The thought of studying abroad for most students can be quite daunting. Even though we were all extremely excited to be venturing off to this beautiful country, we were also suffering from a mild case of anxiety. We were travelling to an unfamiliar region for two weeks. We were a group of girls who barely knew each other and who had spent very little time together, except in the classroom. This trip was going to be a learning experience like no other, and the true test would come from our ability to keep an open mind and to not only accept, but embrace the unknown.
We decided to put on our big girl hiking boots and set out to enjoy this trip. In order to take advantage of the experience and not feel any more like outsiders than we already were, we made it our goal to immerse ourselves in the culture of Greece as much as possible. So we spoke the Greek language, we danced to Greek music, and laughed. We met some amazing people, some of whom will remain lifelong friends, and most importantly, we ate good food.
For us, each day was spent learning something new as we gathered around nourishing our minds and bodies with great food. We would spend hours sharing memories and laughing as we prepared a meal. The Greeks taught us that food is an art, a form of expression that translates some of the world’s greatest stories. It provides love, hope and peace as it brings people together. It cannot be rushed to prepare. It must be balanced with time, effort, all your senses, and love.
For many, the idea of spending so much time on preparing a meal is absurd. In Greece, however, the concept of time is not quite the same as in the US. In the US, you are usually on a tight time schedule, making the most of your minutes and bustling about to get to your next destination on time. But in Greece, life is simpler and more laid-back, allowing for time to enjoy what matters. This also translates into their food and eating habits.
Around 2 to 5pm, you will notice that most shops close. There are a few exceptions, mainly the corner stores and some small markets. This is done so that the workers can go and have a long lunch and maybe even nap with their loved ones. The Greeks love to take it easy and put aside time for relaxation and family.
When eating a meal in a Greek home, you will notice that the food is rich, flavorful, bold, and prepared with a special sort of love and thought process. All this helps the food to taste so much better. The Greeks spend a lot of time harvesting ingredients, preparing them, and cooking the foods to make a tasteful, nutritious spread to nourish the soul and body.
Here are a few of the foods that touched our souls and bodies:
Coffee, pastries, cheese, and assorted fruits… our usual choice of breakfast foods.
My breakfast one morning, a cheese and ham stuffed fill pastry. Yum!
At one of our lunch spots in Athens, we shared appetizers, as well as entrees. Appetizers include: dolmades, falafel, sliced veggies with taramasalata, spanakopita, bread, dakos, and olives. The entrées are moussaka (middle left), and pastiche (middle right). There were also lots of potatoes and cheese.
We had the pleasure of trying rooster while exploring Stefani. Look at that wing!
A close up of toasted bread with olives and feta cheese, one of the side dishes of our meal in Stefani.
The “before” of our delicious slow cooked lamb and potato dinner..
And the “after”! Words can’t describe how delicious and savory this dish was. It was paired with homemade coleslaw, bread and cheese, and wine.
Making our homemade coleslaw! It’s mostly cabbage – green and purple – and carrots.
The making of spanakopita! This was our first attempt while in Aegina. We started off by wilting the spinach by hand, then made the filo dough, added feta to the spinach, put the spinach mix in the filo, and voila! Our beautiful creation before being baked! Once baked, the crust was a deep golden color, and the taste of the spinach and feta was mouthwatering.
Here we have the sweet man who showed us around his pasta kitchen! Paired with pictures of delicious macaroni we ate while in Stefani (we had this with the rooster pictured earlier).
The making of vasilopita while in Aegina.
Breaking news – it’s our beautiful vasilopita at the New Year’s feast! Although it appears to be a decorated bread loaf, it is actually has a delicious citrus cake.
Takis showing us how to create a delicious tomato and cheese salad, with peppers and herbs.
One of our last dinners at Takis’ house – the main event was fried sardines we bought from the market. We had horta, roasted beets and beet greens, a Greek-style salad, bread, skordalia, and potatoes.
Some of our favorite desserts – Helen’s homemade apple cake, spoon sweets, and yogurt topped with more spoon sweets. Ms. Myhand, we agree!
And last but not least… these are traditional Christmas cookies made by just about every household in Greece. Every recipe is slightly different, having been passed down through family. We had the opportunity to sample many different kinds, and were never disappointed!
We are proud and honored to say that we learned so much and have grown to love and relate to the Greek culture. This is a culture that in some ways is similar to our own. In Greece, good food, drinks and music bring communities together, but most importantly, it’s a country where prayers and family matter and the only way to succeed is to live as one with nature. Despite our differences and fears, it was the Greek culture that brought us young ladies close together and made our experience worthwhile. Hopefully our journey can inspire more people to be fearless and venture off to the unknown. To be know that life is too short to settle for anything less than what you deserve. Take time to eat, pray, love, learn, laugh, and grow but don’t do it alone. Try to explore this world, change it for the better, step out of your comfort zone, and do not let anyone tell you how it is until you experience it for yourself.
It’s been real, Greece!
Alexis & Mandy