody is going to think you are greedy or a slob. Eating is meant to be enjoyed and restaurant food is cheap (except for some fish). Eating in a Greek restaurant is pretty informal and meant to be relaxing and enjoyable. So relax and enjoy it like the Greeks do.
Ouzo drinking is an art. Or maybe it's a way of life.The key to drinking ouzo is to eat snacks known as mezedes. These keep the effects of the alcohol from overwhelming you and enable you to sit and drink slowly for hours in a profoundly calm state of mind where all is beautiful and life is fine. In the villages where life is slow ouzo is partaken day or night. On Sundays after church the cafeneons are full of lively voices and singing, including sometimes the village priest. In many cafeneons the cooking is done by men, but in some it is a woman who does the cooking and serving and acts as den mother to the old men who come around each day. She knows their likes and dislikes, favorite seats and personal history.
In the cafeneons ouzo is served with a meze included, for about a dollar a glass. The mezedes can be anything from a salad, stewed meat and vegetables, sardeles pastes, koukia (beans), sweetbreads, meatballs, cheese, sausage, fried fish or whatever the specialty of that cafeneon is that day. Eat and drink slowly and enjoy the journey. The cafe owners are always good cooks and in many places it is almost like a competition who has the best mezedes. Don't be macho. Drink ouzo with water. When you pour it in the ouzo will turn a milky white. How much to pour in is a matter of taste. A good trick is to water it down as you drink it. In other words you keep adding water. You won't get as drunk this way and because you will be drinking as much water as ouzo (or more) you won't be dehydrated or hungover (maybe).
If you should be lucky enough to meet someone who makes his own ouzo watch out. Though they call it ouzo it is really raki or tsipuro and does not have that licorice flavor one associates with ouzo. It is made in homemade stills and goes down smooth but it's effects are rapid and powerful. But one glass won't hurt and two is even better.
Retsina was the wine of Athens. As far back as the late 1800's Athens had over 6000 tavernas, all filled with wine barrels. The grapes were pressed in the countryside and then brought into the city by horse-drawn carts, before the fermentation had taken place and then taken to the restaurants where the proprietor poured in the resin and decided when the wine was ready. It was not until the 1960's that bottled retsina became available in the countryside and common in the city as many of the old tavernas disappeared and land for cultivating wine near Athens became scarce.
Most tavernas have their own wine, straight out of the barrels, which are usually stacked against the wall. We order it by the kilo and we can go through several kilos in an evening. Glasses are continually being refilled by each other without anything being said. It's like a reflex or second nature to fill your neighbors glass when you see it is empty. And when the carafe is empty someone at the table just lifts it in the air and catches the eye of a waiter, the busboy or even the owner of the restaurant and in thirty seconds it is full again.