My aunt raised her hands in despair, the colour draining from her rosy cheeks.
“What will I tell your mother?” she wailed, clawing at her hair.
“Mum already knows.”
“But what…” gasped my aunt, “will you eat?”
“Aaaaiiiieeee…! Your father will never forgive me.”
“Dad also knows I’m vegetarian. They’ve both known for years.”
The prolonged wailing alerted the other family members.
“It’s the evil eye,” observed the wizened grandmother. She spat three times to cast out the devil.
“Bring me a crucifix,” she demanded, “and some oil in a tea cup.”
“She…” my aunt turned her ashen face towards me. “She… doesn’t … eat… meat!”
Would you like fries with your grass?
The Greek word for vegetarian translates to “grass eater” – which is probably what triggered my aunt’s hysterical reaction.
To be fair, I didn’t give her any warning on my last visit to Greece in 2004.
During two previous visits, I was still a dedicated meat eater. But the excessive eating, drinking, non-existent exercise and expanded waistline led me to a much-needed detox on my return to Sydney in 1996.
I felt so good being meat-free for a few months that I didn’t return to my carnivorous ways.
“We’re having a barbecue tomorrow,” mum would say.
“What are you cooking?”
“But I don’t eat meat.”
“I know, but it’s a barbecue,” she insisted.
It took her three years to embrace the concept of vegetarianism.
I must confess that I eat fish, much to the disgust of purist vegetarians. I don’t make any excuses for this - it’s just one of those things my body craves; like chocolate. Or bourbon.
However, it was enough to throw all my aunts into a mild panic, despite the plethora of vegetarian dishes sprinkled in the Greek cuisine:
- stuffed tomatoes
- grilled eggplant and zucchini
- tzatziki and taramosalata dips
- baked potatoes
- and my favourite – spinach pie (spanakopita).
A shining to the local brew
Despite the grass-eating fiasco, I maintained favourite niece status with my Greek uncles as I often joined them for a glass of the local moonshine, tsipuro.
Containing up to 45% alcohol, this clear, strong spirit is the perfect accompaniment to a meze selection of fetta, olives, bread and seafood.
It's my drink of choice over ouzo.
Come over for lunch
“We’re having a barbecue tomorrow,” mum still says, by way of invitation. “And we’ve got fish.”