Mezen: Tsipouro and tantalized tastebuds

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Tsipouro-meze is a ritualistic process that has nothing to do with a drinking session accompanied by good food and everything to do with a journey of the senses. 

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3 years Mezen

In a city (Volos) with over 600 tsipouro hangouts, one place has managed to become famous nationwide and abroad for its sheer innovation. The Mezen, a wordplay using the words meze for starter and my zen meaning Zen, came about when friends Grigoris Helmis, an experienced chef and Andreas Diakodimitris, a hotel manager, sat drinking and meditating over the wild beauty and inconceivable potential of Greece ’ssss tsipouro and meze flavours.

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The pair ended up producing their own firewater distilled by the Kardasis Family in Tyrnavos, coming from 95%  Muscat and 5% Uni Blanc grapes and, in its second distillation, scented with fennel from Evia island as well as creating an extensive list celebrating Greece’s best tsipoura. Inspired by traditional tastes, flavours and culinary concepts, they turned things on their head by concocting their own unique and modern renditions of foods to accompany the drinks perfectly.

Starting in Volos, Mezen now has a place in Larissa, too, and the team regularly visits Athens and other areas with their team for culinary happenings.

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Alexia Amvrazi: Once you came up with the idea of expanding on the potential of Greek tsipouro, what was the next step?

Andreas Diakodimitris: We were blessed to live in, as they call it, the Greek San Sebastian, Volos, with more than 600 tsipouradika (traditional tsipouro bars) and a great tradition in the spirit. So, our first step was to illustrate tradition and redefine the concept. And that’s how our journey started.

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AA: What about are your top 3 most popular mezedes?

AD: Although we have a no-menu concept, our first round of mezedes delighted our friends. The magic of not knowing what’s going to come next is what makes it so unique.

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Kopanisti of Volos is a traditional meze that has been served since the 50’s at tsipouradika. It was a cheese salad that stimulated the taste of the spicy cheese of Mykonos. Instead, we used a local feta cheese that’s been smoked, hand smashed and mixed with extra virgin olive oil from Pelion, paprika and garlic from Rizomilos to present our version.

Kapnisti - smoked feta, is our new product that’s been developed by Karakanas dairy in Stefanovikio.

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Politiki tsirosalata is a tsipouro meze that’s made with oven-baked mackerel and then left to sit in vinegar and herbs for a day. We were inspired by an old recipe of the Greeks of Konstantinoupolis.

Our wild fern and tsitsiravla (wild peanut tree tops) pickles are also starters that people from abroad or other cities ask if they can take with them, as these are a kind of meze that travel you back in time. So Mezen pickles is a product that will soon be produced by Achillia a small producer of pickles based in Argalasti of Pelion!

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AA: How do you pair the tsipouro with the meze? Is the process intuitive and subjective or based on something else, like standard culinary theories?

AD: The old tsipouro chefs had an informal sequence of meze dishes that have been decoded nowadays as a culinary theory. The first shock that your tastebuds experience when tsipouro hits them can be balanced by pungent-tasting seafood or pickles, as long as you can pace yourself as you eat, taking just small bites at a time, just enough to stimulate the taste buds, which is the philosophy behind tsipouro anyway, striking the balance between biting and sipping.

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First, we can appreciate salty, sour and spicy flavours. In the next round,  stoves and saucepans get fired up to gradually mellow the taste of seafood as our taste buds regain their senses.

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At this stage, the cook must strike the balance between fried and baked flavours. By the time starches and shells arrive on the table, our taste buds are back in business, so we can once more appreciate the more delicate flavours.

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Future plans?

Short-term plan: We are in the middle of spring, so we are preparing our summer shelter at Pelion, the summer resort of the 12 Gods, where we will meditate over local cuisine and then continue our annual tour of the Aegean, especially Koufonisia and Mykonos.

Screen Shot 2017 05 04 at 4.41.46 pmLong-term goal: To make Mezen global.

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Alexia Amvrazi

Alexia Amvrazi enjoys the thrill of discovering beauty in the world around her. With a passionately hands-on approach to Greece's travel, gastronomy, holistic living, culture, innovation and creativity, for 20 years she has explored and shared her findings with the world on all aspects of the country and its people via writing, radio, blogs and videos. Although her childhood and early youth in Italy, Egypt and England left her feeling somewhat root-less, she is by now firmly connected to her native land, bravely weathering the hurricane known as the Greek crisis!

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