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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 2 June 2018
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 2 JUNE 2018 15 FOOD FOR THOUGHT most Greek arguments. Leaving the cafe, my son was still lobbying for food, and would not submit to the long walk down to the city, each of us with a rather large backpack. I hailed a cab, which normally initiated a negotiation in Greece but, in 2010, Year Two of the Austerity Era, a passing cab was only too happy to comply. He dropped us off near Egnatia Street, the city's heart, named for a Roman road which connected Thessaloniki, Byzantium's ‘Second City,’ with ‘The City,’ known today as, among other names, Istanbul. Both of us were now fullon hungry, and hot in the midday Macedonian sun, and we retreated into a stoa, one of the arcaded pedestrian streets which define Europe's great cities. Here in Thessaloniki, a stoa typically has a feel partViennese, part-Ottoman. The elegance of the past confronts a present tense of peeling posters, graffiti, city grime, and vacant, shuttered shops. The economic crisis hit Thessaloniki harder and earlier than it did Athens, and it has always had to play second fiddle to the capital, though Thessaloniki is far more elegant than Athens. This stoa was cool despite the summer heat and, several shops in, beneath the arcade, small wooden tables and rattan chairs heralded a taverna. No time to argue: my son begged for food, and we had several hours to kill before our all-night bus to Serbia. We walked in to a gruff greeting from a waiter in a ‘wife-beater’ t-shirt and apron, a few interior tables with disposable paper tablecloths, some faded pictures on the wall, a calendar, and a grimy kitchen out back. Of course, there was the obligatory glass food display case, and no menu but what was in front of you. The visually-expressed bill of fare covered: macaroni with meat sauce, giant navy beans with tomato sauce, roasted potatoes, and some other simple homemade dish. We signaled for two portions of navy bean with potatoes, and asked for a village salad (cucumber, onion, feta, tomato, and peppers), plus a Fanta for my boy, and a half litre of barrel wine for me. Two plates of beans arrived, well-oiled, along with a horiatiki, or Greek salad, one of nature's most sublime gifts, and a copper cylinder of cheap, sulfatefree, homemade wine a few degrees above freezing. On the slightly rickety table lay three plates, two with large beans the colour of a gold-red sunset, bathed in an oily tomato base with plenty of onions, crowded by oven-baked potatoes. Fresh bread helped to guide all and sundry onto our forks. Then, of course, the third plate hosted the Greek salad, a festival of colours, red and bright green tomatoes and peppers, with the white of the feta crowning the light green of the cucumber, which tastes nowhere else as it does in Greece. The wine was a golden blond, no doubt from a vineyard just a few kilometres outside the city. It was an elemental and eternal Greek meal, many of its ingredients as timeless as Greece itself, but also strangely modern: a healthy meal, plant-based, and Green, with all ingredients sourced very locally. Though none of the patrons could be mistaken for crunchy Granola types, the bill of fare might have inspired an upscale clientele in Los Angeles. But this was Greece, and here, this was comfort food, the food of the poor, but with great nutritional value (which accounts for the Greeks' longevity and quality of life – in spite of anything the 21st century can throw at or withhold from the country). I thought of my late father, who would have loved both the meal and the surroundings, and of times, long past, when he would pull me into such tavernes in Pireaus, his hometown, to eat the fare of the common people, his eyes welling up as he remembered lunches and dinners of the past. I thought of meals in Athens, where we lived for two years, and where such tavernes were now crowded out by hipper establishments. But tavernes such as that on the Thessaloniki stoa will always survive in Greece and, somehow, upon leaving our wobbly table, full and happy, I even felt confident that Greece would survive.
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