For the Greek community, Easter is a time for family, food and tradition. It’s a feast. A Feast of the Gods, if you will.
There is a moment of silence. The deeply comforting aroma of garlic lingers in the air, almost tangible, and Nick Papadopoulos stands in the kitchen surveying counters full of food. His wife, Katia, stands to one side and his business partner, Eric Edwards, flanks the other. It too is like a marriage as they’ve worked and cooked together for 22 years.
As if on cue, Nick’s parents arrive and conversation erupts in Greek. They stop to cast an eye over the food as more guests arrive and, although Easter is a serious celebration, it’s also a joyous one and everybody is in high spirits.
Reminiscent of warm Mediterranean days, lunch is an alfresco affair. Nick has stacked wooden pallets to serve as a rustic drinks station and ouzo, metaxa and the distinctive retsina wine take pride of place. “In ancient times they used pine resin to line the caskets to preserve the wine but they got so addicted to the taste they now add it to the wine. Retsina – you either love it or you hate it!” he exclaims while handing out glasses.
Nick’s heritage is also his livelihood. “I think every Greek is born with a wooden spoon in his hand and a passion for good food. I grew up in the kitchen; my family has always been involved in catering so the kitchen is basically the soul of our home.” Nick owned a Durban North-based restaurant called Eat Greek for eight years and the name stuck when he decided to move into catering (although they are not limited to Greek food).
Traditions are strictly observed over Greek Orthodox Easter, which is based on the Julian calendar, meaning it falls on 5 May this year. Nick has laid each person’s setting with a palm cross, olive branch and red dyed eggs. “The eggs symbolise life and red symbolises the blood of Christ. Breaking the eggs represents the new life, the resurrection,” he says.
The beginning of lunch is duly heralded with earnest attempts to crack each other’s eggs as the person whose egg lasts the longest is assured good luck for the rest of the year. Greeks have the enviable tradition of meze and the camaraderie brought about by communal eating. The only breaks in conversation are when everyone, in a few moments of synchronised clarity, simultaneously stops to ponder the delicious flavours.
Tomato wedges, cucumber and feta make a happy combination and receive support from an enormous bowl of Kalamata olives. There is a basket of tsoureki, a sweet Easter loaf containing red eggs, which is traditionally prepared as part of the Easter Sunday resurrection table. Also on the meze menu are savoury cheese pies, tiropitas. “You would walk for miles in Athens to find the best tiropita and once you bite into the hot pie, you know your trip was not made in vain. These are smaller versions of this humble pie,” says Nick.
The pickled octopus is an undoubted hit and a Papadopoulos family tradition. “My father would make sure that this fantastic meze was always available. Once caught, dad’s share was to clean and tenderise the octopus. It was only in this prepared state that the baton could be handed over to my mother.”
There is no restrained waiting between courses and main course sees sweet, juicy prawns juxtaposed with salty haloumi. The star attraction is, however, the slow-roasted lamb (traditionally lamb or goat is served) and a five-hour stint in the oven has rendered it meltingly tender. It’s served with lashings of tzatziki and potatoes that have been roasted with the lamb to absorb all the wonderful flavours.
Finally dessert is served. Galatoboureko is a filo-based custard pie with unctuous syrup.
Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t end there. Dark, broody coffee is served with Greek shortbread and koulourakia or ‘twist cookies’, which are also an Easter staple, and Easter wishes are dispensed with a contented chorus of “Chroniá Pollá”.
Eat Greek Caterers. Call 031-563-3877 or visit www.eatgreek.co.za.
By TRACY GIELINK
Photographs by CLINTON FRIEDMAN