As the name implies these are places where people go to drink their coffee. Outside the big cities, these old-fashioned cafés gradually evolved into the focal point of male society in their particular neighbourhood or village. They became convivial places where men could meet, play cards or backgammon, catch up on the news and gossip, talk business, and have fun away from their womenfolk.
Because politics is rarely absent from Greek conversation, they also came to be called “little parliaments”, some even identified as belonging to one party or another.
The café is the Greek equivalent of the Londoner’s club. But they are also a link between the village and the outside world. For it is here that the traveller, after being grilled about his presence in the community, will find the answers to his own questions. (There is always someone who speaks English among the regulars.)
It is in these kafeneia that, as you sip your aperitif, you’ll discover Greek mezedes, the tempting little dishes that accompany alcohol, that are so much a part of Greek culture and which vary from place to place. They are served on small plates either before the main meal or at any time during the day to accompany a drin, whether ouzo, raki, wine or beer.
It is true of many provincial cafes that you could say “Tell me what drink and meze you were served and I can tell you where you were”. The variety of appetisers can vary greatly depending on the region, culinary tradition, location (mountain or seaside), the occupation of the regulars (farmers,fishermen, shepherds), but also on the time of year, as many mezedes are seasonal. They may consist of anything ranging from the ultra simple nuts, olives, rusks, slices of bread, tomato, cucumber, pickles and raw artichokes to fried or baked potatoes, cold cuts, local cheeses, salted fish, taramosalata, melitzanosalata, tzatziki, octopus or a speciality of the cafe owner.
Many country cafés are genuine landmarks and transport us back to bygone days. The same goes for the owners who have managed to preserve the ethos of a disappearing world.
Discover “kafeneia” or traditional cafés in Greece.