My Big Fat Greek Lunch
There is something deeply gratifying about the robust flavours of the Mediterranean and a Big Fat Greek lunch was the perfect antidote to lockdown fever. The celebration was virtual but the joviality that accompanies Greek occasions transcended technology.
I grew up with parents who believed firmly in the sanctity of Sunday lunch. Regardless of our plans, we were expected to migrate home for lunch with the family. It was an unspoken rule – never questioned and never broken. It’s clearly an institution that is also revered by Nick Papadopoulos and Eric Edwards of Eat Greek caterers as, for five years, they have hosted Sunday luncheons where overwhelming amounts of food are equally proportionate to good cheer. What is it about Greek food that evokes so much exuberance?
Eat Greek has been an intrinsic part of Durban’s culinary scene for decades. Nick and Eric met when studying through Joburg’s Carlton Hotel (Nick focused on front of house and Eric trained as a chef) and started as outside caterers at Glenwood Old Boys’ Sports Club where they also ran a restaurant three days a week. This was followed by operating Eat Greek restaurant in Durban North for a decade and running a small but much-loved off-site deli.
When the restaurant closed, they moved their catering kitchen to the Hellenic Centre where they introduced their legendary buffet Sunday lunches and started the award-winning food market that operated for three years. April 2020 marked an impressive 29 years in business together – the evidence seems to point unequivocally to food being the foundation of good relationships – but obviously Covid-19 required reinvention of their business model.
“We were brainstorming to see what we could do,” said Nick. “There is the concept of everyone doing home meals and we wanted to do it differently, to bring Eat Greek into their homes. When I grew up, every Sunday we had to be at home. It was the day that everyone was together. Even now we get together as much as we can as a family for a roast or once a week for a meal.”
They say ’n boer maak ’n plan, but so too, apparently, do the Greeks. Unable to host their monthly Sunday lunch, they decided to take to technology and I jumped at the chance to join the inaugural virtual event. A cost of R250 per person included a three-course lunch and a soiree hosted on Zoom with all the Greek bells and whistles.
Lack of socialising and eating out have taken their toll on me, so it was with much excitement that the last bottle of white wine was popped into the fridge and the remnants of gin were allocated to the big day. The time grew tantalisingly nearer, and late Saturday afternoon Nick personally delivered a large box neatly wrapped in brown paper. Like manna from heaven, the gentle aroma of garlic wafted from it and I immediately set about doing a culinary reveal, oohing and aahing over perfect phyllo triangles, generous hunks of lamb and baklava glistening in honey. Everything was meticulously packaged and clearly labelled with idiot-proof heating instructions but, as they say, the devil is in the detail. The box of wondrous culinary blessings also included a blue and white striped table runner; a centre piece of olive leaves and a Greek flag, place mats, plates for breaking and a keyring memento.
On Sunday, Durban’s glorious “winter” weather called for al fresco dining and the blue-hued table was given a reprieve with a blast of bougainvillea snipped from the neighbour. Zoom proceedings began with playing of the bouzouki and segued into a welcome from Nick. As it turned out, there were 20 other equally eager families including ones from Cape Town and Joburg who had prepared their own Greek food and just joined via Zoom. There was also a guest from Dubai who, despite Sunday being a work day, made plans to connect for the festivities and an instantly recognisable local chef who joined en famille.
The tempo picked up and the tone was set for lunch by three live dances that were punctuated with plate breaking, fire, glasses being raised in toast and shout of Opa! (although I am not sure if this was them or us as we had been caught up in the infectious revelry). Having technology at the table would usually be frowned upon but once the entertainment had finished, a surreptitiously placed laptop provided traditional music and a slide show of Greek vistas that formed the backdrop to our meal.
There was a choice of five starters from a selection of seven and I only turned down the caramelised onion hummus dip and skordalia as I’m well acquainted with them. Instead we had keftedes (meatballs), spanakopites (spinach and feta filled pastries) and lamb and feta phyllo pies. There was also roast brinjal wrapped soft, salty halloumi fingers and offset with a balsamic glaze and, finally, their “famous” peri peri chicken livers paired with bruschetta.
Even the kids had picked up on the sense of occasion as they drank apple juice from wine glasses and once starters were done – and by this, I mean we had eaten enough although the food was by no means finished – they determinedly set about smashing plates. Nick was mindful about creating a balance between Zoom interaction and allowing people to relish lunch with family, so we tucked into our main course while occasionally checking in on our dining companions on the Zoom screen’s mosaic.
Eat Greek’s signature slow roasted, deboned lamb shanks met the expectations of my memories and the unctuous and tender meat was paired with orzo pasta cooked in a tomato sauce. There was also a tender roast chicken, with the right amount of lemony zing, served with a delicious medley of herb roasted vegetables.
At this point we had bypassed any notions of eating an elegant sufficiency and moved on to Greek coffee served with possibly the best baklava in town and the equally addictive mini Greek shortbread. Feeling uplifted by the food and much-needed social interaction, the only thing that got us to relinquish the comfort of our chairs was safely removing all the leftover food to the kitchen to be packed away for late night foraging.
The next virtual Eat Greek lunch has been scheduled for 28 June. The concept has been tweaked slightly so it will include entertainment and a three-course meal (vegetarians are also catered for) but you can then curate your own experience by adding on décor items like table settings and even a birthday cake and balloons if you are celebrating an occasion. DM/TGIFood