Grab a fork and have a seat at the table! Friends and loved ones are getting together for an evening of laughter, drinks, and most of all, plate after plate of delectable Greek food. Welcome to the epitome of Greek-style entertaining - the Greek meze table.
Translated literally, the word meze (meh-ZEH) means a taste or a bite. It is used to describe small plates of savory snacks that are served as a compliment to drinks. There are many different types of mezethes (meh-ZEH-thes), and the menu will vary according to locale.
The meze table is a traditional gathering place - warm, inviting, and always casual. It is an atmosphere where the plates are communal, the conversation is spirited, and the pace is leisurely. This style of entertaining encourages people to come and join the party. Tables are pushed together to accommodate newcomers, and more plates and drinks are ordered.
Ouzo and Meze - Perfect Partners
The perfect partner to the Greek meze is the anise-flavored aperitif known as ouzo (OO-zoh). It opens up the appetite or orexi (oh-RE-ksi) and blends well with many different flavors. Traditionally, ouzo bars or ouzeries (oo-zeh-REE-es) will offer a long list of mezethes to go along with the drink.
What's on the Table?
A typical meze table will contain a mixture of hot and cold snacks. You could start with a small plate of crisp sliced cucumber and some olives. Add some small chunks of Feta cheese or another great table cheese like kasseri (kah-SEH-ree), and tomato wedges drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with dried oregano and sea salt. A dip or spread like the delicious carp roe spread called taramosalata (tah-rah-moh-sah-LAH-tah) with pita bread triangles for dipping is also a great addition.
Meze offerings can be simple or elaborate. In seaside villages, you will find small plates of grilled octopus or fried smelts called marithes (mah-REE-thes). In other parts of Greece, small meatballs or keftedakia (keh-fte-THA-kya) are served along with some fried potatoes drizzled with lemon. Savory phyllo triangles filled with cheese or tiropites (tee-ROH-pee-tes) are also served as well as a skillet-fried cheese dish known as saganaki (sah-gah-NAH-kee).
Many villages are known for making their own sausages that are seasoned with orange peel and flavored with fennel seed. The sausages are grilled and then sliced and served with lemon. Another great meze to serve, if you can plan ahead, are rice-stuffed grape leaves called dolmathakia (dol-mah-THA-kya). These small packages of rice flavored with lemon, dill, and pine nuts can be made vegetarian-style called yialantzi (yah-lan-TSEE) or with ground beef or lamb.
When putting together your next gathering, remember, the meze table is not about the courses and seating. It's more about simply being together to enjoy the parea (pah-REH-ah) or company.