Greece’s three main alcoholic drinks – ouzo, tsipouro and raki (also known as tsikoudia) – are literally mischievous ‘spirits’ that must be enjoyed at a slow pace always accompanied by titbits of food – known as “mezedes” – and plenty of water.
Ouzo is usually served with ice and water and always in small, slim glasses. Once you add ice to your ouzo it turns cloudy. Add some water if you want it light. Raki, which you’ll find in Crete, and tsipouro, very common in the mainland – both distilled spirits very much like American moonshine – contain up to 45% alcohol. That’s why you should add some water if you want a lighter version of the drinks. You can also ask for the anise-flavored variety of tsipouro which is sweet-ish. When serving or drinking ouzo, raki, or tsipouro glasses are never filled to the top, just barely past the half point.
According to seasoned tipplers, for every sip of ouzo or tsipouro, you should always drink two sips of water. Then chat a bit with your friends, free yourself of any irksome thoughts, and then one more round… languidly as if time is of no matter or meaning, enjoying the life right this moment – in the NOW.
The Cretans also serve a warm version of raki known as “rakomelo” – made up of raki and honey (meli) as well as a touch of clove and cinnamon. Rakomelo should never be boiling hot just warm, very much like the temperature Japanese sake is served. There is a similar version made with a tsipouro, and on the Cyclades islands, particularly on beautiful Amorgos island in the Cyclades, they prepare what is known as “psimeni” (roasted) – a warm intoxicating drink which is accompanied by the “pasteli” sweet and their own cheese pie known as “anevates”.
If you visit Greece in summer, many regions hold open-air festivals dedicated to raki- or tsipouro-making with lots of food, live song and dance, and drink… of course!
Last but not least: When we toast in Greece, we gently tap each other’s glasses – so if there are four friends, you tap four times (imagine when there are nine of you!) – raise our glass, say “Stin Ygeia Mas” (Health to All), smile and drink. You can also say “eviva” which many believe to be derived from the latin word for “live” but in reality it comes from the ancient Greek “evi evan” exchanged initially among drinkers during the festivities dedicated to the God of Wine, Dionysus, and which to this day means “to health” – salutations.