A taverna is a small restaurant serving Greek cuisine, not to be confused with "tavern". The Greek word is ταβέρνα and is originally derived from the Latin word taberna ('shed' or 'hut', from tabula 'board', possibly by dissimilation from traberna, from trabs: beam, timber). As Greeks have migrated elsewhere, tavernes (plural) have spread throughout the world, especially countries such as the USA and Australia. The taverna is an integral part of Greek cuisine and of Greek culture.
The taverna has become an integral part of Greek culture and has become familiar to people from other countries who visit Greece and through the establishment of tavernes overseas by expatriate Greeks.
A typical menu for a taverna would usually include many if not all of the following items:
- Bread, usually loaf bread, sometimes flat bread;
- Meat such as lamb, or, typical of Greek-American cuisine, gyroes
- Salads such as Greek salad;
- Appetizers or entrées like tzatziki (yogurt, garlic, cucumber dip), melitzanosalata (eggplant dip), tirokafteri (whipped feta cheese, with hot peppers and olive oil dip), spanakopita and dolmades or dolmadakia - (rice mixture with fresh herbs such as mint and parsley and sometimes pine nuts-and in some regions minced meat is added-tightly wrapped with tender grape leaves and served with a thick and creamy, lemony sauce);
- Soups like avgolemono (egg-lemon soup) and fasolada (beansoup)
- Pasta such as spaghetti napolitano; pastitsio baked layers of thick pasta (Greek pastichio noodles) and minced meat mixture topped with a thick béchamel sauce);
- Fish and seafood dishes such as baked fresh fish, fried salt cod served with skordalia (garlic sauce); fried squid and baby octopus;
- Baked Dishes (magirefta) such as a wide variety of seasonal Vegetable dishes); moussaka (eggplant or zucchini, minced meat, béchamel sauce);
- Grilled dishes such as souvlaki;
- Wine including retsina, mavrodafni and other Greek red/white wine varieties;
- Spirits such as ouzo, tsipouro and Metaxa brandy.
Tavernas usually open at noon, with dinner hours starting at 8.30pm and reaching a peak around 10pm. As tourism has grown in Greece, many tavernas have attempted to cater to foreign visitors with English menus and touts or "shills" being employed in many tavernas to attract passing tourists. Similarly, tavernas in tourist areas pay commissions to tour guides who send business their way.
Tavernas in literature and art
The lead character in the play and film Shirley Valentine written by Willy Russell leaves her husband and family in Liverpool for a vacation where she has an affair with a waiter at the taverna and ends up working in the taverna.
- Emily Hiestand, "Lessons from the Taverna" in Larry Haberger, Sean O'Reilly and Brian S. Alexander's Travelers Tales Greece: True Stories, Travelers Tales, 2003, ISBN 1-885211-99-6, p. 65.
- Cox, Anthony. Still Life in Crete: A Singular View. Universal Publishers, 2001, ISBN 1-58112-691-3, p. 97.
- "Willy Russell" in Contemporary Dramatists, 6th Edition, St. James Press, 1999. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Michigan: Thomson Gale, 2005.
- Stone, Tom (2002). The Summer of my Greek Taverna: A Memoir. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-0541-3.
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