For those that have been reading and keeping on up my posts, this one may seem like yet another digression from jumping in the deep, viscous and unique world of American barbeque. But need I remind you of the very first article in which we met, and where I stated (and hopefully you agreed) that the beauty of New Jersey barbeque lies in the diversity of the cultures here and what each brings to the red and white checkered table. This weekend I totally blew off a friend, Marc, that was smoking up a pork butt in his newly annointed R2D2 unit (Weber upright) in order to visit one of the largest Greek festivals in the State and answer the question of how our fun and sun-loving friends from the eastern Mediterranean region do barbeque.
I have visited Greece twice before, once as a single, new college graduate and later with the lovely and adventurous woman that would become my wife. Did I just hear a low groan from my female fans? Probably not. But in both cases, we followed the advice of a young traveler with the alcohol shakes that I met at the Athens hostel on my first trip where he telephoned his father to ask for more money. “Dude, you gotta go to Ios! You gotta go to Ios!” No truer words have ever been said, and that all encompassing statement peeled me away from exploring the ruins of Athens for yet another day and landed me on a smoke-filled train for the port of Piraeus. There, I (and later, my wife and I) navigated the ferries that served as the lifeline of the Greek islands until we had “gone to Ios”. Party island of the young, poor, and Swedish nurses, it tempted me to abandon my plans for backpacking through the rest of Europe, and to join the rest of the world’s revelers for the rest of the summer in laying on the beach all day long, dancing in the bars all night long, and rolling down marble stairs while passed out between 6 and 7 am. I will not keep you in suspense and will tell you that we did finally, and sadly, board an outgoing ferry at some point and enjoyed the wonders of the continent, but not before gaining a huge appreciation for the Greek people and their way of life (food).
So when a Greek friend that I work with said that his family was going to the Greek festival at St. Andrews in Randolph, NJ, I thought that it would be appropriate for me to reacquaint myself with the Hellenic people (when sober), investigate how they do barbeque, and meet my friend’s wife who makes a fresh and mouth-watering tzasiki sauce that has been on every sandwich I have made since.
So was I successful? To tell you truth, I don’t really know. In one of my previous posts, I outlined the differences between barbeque and grilling, and am still influenced by this defined and perhaps narrow definition of barbeque. I did discover that Greek barbeque, like Brazilian churrasco, uses the convection from coals to cook the meat, which is turned on spits. Lamb, port, poultry, beef, and lamb (yes, again), seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper are turned rotisserie style, until the dripping juices sing like Sirens over the coals, luring men to gather around the souvla, or grill. Dry rubs that contain traditional Mediterraean herbs such as oregano, mint, thyme, basil, and others enhance the flavor and help the Greeks distinguish their Kontosouvli and souvlaki from the meat dishes of other cultures. So although I did dive into the festival’s offerings of souvlaki and gyros (heated from flames rather than heat lamps like in college), I still came away a bit unfulfilled and questioning whether my quest to experience Greek barbeque was successful or not. Was I unfairly handicapped from the start by the tinted goggles of smoke soaking, American barbeque? Did I experience all there was, or is there a smoky Aegean feast out there that does prove Odysseus did discover American barbeque and brought it home to be honored along with philosophy, art, and democracy?
What did Odysseus do when he found himself adrift? He went to the Ouzo, and that is exactly what I did.