Ouzo is a clear distilled spirit, with an anise flavor.
It can be said it is the national drink of Greece and I can understand why. Ouzo is more than just a drink.
Ouzo evokes memories of all the good times and good things in life, it brings out the happy, carefree spirit living in every Greek and every tourist that drinks this wonderful drink in Greece. (Although I love to drink it when out of Greece, I have to admit it does not seem to have quite the same effect as when we drink it in the country of the Gods).
You can drink it neat, usually in small shot glasses.
Some will drink it neat, with a couple of ice cubes, slowly melting and diluting it very slightly as they drink.
The other way, probably more popular, certainly how I drink it, is to pour a little iced water in with it.
You don't want to add too much as it can become weak too easily. Add a little water, and taste. After a few sips, add a little more if you like. This helps to dilute the alcohol and make the drink go further, good idea if you're out for a good session of ouzo drinking!
It will also help with the hangover.
Ouzo is never mixed with anything else. Some people, mostly tourists think it goes well with other mixers, it doesn't,
believe me, drink it as the Greeks do, with or without water - the only way!
As you add the water you will see the drink becomes cloudy white.
Oil of Anise, which is added to the drink and gives it that aniseed flavour is soluble in alcohol, which is why it is clear in the bottle,
but not soluble when mixed with water.
Mixing it causes it to separate and crystalise, creating the cloudy milky colour. Even when mixed with the ice, you will see this transformation and even see crystals if its very cold.
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 sugar content delays the alcohol from being absorbed too quickly. After some time of drinking Ouzo, it has a cumulative effect and catches up quickly.
If you eat a little, drink a little, doing this often , with ouzo, you will offset the absorption of alcohol and be able to sit around eating and drinking ouzo for hours!
Greeks, ever keen to find ways to enable them to sit around eating and drinking for as long as they can, created Mezedes, little bite size appetiser foods that go well with their drinks. In many places, they will serve your glass of ouzo with a single snack - meze, at the very least you will be given a small dish of nuts.
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, or melitzanosalata, served with chunks of bread for dipping.
Fish dishes such as Sardines, grilled octopus, calamari, prawns, fried whitebait.
Small portions of dolmades, cheese pies, meatballs, feta, cheese, tomatoes, olives, fried peppers, fried aubergines and courgettes. If you visit an
you will find a great choice of mezedes to have with ouzo.
Many people say they have a preference for a particular brand, often this is due to the strength of the alcohol which can vary a fair bit, or the different flavourings added.
Apart from the oil of anise, Greek ouzo can be flavoured with a variety of herbs and spices among them star anise, coriander, cloves, angelica root, licorice, mint, fennel, or cinnamon.
Most Greeks have opinions on ouzo, the best brands, flavouring, origins etc, and will swear they can tell one from another. Taverna owners, though, will often have a single supply of ouzo and just fill up the different labeled bottles with the same ouzo and nobody seems to notice once they have started drinking it!
A word about Ouzo Hangovers.
As I mentioned earlier, you can drink ouzo for hours and not feel drunk. Drinking it with water also stops you getting dehydrated and you would think that there will be no consequences.
Beware the ouzo hangover next morning! It is like no other!
The first thing you will want to do is get a drink of water, doing this will give you the feeling of being drunk all over again. I think this happens whether you drink the ouzo neat or with water, I only drink with water and always get that next day feeling.
Somedays if you have had a lot of ouzo, the night before can seem like a surreal dream, surprising when you thought that you were holding the drink pretty well huh?
It soon passes and will not hinder your love of ouzo, in fact it actually gets deep into your soul and binds you with a deep love to this wonderful nectar!!
Because of the unique flavor, ouzo is used in several Greek food recipes, sweet and savoury as well as marinades.
You can now enjoy the wonderful flavor of this traditional Greek Ouzo liquor, in a hard candy.
Ouzo hard candy is made with anise, which gives it that distinct ouzo flavor. A product of Greece, they are delicious to have in the car, at the office or anytime you want a slightly different tasting candy!
The island of Lesvos have the biggest and the best producers of Ouzo.
In the past all the vineyards of Lesvos were wiped out due to a blight. They were unable to grow grapes or to make their own wine. Perhaps because of this, the islanders found they could make ouzo instead, and almost every village would have had people making their own brand of Ouzo.
Lesvos is still the largest producer of ouzo, some places in particular on this island, like Mytilini have some famous brands, although the town of Plomari would probably be the best ouzo producers.
The Ouzo Plomari by Issidoros Arvanitis has always been a great ouzo, now it is being well marketed through Greece it is becoming one of the largest sellers of the drink. It has a distinct bottle with a cork, making it easily identifiable - always a good marketing ploy.
The bottles are great to re-use. My aunt loves to decorate them and has a display on her kitchen shelf!
Unless you are going to Greece or know someone who can bring you some back, there are a very limited number of brands of Ouzo available worldwide. The best option is to buy online at a Greek internet market.
Stin Iyassus - Cheers!
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