Greek cuisine has, like in the case of any national cuisine, several layers. But given its location— Europe’s southernmost country is flanked by Italy on one side and Turkey on the other—the Roman and later the Ottoman Empire have left their indelible (and edible) imprint on the food of the region. It is said […]
Greek cuisine has, like in the case of any national cuisine, several layers. But given its location— Europe’s southernmost country is flanked by Italy on one side and Turkey on the other—the Roman and later the Ottoman Empire have left their indelible (and edible) imprint on the food of the region.
It is said that the thin phyllo pastry dough (phyllo means ‘leaf’ in Greek) was brought to Greece by its conquerors from the West, while the rice pilaf and, of course, the baklava were among the things made popular by the Ottomans. The newly opened Opa Kipos, Mumbai’s newest Greek restaurant, is an ideal venue to contemplate the relentless tides of history and their impact on the food nations eat and call their own.
With its high ceilings, floral creepers and bright blue and white walls, the highly Instagrammable OPA Kipos affects a Santorini-esque vibe, and to make things more Greeky, there’s also the ancient cultural tradition of smashing plates, and Zorba dancing by the staff. It’s as Grecian as it can get, but what exactly should one order at the modern Greek cuisine restaurant? The menu at Opa is expansive: there’s orzo (the pasta that’s popular in the region) with roasted lobster; prawn saganaki (with a generous serving of feta cheese); spinach pie, and, ahem, Greek Salad.
We sampled a bunch of options on a recent visit to the restaurant and here’s what we loved the most: three classical ‘Greek’ dishes that have been given a modern twist:
Kleftiko: The Ottoman Empire wasn’t fond of the Klephts. They lived in the mountains and were outlaws as well as fierce Greek nationalists. It is also said that they had a habit of stealing sheep, which they cooked in underground pits, slow roasting it until the meat fell off the bone. Kleftiko means ‘stolen’ in Greece. Traditionally, the Klephts favoured the leg, but the shoulder would do as well, which is also what is served at Opa. The lamb shoulder, braised and cooked overnight, is served with a base of feta mash, mint jus and a mint salad. The meat is almost like a pâté. If you are heading out for a long leisurely dinner, get this along with lots of ouzo, of course.
Moussaka: One of Greece’s most famous exports isn’t as old as you think. The Greek moussaka (the Turks, Arabs, and Bulgarians, among others, have their own versions), as we know it, was created as recently as 1920 by chef Nikolaos Tselementes, who brought out the first Greek cooking guide. The influential Tselementes often blended Greek and French cuisine, which probably explains the béchamel sauce in most moussakas you’ve had abroad. At Opa, the fundamental ingredients—eggplant, potato, minced meat—are retained, but the potato is now a terrine and in place of the white sauce, you get a burnt onion jus. “We also have a vegetarian version that’s done in the Turkish Imam Bayildi style, which doesn’t use feta cheese,” says chef Rohan D’Souza.
Baklava Sundae: Is the hummus Arab or Israeli or Egyptian? We don’t know. Is the baklava Turkish or Greece? Well, in 2006, the Turks were so offended by a Greek Cypriot claim on the pastry that they kept protesting for six years until their Gaziantep baklava won “protected status” from the European Union. While the ‘Baklava Conflict’, like ‘The Hummus Wars’, continues to simmer, you’d do well to introduce yourself to the Baklava Sundae at Opa. Picture a filo pastry cut, loaded with whole pieces of baklava along with hand-churned ice cream, and nuts. It is every bit as delicious as it sounds.