I love it that the vagueness, the occasional freewheeling chaos of our little Mediterranean paradise disappears just where you’d expect it the most. It may be pandemonium at the supermarket or the post office. But never where you have a drink in your hand- (see Mastering the Art of Greek Drinking for more on this particularly useful aspect of Mediterranean finesse)
Never drink alone
The foundation of the tsipouradiko experience- balancing drink with food to prolong the pleasures of each- is all over Greece. At a classic kafeneio, an ouzo (an art form of Lesvos) is automatically an “ouzo mezze.” Traditionally, a glass of ouzo come with a plate of bites, kind of like a Greek Tapas. An “ouzo plate,” larger, is a surprise mix. Cured and salted fish, some olives, are the perfect counterpoint to the sweet anise kick of a cold and cloudy glass ouzo.
But the most important accompaniment of all is, of course, companions
A perfectly curated experience
In Volos, the combination of spirits and tastes has been elevated to an art form. It’s a perfectly curated experience in which nothing is left to chance- or even choice. In Volos, Ouzo gets an upgrade to Tsipouro, ouzo’s high octane cousin- made not with neutral spirits like ouzo but rather with distilled grape spirits (like grappa). Tsipouro is served “με” (with) or “χωρίς” (without)- this being anise and often other secret botanicals to round out the flavor.
Spyrou Philoxenia arranged a trip to gorgeous Pelion for our Travel Bloggers Greece anniversary. On our last day, we got to experience the classic Volos Tsipouro ritual. Grigoris Fanoulas of Let’s Go “live like local” experiences, invited us to Lepi (“fish scale”), a Volos Tsipouradiko right on the water. We loved the modern decor, we loved the classic dishes, but most of all we loved the element of surprise.
The element of surprise
A round of single serving bottles arrives. With each bottle comes a plate- the first plate with the first bottle, the second with the second, and so on. If you are two, you have two different dishes- the first and the second- and a progression of dishes; if you are four, the third and fourth as well. The dishes offer variety, balance. They progress to the more elaborate (but, octopus is frequently the first or second dish). In order to have the complete experience, you need to make an evening of it. The price for round one is the same as the price for round eight, regardless of the dish.
A contemporary symposium
At the Symposia of Ancient Greece, the wine- a much heavier drink that our wine today- was mixed with water in a krater- a handsome, shallow, footed vessel. The ratio was usually part wine to three parts water, but the host of the symposium was in charge of the ratio- in charge, effectively, of the strength of the drinks.
The tsipouradiko experience is like that- letting someone else curate your evening. The portion size- larger than a tapas, slightly smaller than a regular taverna order- is perfectly calibrated to be the ideal amount of food to temper the effects of the alcohol. But not temper them too much- you should gradually reach a pleasant plateau, and stay there.
This is not a pub crawl, or a tailgate party. It’s the successful intersection of culture, history, and pleasure.
How much is enough?
I ask Grigori about the ideal experience, and he doesn’t miss a beat. “Five tsipouro each over a period of three hours, for locals.” No hesitation. They offer an abridged experience as one of the “live like local” activities of their company. “For visitors, though, we recommend three tsipouro each, over a two hour period.”
The best part, of course, is the conversation. Over three hours, you can explore topics with leisure, punctuated by the clinking of glasses throughout the night.
Volos with its port and sailboat harbor is a short and pleasant train ride from Thessaloniki, and a beautiful city. A visit to a Tsipouradiko is all pleasure, and all culture-
And live like local for creative, authentic cultural experiences: