By Catherine Tsounis
Hospitality is a key element of Greek society. A Greek Family presents the best of Greek Cuisine. Lavish breakfasts in the hotels I traveled astonished me this summer. Summer 2015 Eurozone Crisis produced an overall gourmet experience for all travelers. Multi-generational travelers all looking for a unique, novel experience found it.
Vasso Methodiou, a retired Greek educator from Egypt. Lives in Halandri Athens. She used had an embroidered tablecloth in an elegant dining room of Mediterranean style furniture to host a multi-dish luncheon. “We only prepare luncheons on this scale for visitors,” she said. “We usually eat simply because of high food prices. Mousaka, keftedakia, chicken beef, cooked potatoes, fasolakia, Greek salad with feta and olives was served with Italian bread and red or white wine. Dessert was homemade koulourakia with coffee. I was expected to eat everything. There goes one’s diet.
“Greece has an ancient culinary tradition dating back several millennia, and over the centuries Greek cuisine has evolved and absorbed numerous influences and influenced many cuisines itself,” according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_cuisine. Pitsa Tsakonas, whose family comes from Smyrna, on the coast of Western Anatolia, showed family photos during our meal in Nea Smyrni, Athens. Stewed potatoes, tomato and cucumber salad with olive oil, spanakopita stuffed phyllo with meat and rice, flat meatballs, loin of pork, kasseri, feta and wine were served. Her dinner represented modern Greek cookery with olive oil, vegetables and herbs, grains and bread, wine, and various meats, Olives and cheese. Small ice cream cones were part of the dessert. Everyone loved meatballs that were served in several luncheon.
Our cousins Pitsa Gerou Macarouni, retired educator/philologist and her husband Christo, a computer whiz, welcomed us with computer technology. “Before we eat, lets video a toast and send it on the internet to America,” said Pitsa. “We sent you health, happiness and best wishes from Tripoli. Potatoes sautéed in fresh tomatoes, feta, Italian bread, Greek salad with lettuce/cabbage, red wine and a bowl of fresh fruit. Cabbage is popular in salad. .” Greek cuisine with fine china on a hand embroidered tablecloth made an unforgettable impression. Opening their homes to us made us welcome.
Speed and precision to accommodate customer service needs was the feature of breakfasts at the Amalia Hotel, Kalambaka, Mediterranean Palace in Thessaloniki, Herodion and Periscope, Athens and Mainalos in Tripolis. They created an impressive, unique guest experience that exceeded all expectations. The Herodion Hotel, Athens, prepared by kitchen staff Litsa, Sofia, Despina and Antoni. They had homemade bougatsa, spanakopita, tiropita, homemade cakes and strudel from Roumeli, Arcadia and Laconia, rice pudding, different fruit and cereal varieties, French croissants and breads, cold cuts, omelets and juices. Periscope, Athens presented a similar menu with a pleasant youth oriented staff always trying to help the traveler. Their breakfasts represented Greek cuisine. The Amalia Hotel, Kalambaka and Mediterranean Palace had similar cuisine, catering more to large groups. Mediterranean Palace kept offering us free wine for dinner. That created a positive impression to the Dolphin Hellas, Athens group that I was part of. Uli and her staff Kosta, bus driver and Matina, travel guide, supervised stops on our 5 day Macedonian trip where all could sample authentic local cuisine of Roumeli and Macedonia.
My husband John, who reminds me he is from the Greek tribe of Arcadians, fell in love with the breakfasts of the Mainalon Hotel in the center of Tripoli. “We have bougatsa created in a nearby village and delivered fresh each morning,” said restaurant manager. “We have authentic Arcadian honey, homemade tiropita, spanakopita, fresh juices, two types of omelets, pound cake croissants, cereals, various juices, beverages, cheese and cold cuts. Having breakfast in a Greek hotel is extraordinary. Everyone was positive, with a smile in the middle of a catastrophic economic war.
An American traveler told me she was “amazed by Greek hospitality and the Greek people. Everyone who meets you says ‘let’s eat’ and treats you as a friend. I have not seen this anywhere. But, I learned a few words such as Efharisto.” This was not a show to tourists. Hospitality and graciousness to all visitors is the authentic image of Greece missing in the U.S. media.