Life in Greece today is uncertain, to say the least. And whatever happens in a few days at the national elections, change is afoot. For better or worse, the landscape is shifting. Only one thing is for sure – the status quo cannot be maintained.
This is not a political blog. This is a place where we talk about cookies and soup, burgers and pie. But sometimes food finds its way into politics.
The economic crisis was more than evident during our wonderful holiday in Greece. When we tore our eyes away from the sparkling azure sea, we saw plenty of vacant real estate and protest graffiti. But crisis or no crisis, daily life goes on. And amid all the unknowns, there are a few things about Greek life that I can guess will never change.
Fishermen will catch firm, white fish to serve right from the boats, grilled and drizzled with buckets of olive oil and lemon juice. Fig trees will grow and flourish. Yogurt will be rich, creamy, and ubiquitous. Tavern proprietors will shout ‘Yiamas’ as they send their guests off with shots of raki. Street vendors will sell koulori (sesame coated bread rings) from shopping carts. Orange juice will be freshly squeezed by the glass. Children will collect honey from backyard beehives. Old ladies will bring their coffee to a boil exactly three times before serving. Old men will sip their dark, sweet coffee as they commiserate about the weather. University students will down their caffeine in icy, foamy frappés at sidewalk cafés.
In Greece, coffee is everywhere. Sure, there is plenty of drip coffee being served these days. But each and every cafe, snack bar, taverna, and restaurant offers a cup of the real deal. Greek coffee is a tiny, sweet, intense shot of caffeine. Slighty foamy, and a bit gritty, it’s not for everyone. But if you can get past the grit, slowly sipping Greek coffee is a pretty fantastic time-honored tradition.
Greek coffee is made in a briki. This is a briki.
For Greek coffee add to the briki:
1/3 cup of water
1 heaping teaspoon of Greek espresso (ok, I cheated and used a good Italian brand, but you can find Greek brands like Venizelos online at a pretty reasonable price)
two teaspoons of sugar (or to taste)
Bring just to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat right away until the foam subsides. Return the briki to the heat and repeat this process two more times. Serve in a demitasse cup, grounds and all. Let the coffee sit for a moment to allow the grounds to settle before drinking.
A Greek frappé, unlike the traditional demitasse of Greek coffee, is a modern invention. Well, modern by Greek standards! Rumor has it that the Greek frappé was invented at the 1957 International Trade Fair in Thesaloninki by a representative of Nestle. It’s vaguely like an iced latte. But faster, easier, stronger, foamier, and more fun! It’s simply coffee, sugar, and milk shaken over ice.
As the Greeks do, I used Nescafé instant coffee for this particular frappé. But Starbucks Via Ready Brew actually works pretty well. You can try simply adding the instant coffee and cold water to a shaker, but I like my coffee and sugar to be fully dissolved, and find that the hot coffee works just fine.
For a Greek Frappé:
1 cup of very strong hot instant coffee
2 teaspoons (or more, if you like) sugar
1/2 cup of evaporated milk (Yes, do try the scary canned stuff. Trust me, you’ll like it).
Dissolve the sugar in the prepared hot coffee. Fill a small cocktail shaker with ice. Add the milk to the shaker, along with the coffee. Quickly put the top on and shake vigorously for about 30-40 seconds. Pour the contents of the shaker into a glass, including the ice, and serve with a straw. And preferably a little plate of pistachio cookies.