The title of this post is innocent, but the content behind the subject matter is palpably sinister. I of course refer to that Mediterranean meal that is designed to pounce on unsuspecting and carefree travelers. If you have no idea what a meze is, then read on.
You have to sit down and wade your way through a meze to really appreciate it for what it is. A meze, put simply, is designed to incapacitate. I suspect it was once a Medieval stealth weapon. Unwary peace envoys arrive at a besieged castle and are made welcome.
“Would you like something to eat?” Who wouldn’t say no. The peace envoys are never seen again!
Wading through a meze, there cannot be any other way of describing what you have to do to eat a meze, takes stamina. And I’m not talking about the tourist trap restaurant meze, I’m talking about a real rural backwater local Taverna meze that takes hours to eat.
Three months after moving from the UK to Cyprus to start our new life here, my wife and I sat through the one and only meze we have had since we arrived on the island almost ten years ago. It’s not so much that we didn’t like our first experience eating a meze, it’s simply that we cannot eat so much food without needing a long sleep afterwards and a few days to recover. True, there were parts to it we didn’t like, but that can be said of any meal.
It was at the beginning of December 2008 that we decided to treat ourselves to a meal out. We had been in Cyprus for almost three months and had been working hard to establish ourselves and had met with a lot of adversity in the process. So, we thought a night out would be a good idea to boost our spirits. We chose to have a meze in the next village along from us, mainly because it was a Taverna that was advertised at the side of the road into Paphos and there was no Taverna serving food at that time in our village.
We arrived at around eight in the evening and were greeted by a kindly man who turned out to be the owner. They were advertising a full meze and so we ordered that, not really thinking what a full meze entailed.
The owner asked what we would like to drink with our meal and we asked him to recommend a nice bottle of local dry white wine.
The wine was lovely and as we sipped it, a salad course arrived, which we tucked into. As we finished the very tasty salad the meat course arrived, and we duly tucked in, sipping more wine and getting into a relaxed frame of mind. The meat course finished, and a second meat course arrived. Second meat course? More wine flowed, and we were suddenly on our second bottle of wine and tucking into our third meat course. How many meat courses are there?
By this time the restaurant had filled with locals, none of which paid us any attention. More wine, more meat and then some veggie thing followed by more wine and yet another meat course. Lost track now of how many meat courses we had consumed! There were two of us at the table and it was stacked with dishes and we were only forty minutes into the meal. We must have looked like we were trialing for an Olympic eating team.
More food and more wine followed by food, wine, wine, wine and food and maybe an attempt or two at speaking Greek. I hope not as our first attempts at speaking Greek when we arrived were disaster incarnate. We mistakenly thought Kalamari was Good Morning, but actually Kalamera is Good Morning and Kalamari is squid! I surprised we weren’t locked up as crazy people. Who says squid as an early morning greeting? Well, as far as we could tell, the locals either didn’t understand us or, more likely, knew we were the dumb English couple from the next village. No one took offence, and all was peace and happiness. For the first time in months we were having a good time.
As the evening and the food drew to a close the owner offered us a tot of the local spirit, Zivania, which he referred to as brandy. We didn’t know at the time what it was we were being offered, a meze and wine tends to make you deaf, but we readily accepted, and the owner demonstrated the style to which we should attack the drink, straight back and swallow whole, just like in any good saloon scene in a western.
As we pursed our lips ready to drink, I noticed the hustle and bustle of the restaurant had subsided and all eyes were on us. I looked around expecting to see a gunslinger had entered the room, but no, we were the centre of attention. But we didn’t care, we went with the flow and we swallowed.
The most obvious effect was my mouth caught fire at once followed by my throat. Then my eyes lit up and my head became one big sweaty red mass of heat. Firewater didn’t get close to describing the reaction. As we both let out little ohhh-ohhhs followed by ahhh-ahhhs the restaurant exploded in laughter and clapping. The owner doused us down with lots of ice cold water and we smiled graciously, the tears and bulging eyes making us look more like mortified guests at a wake.
As we left the restaurant, we smiled at the locals who acknowledged our mighty deeds of eating too much and drinking too much by nodding their collective heads in a sage-like manner… well, that’s how we remember it!
We made it home and suffered in silence the next morning.
It was about a month after this experience that we were reliably informed that the restaurant owner was the Chief of Police for Paphos. Never mind interrogating suspects, feed them a meze. That will make them talk!
Extract from A Pat on his Back by Tom Kane
Copyright Tom Kane © 2018
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