A few weeks ago I was traveling out of state for business and when it was time for dinner, I found a nice quaint Greek restaurant. It was middle priced with table cloths and had the Greek trappings – paintings of Greek islands, old bouzouki hanging on the wall, fake grapevines strewn around, and classic Greek music playing overhead. The menu was full of the all of the Greek classics – pastitsio, moussaka, souvlakia, gyro, domaldes, etc. You know the scene.
The young blond girl hostess sat me down, handed me the menu and smiled. She didn’t look Greek but who can tell anymore. I have seen more blond-haired Greeks than blond-haired Scandinavians.
I took a cursory look around and saw that the kitchen was open-styled. The busboy came by and dropped off some oil with spices, pita bread, and water. I noticed his nametag. His name was Eduardo and he was Mexican (or Guatemalan, El Salvadorian, or whatever). I said “gracias,” and he smiled and nodded. I looked down at the menu and then felt the stare of the waiter. I looked back up and standing there was Jose. Not Stavro, not Giorgo, not even Anthoula, but Jose. He was a pleasant chap and knew the menu inside and out. He even yelled out “Opa!” together with Eduardo, the busboy, when he lit my Saganaki cheese on fire.
As my meal progressed, I started looking around and noticed that all of the cooks, kitchen personnel, and wait staff – and I mean all of them, were Mexican. And since the kitchen was open, you could hear them yelling out orders in Spanish. I didn’t hear one “Ella” or “Vre,” although I did hear that famous universal Greek word – I think you know. Not one Greek amongst them and the place was called, Mykonos Taverna.
Moving forward in time, I’m cooking souvlakia at my church, St. Demetrios’ mini Greek Festival. All the usual suspects are there cooking, drinking, arguing – I’m sorry – discussing politics, and everything else under the sun… or the tent lights. I told my cooking partners the story of the Mykonos Taverna and how I saw not one Greek working in a Greek restaurant. My good friend Stavro, who owns a few pizzerias, turned and said, “You’re surprised? Greeks don’t cook anymore. We don’t even remember how to cook. We think we do. The Mexicans cook for us. Why should we cook when they are just as good, or better? We only cook at the festivals to make us feel like we cook and hold-up the tradition of a Greek cook!”
Wow, I was flabbergasted. It hit me like a ton of touvla, but he was absolutely right. Basically, Greeks have progressed and have gotten out of the kitchen. They may still own the restaurant, but not many cook any more. In fact, Cosmosphilly.com did an interview of the head chef at one of our local Greek-owned restaurants, a very popular establishment, that serves many Greek dishes. The head chef was Mexican and cooked better pastitsio than good ol’ yiayia! He even made a watermelon and feta cheese salad.
I started thinking about this phenomenon and you know what happens when I think. What would happen if this spread like the zombie apocalypse in the movie, World War Z, and overran everything?
Can you imagine walking into a Greek wedding and there’s the band, dressed like a Mariachi band, playing “Orea Pou Ine I Senorita Mas,” and the bouzouki player’s name is… Santiago? Actually, that would be funny. When the band starts playing a zembekiko dance, the dancers come in and dance a Flamenco dance. How about marching in the Greek Independence Day parade? Instead of 6’ 1” Greek soldiers in traditional Evzones uniforms, we have 5’ 1” Mexicans dressed in traditional Evzones uniforms – I’m sorry that’s not politically correct, but it’s funny. The kilt would be dragging on the road.
Things would start to get out of hand. A glass of Ouzo would suddenly get a rim of salt and a lime! Souvlakia would be rolled with black beans, rice, and into a soft-taco shell with…I hate to say it, cilantro! Yuck! Pericles would become Don Periclez. They would replace Jason and the Argonauts with Dora the Explorer and instead of throwing hartoura (money) on your friend dancing the Zembekiko, you would throw money on your friend dancing the Macarena.
Funny though, I was at a Mexican restaurant and there were no Mexicans in the front. I asked the waitress, who was Indian, “are there any Greeks cooking in the kitchen,” she laughed and replied, “They’re all Mexicans back there.” Go figure!
Recently I had a piece of clothing stitched with my name on the inside back, and they incorrectly wrote, “Harry Karapalidez.” Changed the “s” to a “z.” That’s all it takes. It’s a conspiracy. We’re only one letter away from being Mexicanized! Change my first name to Ernesto (that’s the only name my Spanish teacher in high school could think of that’s close to Harry), and I’m Ernesto Karapalidez.
And we know it’s over when Opa turns into Ole! All because we Greeks stopped cooking.
Keep the faith, be Greek – don’t stop cooking!
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