Yamas! Good friends part ways…for now.

Funny enough, one of the closest friends I have here in Greece is neither Greek nor American. We had a chance encounter at OAKA, and for the past year Katy and I have become besties. Her daughter is just a smidge younger and a smidge bigger than Violet. Last week we took the girls to see Peppa Pig at Golden Hall and they just about LOST THEIR MINDS. Katy and Dmitrius took us out for the most fabulous and immersive Greek Sunday supper. And they’ve been an endless source of all things Greek — language, customs, great things to see and when to see them, advice on local products to buy and shops to go to, you name it.

So when Dmitrius accepted a job in Chicago, I was at once disappointed that my friend would be leaving me, but also elated that she would be moving to the US. I mean, eventually my adventure will be ending, and then we’ll be on the same side of the Atlantic again!

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With a few more weeks until their departure, we’re trying to squeeze in as many get-togethers as we can manage. Last night we had a double date at a lovely new restaurant in Halandri called Red Pepper. The cuisine was northern Greek, and the owner is from the same village that Dmitrius hails from, Florina, which is known for its awesome spicy red peppers (hence the name). The food was fantastic. I kept asking Katy to tell me what each dish was called as I typed it in my phone. Eventually I gave up and just handed her my phone to type it in for me.

First, of course, we started with drinks. Dmitrius asked if we’d ever tried Tsipouro. Turns out, I had. But I wasn’t sure at the time, so I figured let’s give it a go. Whoa. I was warned it was like Grappa…and it was. Yamas! I learned that’s Greek for “cheers!” Two minutes later and we were all a bit merrier. Katy and I decided to switch to white wine after that. (“Lefko krasi, parakalo” — I got to use it again!) Let the feast begin!

The menu was all in Greek, and while the waiter graciously offered to translate it all for us, we decided to let the experts order for us. Besides, we planned to order a bunch of dishes and share them, and we are adventurous eaters.

Along with salad, we started with Bougiourdi — a hot clay dish of melted Feta cheese, tomato, spicy peppers, olive oil, and oregano. I couldn’t resist teasing Katy for how she pronounced oregano. Or-a-GON-oh. If she’s going to move to the US, she’s got to learn how to pronounce it like a Yank. Or-AYE-gan-oh. There ya go. We all gobbled this one up, as Dmitrius advised it is best consumed while it is warm. James said this was his favorite dish of the night.

Next up, Melintzana Sxaras, oven roasted aubergine (eggplant) with feta and tomato. And we had a fantastic Pork Tigania, a stir-fry with sausage, peppers, mushrooms, and a rich, dark sauce. This one was my favorite of the night. We also had traditional Florinian sausages with mustard and a plate of kebabs with pita and tzatziki sauce. Greeks love their meat! And so do we.

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We finished with complimentary dessert: Halvas with kormos, sort of a creamy paste paired with a chocolate “tree log.” Sooooo good! And perhaps because Dmitrius was talking up the owner (apparently they know some of the same people back home in Florina), we got another round of tsipouro and white wine on the house.

While enjoying this fantastic food, Katy and Dmitrius insisted that we really MUST make it to the northern part of Greece. It’s very different from the south, cooler and mountainous. Apparently there’s a huge festival at Christmas in Florina in which each little neighborhood tries to build the biggest bonfire. It’s quite a sight to behold, especially in the snow. There’s a whole chain of villages worth stopping to see: Ioannina, Kastoria, Pella, Vergina. There’s a great ski resort in Kaimaktsalan and a wonderful spa with thermal springs called Pozar Salt Cave. (I found such a great deal with free cancellation on Booking.com that I went ahead and made a reservation over Christmas break.)

And we were able to return the favor by extolling the virtues of Chick-fil-A and Trader Joe’s. (Just as Katy had to type all of these Greek village names in my phone, I had to type in Chick-fil-A for her. Ha!) All month long Katy has peppered me with questions about the US, and I’m happy to tell her everything I know. I suspect we’ll be keeping up the conversation over What’sApp long after she moves. And we’ve already made plans for a trip up to Chicago on our next US visit.

Yamas! To great friends, great food, and great times to come!

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