You can’t visit Greece without trying ouzo, the local anise-infused alcohol which smells like liquorice, accompanied by a dish of mezes or on its own. There’s nothing better than sailing into a little Greek harbour, then after mooring up, going ashore to sit in a seafront taverna, with a cold glass of ouzo!
Here’s ten fascinating facts about that traditional Greek drink…..
O is for Ouzo in the A to Z challenge
- The first ouzo distillery opened in 1856 in Tyrnavos, in the region of Thassaly, north of Athens.
2. Many famous varieties of ouzo are now produced on the island of Lesvos.
3. In 2006 the Greeks won the right to label ouzo as an exclusively Greek product.
4. There are three possibilities regarding the origins of the name –
Because of its distinct aroma, ouzo may be named after the Ancient Greek work for ‘smell’ – ozo. It may come from the Turkish word for grape – uzum. Or it may refer to the stamp once put on bottles of high quality ouzo which were intended for use in Marseille – uso Massalia, shortened to uso.
5. As well as anise, which gives it the characteristic smell, ouzo is also infused with other strong flavours, such as fennel, mastic, cloves, coriander, mastic, lime, cardamom or angelica root.
6. All varieties of ouzo therefore have a slightly different taste, although only a connoisseur would be able to detect them.
7. Ouzo is best served with cold water, or ice. Because it is so strong, drinking it in small sips, and topping up the glass with cold water is the best way. When you add water to the clear ouzo, the drink will turn milky white.
8. It is traditional to serve a glass of ouzo with a small snack, called a meze – in Greek : μεζέ, plural μεζέδες (mezethes, pronounced meh-ZEH-thes), similar to tapas. The word ‘meze’ originates from Turkey. The purpose of the meze is to enhance the taste of the drink, and also acts as a social experience with others. You will often see Greek men with their ouzo and mezedes sitting for hours, chatting to others and watching the world go by. I photographed these gentlemen in the interesting town of Mitikas, one of our favourite Greek greek islands. Read my post on Mitikas here.
9. Meze can be hot or cold, spicy or savoury. They can be as simple as a bowl of peanuts, or a few olives. Many bars and tavernas pride themselves in providing very elaborate small dishes, such as pieces of octopus, small fish, meatballs, cheese, fried peppers, salads. The strangest meze we were given was a plate of sea urchins….
We were treated to the sea urchins when we sailed to the tiny island of Trikeri, in the Gulf of Volos. I don’t think they are the best thing I’ve ever eaten…. Trikeri is featured in a post I wrote about My top 10 Greek islands…..
Some ouzeries will provide a different meze with each round of drinks ordered, and will have to get very creative by the time you order your fourth or fifth drink! But by then, it may be too late for you to care!
10. There is some excellent information provided on ouzo and mezes by the Greek expert, Matt Barratt, as well as information on all aspects of life in Greece and the Greek islands.
Another lovely site is written by an American-Greek husband and wife team, lemon and olives who specialise in Greek food and drink. They provide some amazing Greek recipes that everyone will love.
Have you ever tried ouzo? Do you like it?