The Ouzeri is like a mix between a bar, taverna and bouzouki club.
The Ouzeri started out as casual places where Greeks would gather to drink
Ouzo - the national drink of Greece,
and to socialise.
The Greeks do drink alcohol, they like it and can drink a lot, but they will never drink alcohol without food to eat, even just little bites of food to counter the effects of the alcohol.
(It is a very good lesson to learn from them, you can drink more for longer this way!)
So, the women would cook a variety of little snacks to have with the Ouzo. Slowly, this became what is called the Meze or Mezethes (plural), platters with an assortment of little bite sized pieces of food.
As always, with food and drink, music is never far behind and you will often find live Greek music at an Ouzeri.
Years ago, people would bring their musical instruments with them and would get together with others to jam and play their favourite music. These were fantastic evenings, others would join in singing and it was a great atmosphere.
This doesn't happen so often these days, although there are still some Ouzo restaurants where you will find this happening, others where you will find live bands playing traditional Greek music.
If you find an Ouzeri with live music you must visit, a great place to hear the bouzouki!
As the Ouzeri is primarily a place to drink Ouzo, you will find many, many different types of Ouzo here.
As Greeks have an opinion on just about everything, they also all have their favourite brand of Ouzo, so to keep everyone happy you will find a large selection to choose from. They are the connoisseurs of Ouzo!
Ouzo is an anise flavoured liquor. It is a clear coloured liquid. There are two ways of drinking Ouzo.
Neat - with or without ice.
With iced water - pour Ouzo into a glass and add water.
When adding water, most Greeks will only add a little, just enough to dilute it slightly. Add the water slowly until it is at the strength you like, be careful - too much water can dilute it too much and leave it very weak.
As you add the water you will see the drink becomes cloudy white. This is the effect of the water mixing with the aniseed oil in the drink.
Ouzo can give you the feeling at first that its not a very strong alcohol. Many people have mistakenly thought this, proceeded to drink plenty of it, until it suddenly catches up with them and they can literally fall over drunk!
This is because the alcohol takes a while to be absorbed. After some time of drinking Ouzo, it has a cumulative effect and catches up quickly.
A very good reason to eat with ouzo, to offset the absorption of alcohol.
There are certain snacks that are better suited to put in the Mezethes that go well with Ouzo. Most are salty, quite strong flavoured and have some fat in them to help the absorption of the Ouzo.
In a Mezethes platter you would find an assortment of (not all on one platter), dips - tzatziki, taramosalata, melitzanosalata, served with chunks of bread for dipping.
Plates of fish such as Sardines, grilled octopus, calamari, prawns, fried whitebait.
Small portions of dolmades, cheese pies, meatballs, feta, cheese, tomatoes, olives, fried peppers, aubergines and courgettes.
Although Ouzo is the main drink served, these days they do serve other drinks as well, and although the food is not quite a meal like in a taverna, they would traditionally only have a few different types of plates of mezethes to choose from.
Again this is slowly changing and some will serve meals as well!
When looking for an Ouzeri to visit, look for one that is full of Greeks, not tourists. I can guarantee that will be the one with the best food, drink, music, atmosphere and probably the cheapest price!
Do not leave Greece without a visit to an Ouzeri!
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