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Ah Greece! The birthplace of democracy, the Parthenon and Acropolis, iconic whitewashed buildings against endless blue sky and crystal azure sea and light that virtually dances off every surface in this gorgeous country. The Greek Islands are each a unique jewel in a dazzling crown. When your destination is Greece you are sure to experience the trip of a lifetime.

The love language of this country is expressed around a casual family table and just as iconic as the historical sites and azure beauty is the traditional taverna of Greece. Wherever you go in Greece you will find dozens of these family owned and laid back eateries. You’ll wish you could spend time in every one as they evoke feelings of familial cheer and happy times.

The Taverna Experience

In Greece a restaurant is where you go to enjoy a meal but a taverna is more of an experience. Restaurants have full menus and many items to choose from but a taverna menu is more limited to what’s fresh and available and oh-so-delicious. There you’ll find traditional Greek dishes, entertainment, dancing and local wines as well as other alcoholic beverages.

Tavernas reflect the culture of the area. For example, the tavernas closer to the sea may specialize in seafood and are typically called Psaro, or Fish Tavernas. The more traditional taverna foods are mezedes, small plates similar to the Spanish tapas, such as stuffed grape leaves (dolmades), Greek cheeses, olives, spreads and dips such as tzatziki and taramosalata, a dip made from cured fish roe mixed with olive oil and potatoes, stale bread or sometimes almonds. You’ll also want to enjoy some authentic spanakopita, or spinach pie.

There is an abundance of fresh produce in Greece and the tavernas are the ideal place to showcase local fare. You’ll often find several salad options and a selection of grilled meats. Bread is ever present in the taverna.

Drinks to Enjoy in Greece

Of course the taverna is at the center of Greek social life and Greeks are always ready for a celebration. No lunch or dinner in the taverna is complete without a drink to quench the thirst and relax the soul.

When it is particularly hot many Greeks enjoy a beer, served very cold with lunch or an early dinner. Most tavernas carry a few specialty beers along with the favorites of the locals.

For an evening quaff retsina is often preferred. This is a Greek resinated wine and it’s also served well-chilled. There are several brands of retsina and it is quite popular.

Of course one of the most iconic alcoholic Greek beverages would have to be ouzo. The liqueur is strong and anise-flavored so ouzo is often accompanied by a side of water. It’s common to mix some water in with your ouzo to tone it down a bit.

Mastika is another liqueur popular with Greeks. It’s made from the resin of the rare mastic tree, cultivated only on the isle of Chios. The liqueur is rich in flavor with notes of fennel, anise, mint and pine. Mastic is often enjoyed after the meal as a digestive.

Tsipouro is made from the leftovers of wine production. First made by 14th century Greek Orthodox monks, this strong spirit (40%-50% alcohol!) has been compared to whiskey.

From the port city of Patras comes the liqueur Tintura (or Tentura). This copper colored beverage is made from fermented citrus fruits with cinnamon, vanilla and nutmeg included. The base of this liqueur is often brandy but may be made with rum as well. Locals enjoy their Tintura on the rocks or in their coffee.

In Naxos the Citron tree has flourished for more than 300 years. The fragrant leaves of the tree are used to make Kitron of Naxos. The leaves are distilled in copper stills and the potable is available in three different varieties. The green is the sweetest of the three and has the lowest alcohol content (30%), the clear version has a medium alcohol content and is slightly sweet. Gold Kitron has an alcohol content of 40% and is far less sweet. Kitron is normally enjoyed before the meal as an aperitif.

Wines of Greece

One of the many benefits of enjoying an evening in a taverna is the array of local wines available. Here are some you’ll want to try.

Assyrtiko is a lovely and refreshing white wine with a fruity taste. It’s a popular wine in Greece, appreciated for its vibrancy with notes of citrus. Limniona is a fragrant light red wine and similar to Pinot Noir.

Moschofilero is a dry, crisp white that goes well with traditional foods or by itself. This wine has notes of sweet lemon and peach and as it ages the flavors that develop are compared to nectarine, apricot and roasted hazelnut.

Agiorgitiko wines are full bodied with hints of blackberry, raspberry and current and nutmeg. The smooth tannins and hint of bitter herb make this a very enjoyable drink. This luscious red has been compared to a Merlot with a bit more spice.

Vinsanto is a dessert wine from Santorini. This fruity white boasts hints of apricot, raspberry, raisins and maraschino cherry with contrasting bitter flavors attributed to the tannins. A quite unexpected white wine.

Reds from Crete are smooth and fruity. These popular reds have layers of flavors from sweet red and black fruits to spices like cinnamon and allspice and hints of soy sauce.

Find Out for Yourself

When you’re in Greece spending time in a taverna is a must-have experience. Enjoy some wonderful food, unique and pleasing beverages and get to know Greece in the best possible way.

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