Ask anyone who has visited Greece to recall their favourite food memories and there is sure to be boasting about discovering a favourite taverna with the freshest produce and tastiest menu in their response. No matter where you go, whether it is Crete or Kalamata, Lesvos or Larissa, local tavernas wait with arms wide open in a warm Greek welcome, waiting to deliver food that will stay ingrained in the memories of their customers.
Tavernas have become synonymous with Greek culture and hospitality. Their roots can be traced back to ancient times, with discovery of the earliest taverna found at the ancient agora of Athens. Large quantities of classical Greek cooking and eating utensils were found at the taverna such as plates, mixing bowls, lidded casseroles, spits for broiling meat, mortars for chopping and grinding, as well as a cooking bell and a variety of jugs. In modern times they create menus conducive to sharing with friends, and quality ouzo or retsina to accompany lively banter. It is at the taverna where you will savour the juiciest meat, the tastiest local ingredients, and the freshest seafood.
Athenian born Ioanna Pavlaki has had this exact experience many times, but one particular experience on a summer night would lead to the creation of a cookbook so magnificent it allows you to bring a touch of your favourite taverna into your home. Dining at a taverna by the sea in Lesvos, where her ancestors are from, by chance she encountered a couple from Norway and started talking to them about their Greek holiday. They ended up sharing the same table, as is often the case, enjoying local mezedes and ouzo. As the time came to say goodbye, they took a selfie and her new friend Anne - proclaimed "what an experience". “Yes indeed,” says Pavlaki. “The micro-cosmos of a taverna is a unique experience not only for the visitors of our country but for us Greeks too.”
Following this meeting, Pavlaki decided to create a cookbook that would include all the beloved recipes that are enjoyed in a traditional Greek taverna. A cookbook that would be specially designed and tailor-made to the needs of Greece’s visitors.
The result is "My Greek Taverna", a collection of 65 recipes which aspires to be a delicious memory of Greece. “A memory that will be re-lived every time someone opens the book and cooks something Greek for their loved ones back home,” she says.
Working as a marketing professional in the publishing industry for over ten years has given Pavlaki the chance to gain intimate knowledge of the world of Greek gastronomy and she has worked on creating and publishing many cookbooks in collaboration with the most well-known chefs in Greece. “I love cooking, even though I don't cook much due to lack of time,” she says.“I am famous for my homemade gemista. For me, cooking is my therapy; I often just browse cookbooks and relax.”
Bringing acclaimed chef Makis Georgiafis on board, with whom she has worked closely for years and whose cooking she sums up as purely “delicious” was a great coup. Born in Athens and growing up in a family with a long tradition in cooking, his grandfather was a well-known chef in Alexandria, Egypt, Georgiadis remembers that his grandmother cooked at least 3 delicious dishes per day. “It gave me the opportunity not only to savour her mouth-watering food but also to learn, next to her, all the cooking secrets,” he says.
“So, even though I began to study law, in the end, I decided to follow my passion of cooking since we only live once. I have worked with some of the top chefs in Greece and I have been publishing recipes in cooking magazines, focusing on traditional and fusion Greek cuisine. I feel blessed since I do what I love! I cook!”
The book is a joy to read through, from its range of food envy-inducing dishes including sardelles, tiropita, calamari and tzatziki to the gorgeously styled glossy images accompanying each recipe. It’s a beautiful tribute to taverna food that is a must for every kitchen which enjoys good food and traditional flavours.
According to Pavlaki, the easiest part of creating the book was deciding which recipes to include. “We had two simple criteria,” she says. “The first one was to include as many as possible from the recipes that are served in tavernas, and the second one was to have ingredients that would easily be found in other countries. All the recipes of the book are traditional and have Maki’s signature. ”
And what of their own favorite recipes? “Coming from Lesvos, which has so much mouth-watering food and many delicious local products, the recipe that I mostly enjoy on my island is simple and so gourmet; sardines cooked in salt,” says Pavlaki. “Lesvos and most precisely the gulf of Kalloni has the best quality of sardines in the world. They go hand in hand with ouzo and the seaside. My favorite recipe from the book is keftedes - meatballs. Just taste them!”
Georgiadis’ favourites are also derived from his heritage. “My mother’s roots come from the island of Kefalonia and my favorite local recipe is bakaliaropita (cod pie), while my father’s roots come from Cyprus, making sheftalia (traditional Cypriot food - it is a type of crépinette, a sausage without skin), one of my favorite dishes,” he says. “My favorite recipe from the book is pastitsio (pasta, minced beef sauce & béchamel pie) because it reminds me of my grandmother who every time she cooked this dish she called me to eat the leftovers of the pasta and the minced beef from the pot.”
It is evident that Pavlaki and Georgiadis are a creative culinary force to be reckoned with and share the same food philosophy, giving an extra element of authenticity and love to their book. “We believe that the magic of the Greek cuisine lies in its simplicity and its fundamental quality ingredients, such as olive oil and herbs,” says Georgiadis. “However, there is another secret ingredient that makes Greek cuisine so delicious and popular and that is the love that we put for the preparation of every dish.”
Adds Pavlaki, “for Greeks, the notion of hospitality, that is so fundamental in our culture, coincides with the treat of a delicious meal.”
"My Greek Taverna" is available in public and other bookstores, foreign press points in airports and selected Greek concept stores in Greece. It is also available online at the e-shop www.wecreateharmony.com whichships worldwide. Recently, it has also become available in the USA through the e-shop www.greekbiostore.com