Goa’s Greek import, restaurateur Mariketty Grana discusses the ABC of Greek cuisine with Mirror Mumbai.
Why bother trolling airline websites for cheap fares to Athens when Goa’s Greek mama, Mariketty Grana just moved into our backyard? The vibrant lady (who will love you as generously as she will feed you) behind every Goan vacationer’s favourite taverna, Thalassa at Little Vagator, has been swooped up by Olive Bar & Kitchen’s AD Singh for a six-month-long pop-up at his Mahalaxmi Racecourse outlet. There will be broken plates. There will be shots. There will be dancing. There will be Greek food. And there will be mama Grana.
Cheese and bread
“No Greek meal can start without a block of briny feta and good bread,” smiles Grana, sliding a soup-sized plate of the creamy crumbly goodness towards us. Peeking in, we notice that a thick slice has been generously drowned in olive oil. “From Greece, because Italian and Spanish won’t do”. If cheeses should ever be graded on the island nation, aged feta would score higher that its unripened cousin halloumi, which is usually eaten plain, fried or grilled. Whereas feta can be crumbled over salad, spread over bread and sprinkled in pies… the options are countless and adulation endless.
In Greece, till the meze course is introduced, no food is said to be on the table. The usually cold course’s most versatile appetiser is tazatiki. This popular hung curd and cucumber dip cools you down on sunny days, cleanses the palate and acts as a sauce with sides and mains. Other pita dunking options include Melitzanosalata, an eggplant dip reminiscent of baba ganoush and tirokafteri, a spicy and viscous goat’s milk-heavy feta dip.
“During the 2004 Olympics, everybody came, saw and left. In Athens, nobody made any money except for the souvlaki sandwich shops,” recalls Grana, after some grilling, suggesting that was the year her country’s favourite fast food snack landed on the global food map. For those who can’t tell their feta from their halloumi: souvlaki is made using lemon, olive oil, herb and spice marinated grilled meat, onions, tomatoes and tzatziki, all tucked up tight in a soft pita.
“Fasolada!?” squeals Grana, with an overly exaggerated look and an accompanying questioning shoulder shrug. Her skit tells the tale of how Greek guests react on reading this simple soup’s listing on the infectious lady’s menu. The said bean and tomato broth is just one of the countless simple home-style vegetarian dishes that dot Greek fare. Other rustic creations include dolmadakia (olive oil drenched grapevine leaves stuffed with herbed rice), the refreshingly light watermelon, feta and mint salad and fried zucchini meant to be eaten “immediately and still hot,” asserts mama Grana.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding had Toula’s aunt go, “What do you mean he don’t eat no meat?” when everyone falls silent, complete with falling glass. It ends with the aunt saying, “Ohhh that’s ok. That’s ok. I make lamb.” This scene sums up the Greek people’s affair with meat, poeticises Grana, on hearing the M word. At Olive, she will serve beef pastitsada from her native island besides chicken and pork gyros, beef kebabs plus lamb kleftiko and mousaka. Honestly, she lost us for a while there during a tall tale of Easter traditions on Corfu – inherited from the Venetians, we later learn – that involves throwing big pots in the town’s narrow streets. Post that, the family feast for three consecutive days on a whole lamb that started out on the spit.
Our photographer was in love with the fried calamari and mama Mariketty was getting visibly worked up at how long he was taking. “It must be had hot, crisp and drizzled with a squeeze of lime.” Back home, she says, fish don’t come in fillets and is best gobbled by big groups, fresh and whole.
It’s strange to list this last when Ouzo – Arak for the Arabs, Pastis to the French and Raki or “lion’s milk” to the Turkish – is actually the first thing to be thrown back at any Greek ge together. First mixed by 14th century monks on the turquoise-kissed isle of Lesbos, this clear aniseed-flavoured spirit turns cloudy on the addition of any water. While in Greece, there’s no escaping ouzeries (small socialising snack and sip bars) where people congregate to sip, nibble, sip, sing, sip and leave loudly; in exactly that order.There will be dancing. There will be Greek food with olive oil,