Care for an ouzaki? Like many other Greek words, ouzo is often referred in the diminutive, which makes it even more charming and appealing. There is nothing severe or pretentious about an ouzaki; it can be an excuse for a break in the middle of a busy day or a staple feature of a Greek summer holiday. No matter what you call it, sharing a carafe or miniature bottle of ouzo is a quintessential Greek experience. While there are no rules about doing it properly, there are certainly ways of getting the most out of it.
Ouzo can is made from grape or grain-based alcohol, which is distilled with anise, fennel, and other herbs, according to the 'secret' formula of each producer. Its alcoholic content ranges from 38% to 48% volume. It is the presence of anethole in the anise that turns the transparent drink to a milky white color when mixed with water or ice cubes.
Tyrnavos in Thessaly was the first place in mainland Greece to make ouzo back in 1856. However, the area most associated with ouzo production is Plomari, a coastal village on the island of Lesvos. There are some 300 ouzo brands throughout the country, of which the best known are Ouzo Plomari, Ouzo Varbagianni, Mini Mytilinis, Ouzo 12, and Tsantali.
The best place to enjoy a drink (or two) of ouzo is at a seaside locale during the summer. However, the custom is not limited to the summer months, a quaint location or a time of day. Ouzo time may continue well into the afternoon or past the dinner hour– which in Greece is a very loose concept anyway.
The most critical factor in the ouzo drinking protocol is the company or parea in Greek. Greeks rarely drink alone and seldom without at least a nibble to eat. Without ordering it, you will usually be served a dish of a simple meze–olives, pickles, salami, cheese–along with your carafe of ouzo. Before you take a bite, clink glasses with your friends and say stin iyeiá mas, which means to our health.
Serious drinkers will order more meze dishes; those are likely to be salty, spicy or sour, to offset the slight sweetness and intensity of the ouzo! If all you want is an aperitif with a snack to precede a full lunch or dinner, these titbits will suffice. Making a meal of mezedes is another very Greek habit. Fish and seafood, fried or salted, rank highestbut garlicky vegetables, spicy meats, minty meatballs, and sausages also complement ouzo very well!
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