Starbucks and Pizza Hut: I didn`t see any of those in Italy but they do exist in Greece. Greeks are less conservative about coffee and the same applies to the pizza. Or even about food in general. Whereas Italians take time to eat, the Greeks instead prefer to spend their time on drinking coffee. They don`t allow eating to take much time, which explains their love fast food. However, they will not surrender to McDonalds` and alikes ? so they claim.
`We have our own fast food`, says George (29), `We don`t need American food that tastes of plastic. And the Chinese may manage to sell us textile but they are less successful with their food. There are no Chinese restaurants here in Patras, only in Athens.`
`You never know whether your kebab was actually a mouse of cat before it got grilled`
Pythagoras (22, photo) says that Greeks are not fond of American-style hamburgers, and do not get hungry by thinking of German-style sausages either: `We have pita rolls and sandwiches, which can carry lots of different combinations of meat and salad. We have Souvlaki: pieces of meat grilled on a stick. Then there`s Gyros, which consists of seasoned meat that is cut off from a rotating pile of pork, chicken or lamb filets. Kebab is another alternative. It`s a stick-shaped piece of minced meat and the animal it originates from is not identifiable by looking at the end result. You might well be eating a dead mouse or a cat ? you never know.`
Beside the meat component, the piece of bread may be filled with chips, onions, lettuce and Tzatziki, a thick yoghurt-based garlic sauce. Depending on the outlet, the sandwich as a whole may be re-grilled before it gets packed in a thermo-envelope. Or served on a real plate in case the meal is consumed inside the restaurant. A complimentary glass of water is common in any restaurant or even in cafes. Pythagoras names Goody`s, Everest and Chick&Chicken as the leading Greek fast food chains. Their offer is complemented by a wealth of small privately-owned shops selling similar specialities.
The hasty Greek lifestyle makes the consumption fast food almost inevitable. According to Petros (22), it even composes the main source of nutrition for students. `Hardly anybody in Greece takes breakfast. Children do not get used to eating before they go to school. Their mums may force them to drink a glass of milk, but that will be it. Once at school, they can eat some low-quality food in the school cantine during one of the quick breaks. As students, we stick to that tradition, and only deviate from it if we are given fully prepared meals from home, the ones that only need to be heated before you can eat them.`
Petros says he counted on one decent meal a day when he was younger: `Fortunately, our fast food is a little healthier than the American equivalents. In Greece, salad is also counted as fast foods and many snack bars will sell it alongside the more fatty alternatives. And even the sandwiches should contain a fair amount of vegetables.` In spite of the love Greeks have for their salads and vegetable, visitors will be laughed at for being vegetarian. They tend to consider vegetarians a little crazy in the head and think that it`s just natural and even necessary for people to eat meat.
There is only one real liquid snack in Greece. Like Cyprus, that`s coffee and tea is unlikely to be accepted as an alternative. Despite the impressive range of cookies on display in Greek bakery shops, Constantina (21) says that it would be impossible to have something sweet with every single cup of coffee downed. She does admit regularly adding a piece of chocolate to one of her afternoon coffees. She occasionally eats Baklava or Kataifi, both very sweet honey-and-nuts-based pastries to complete a dinner.
Wondering how the Greeks can eat so much fat and sweet stuff without appearing collectively overweight. `That`s because we also move a lot`, she says, `we get sufficient exercise and tend to walk a lot during the day.` That makes Greece different from brother Cyprus, where even the inhabitants themselves claim to be lazy car addicts. But the Cypriots seem to eat less fast food and could well be more fanatic about going to the gym.
In the evening
According to Panagiotis (22), student lunches and dinners risks being similar in the way the incorporate some take-away food: `We will eat pizza or Souvlaki instead. The only people who prepare entire meals are old people or families. And even those will have to skip about one meal each week. To keep the children happy, they will have to get some fast food at least once a week.`
Except for the regular coffees, most of daytime is about eating. In the evening, the pattern switches to drinking. After dinner, a coffee may be served. On a typical night out, youngsters will then start gathering at bars or pubs. Nadia (22) will first drink sweet white wine, followed by rum-based cocktails once the crowd moves to a club. Vangelis (22) says that boys will first drink beer or dry red wine, before they switch to whiskey- or vodka-based mix drinks. And then, once the drinking circus is over, many people get hungry again. In the early morning hours, a piece of fat-drained pizza - unacceptable material to any self-respecting Italian - is easier to find than a night bus home.
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