Ouzo: more than a drink

Ice tinkling in a glass of ouzo is the quintessence of summer in Greece, to be enjoyed while sitting at a table by the sea after a swim, beneath a shady pine tree against a background hum of cicadas, or by a pool at sunset.

A drink for all hours and all places whenever an aperitif is in order, always before the main meal, a fact that is sometimes forgotten. It is no substitute for wine or beer and is not to be drunk at the lunch or dinner table. It is supposed to whet the appetite, awaken the senses and prepare you for the main meal. One exception to the rule is when the “meal” consists of small dishes of mezedhes, in which case ouzo can be the piece de resistance. In the most unorthodox places:

  • At the beach, from a cooler containing ice, cold water, glasses, a lemon and a knife to dig shell-fish out of the rocks, for a minimalist hors d’oeuvre.
  • On the kitchen bench-top as cooking time draws to a close, as a break before setting the table.
  • On a garden wall, on the roof, anywhere with a view. At a little table on the balcony, by the pool, on an inflatable boat anchored somewhere at sunset.
  • At small cafes in harbors or in squares hidden away in the middle of towns and villages.

Ideal for unexpected guests. With ice, with water, straight, straight cold, it goes with anything. Keep a bottle in the refrigerator. Ice cubes should be very hard so as not to melt too quickly and kept in an insulated ice-bucket. Water should also be well cooled and served in a glass carafe, not a plastic bottle.

Ouzo is an aromatic drink; its aroma is half the pleasure, so avoid small glasses that don’t allow it to breathe. Our suggestion is to serve it in thin, tall glasses. Choose the simplest glass with a wide mouth and a stem so the hand does not warm the ouzo. It should be drunk in small sips, slowly. One glass should last a while, to allow time for conversation, jokes and flirting.

Ouzo is good any way it’s taken – neat, on ice, or with water. The water should be well cooled and served in a glass carafe, not a plastic bottle

As a particularly aromatic drink with a high alcohol content and an aggressive taste, it calls for mezedhes of similar mettle.

  • Archetypal: A tomato cut in quarters and a small crisp cucumber, sprinkled with salt, two olives, a piece of tangy kaseri cheese and a slice of bread.
  • Seafood: Plump shellfish and octopus grilled over charcoal.
  • Fish: Salted sardines, anchovies and any kind of salted or smoked fish. Fresh anchovies marinated in vinegar and fresh sardines salted for 12 hours as is common on Mytilene. Sardines grilled over charcoal, sprinkled with coarse salt.
  • Vegetables: Fried courgettes and aubergines with tzatziki. Roasted capsicum with garlic and vinegar and all pickled vegetables, such as capers and okra.
  • Salads: Home-made taramosalata, melitzanosalata with a smoky flavor – like grandmother used to make, without mayonnaise!
  • Cheeses: Sharp cheeses such as kopanisti from the islands, traditional kaseri cheese or a home-made tyrokafteri made by beating together sharp feta, hot green peppers, a little oil and vinegar.
  • Double-baked wholemeal bread rusks and (preferably home-made) fresh bread.
  • Olives, olives, olives!

For a more in-depth study of the subject, delve into the (Greek language) book “Deipnosofistis”
(Ikaros Publications) and see page 21 for the best thing ever written about ouzo, titled “The Discipline of Debauchery”.