Try Thirty New Things: Let’s Eat!

Insiders Tours writers on retreat: a tasting tour. May 2019

Let’s talk about food. It’s often the center of a social event. In terms of creating your own luck, trying new foods—either eating them or making them for the first time—or both—counts. But unless you’re a beginning cook or trying to become a world-renowned chef, if the only new things you’re trying involve food, you’re limiting your luck—just sayin’.

Still, when we were in Greece in May of 2019, part of the cultural experience included trying as many new foods as we could, with nearly all of our experiences turning out awesome. A list of my favorites includes:

            Moussaka

            Saganaki

            Zucchini balls

            Tomato balls

            Roasted baby goat

            Pistachio butter

I’m glad I tried it, but dogfish (shark) is too fishy for me. And it’s probably sacrilege to say this in Greece, but I can take or leave souvlaki. Even after we sat down to a dinner of it at the finest souvlaki restaurant in Athens, I’m indifferent to the dish. (Sorry, Aleka.)

Moussaka–my favorite.

What was truly fun about trying these new foods was trying them multiple times in multiple regions. It seems everyone has their own way of making traditional dishes, so you never eat the exact same thing unless you return to the restaurant or winery or private home where you were served that meal. For example, the ratios of thickness of layers of moussaka varies depending on where you order it. Saganaki can be made with a variety of white cheeses and rolled in sesame seeds (my favorite way) or rolled in another binding layer and drizzled with balsamic vinegar or honey or both. People take special pride in their zucchini and tomato balls, so they hold their recipes super close. I figured out that I like a bit of fresh mint mixed in with my zucchini balls, but I had to savor several to figure out that secret ingredient because no one would disclose it when I asked.

When we returned home, I tried my hand at making Greek salad (easy) and zucchini and tomato balls (slightly difficult). For the most part, I got them “right,” or at least good enough to pass off as Greek food to Americans. I have yet to try making moussaka because reading the recipe alone blows my mind. However, when I work up the nerve to give it a go, I’ll let you all know how it turns out (or doesn’t).

CruiserMan and I enjoying a little after dinner ouzo.

We also enjoyed some lovely beverages when we were in Greece. Topping the list was ouzo because that one had been on my bucket list since I played Ethel Banks in my high school’s production of Barefoot in the Park back in the dark ages. Mrs. Banks spends much of the play drunk on ouzo and passed out on the ironing board in her daughter’s apartment, and I always wanted to know how “real” Greek ouzo tasted. Turns out, its licorice flavor is fiery as it goes down and quite delicious. No wonder Mrs. Banks liked it (and the Greek neighbor with whom she drank it). The owner and winemaker at the Art Winery on Santorini informed us that nowadays, most Greeks prefer raki, the distilled dregs of the wine-making process. This spirit tastes almost like straight alcohol on the tongue but mellows out to a caramel-y flavor as it warms your chest. It would make a lovely après-ski aperitif over here. The other beverage CruiserMan was especially keen to try was Greek coffee. He impressed every restaurant host from whom he ordered it when he asked for it straight—without sugar. That’s the way the Greeks drink it, but most Americans apparently prefer it sweet. We tried it both ways and agreed the Greek way is much better. Though the sugar masks the coffee’s initial bitterness, it also steals the smooth nutty almond finish.

Our tour guide, Aleka Nakis of Insiders Tours leads a marvelous Writers’ Retreat the first part of May (check out her website). She introduced us to pistachio butter. You can stick your finger directly into the jar and eat it that way, or you can be civilized and use a knife to spread it over something. My choice is pieces of Dove chocolate. Decadent doesn’t begin to describe this combination.

Aleka, pistachio butter, CruiserMan, and me.

In terms of my list of thirty new things, I distilled my Greek food and beverages experiences down to five because I partook of them at different times in different places. You’ll have to decide how to categorize and determine your own numbers, especially if you’re taking a trip to somewhere culturally different from home. Whatever your tasty experiences are, please share. I’m always game to startle my palate with something new and different—not necessarily Andrew Zimmern new and different—but I’m pretty open. Give me something.

Yours in taking a risk (or thirty)

Tam DeRudder Jackson

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