Today, I had an amusing little intercultural and culinary experience. About five months ago, give or take a few, a Greek delicatessen called “Nostos,” opened up in the center of Prague. It is located about a block away from my physiotherapist’s office, which due to unfortunate circumstances I must visit on a weekly basis. Usually before or after my appointment, I stop by the shop to pick up some tangy tasty taramosalata, creamy Greek yogurt or deliciously sweet chalva.
This afternoon, when I entered the shop I was greeted like always, in a warm and friendly Mediterranean manner. Living in Prague, this is something one doesn’t take for granted. Smiling, the shop owners, a husband and wife team from Greece, asked me how I was doing. After a few more exchanges of kind words, I turned to the counter and happily pointed at the taramasalata. On a recent stop, they were disappointingly sold out of the good stuff. She pulled out a few plastic containers and asked me to choose a size. I went with the usual 100 grams.
As I was waiting, I noticed they also had some octopus as well. Yum, I thought to myself. Then in a flash, memories of enjoying one of these freshly grilled and chewy tentacles on the Greek island of Simi began to intercept my thoughts. I, of course had to purchase some. As it was a bit pricey, I asked for less than 100 As she pulled the container out, she mentioned how fresh the octopus was and offered me a sample on a toothpick. Yum, what a treat this would be!
Suddenly, her husband broke my dreamy escape by telling me that I could go home and “geill it.”
“Huh?” I answered.
“Geill it,” he repeated.
“Oh yes, show her the book, show her,” his wife commanded pointing at a book sitting by the register on the counter. My eyes followed the direction of her hand. I was hoping that somehow I would finally understand what “geill it” would mean.
He began flipping through the pages of what appeared to be a Greek cookbook. When he finally found the page he was looking for, he turned the book towards my direction. There was a picture of a plate of octopus intermixed with onions, black olives, red and yellow pepper with dashes of parsley surrounding it. Ah, now I got it. I could grill it! I attempted to read the recipe and when my thoughts finally processed what my eyes were looking at, it was clear that I would not be able to decode this one. The book is Greek, therefore printed in Greek.
“So, you need some peppers, olives and parsley?” I asked. Looking down at the book, he started to translate the list of ingredients.
“First, some onions,” he read and pretended to be frying them in a pan. Then with both his thumb and index finger sticking out like a gun, he said “Red.. yellow pepper. Octopus, black olives…”
“Sliced!” his wife excitedly interjected. All the while, I stood, listened and nodded my head after each ingredient was announced.
“Parsley, oregano and hmmm…,” he continues and then pauses. Suddenly a frown came upon his face. He looked up at me and disappointingly said, “Aww, you need two shots of Ouzo.”
“Aww…,” his wife echoed in the background.
Without the ouzo, it seemed like this recipe was not going to be consumed for dinner tonight.
Until… I nonchalantly replied, “Oh, I have Ouzo,” and nodded my head in a matter of fact manner.
“REALLY?” they both responded in awe and surprise.
“Yes. My husband likes to have a shot before he goes to bed each night,” I abruptly, yet innocently had disclosed.
“Is he Greek?” the wife asked.
“Ah! Tapas, it is like Greek.” she said.
“Uh huh,” I replied, agreeing unknowingly why. It could have just been the excitement of discovering that we did in fact have a bottle of ouzo at home. We would devour this dish after all! A feeling of relief fell upon the three of us.
While they were wrapping up my purchases, we continued to exchange a few more words about Prague, the neighborhoods, how business was going and such. I gave my thanks and said that I would see them soon to let them know how the recipe turned out. As soon as I got home, I started prepping the ingredients. </span>
Standing in our red kitchen, chopping away at the parsley, I began to tell my husband all about the day’s intercultural and culinary experience. It was absolutely priceless. Soon after recalling the episode, he said I should “blog it” and couldn’t believe that I had even told them that he takes a shot of ouzo every night. Aside from the time it took to roast the peppers in the oven, the dish was simple enough to make, especially if one has a ready bottle of ouzo on hand. Sitting at our dinner table, a few bites into the “Ouzo Octopus,” (I didn’t realize until I got home that they didn’t give me a name for the dish, so I made this one up) I was surprised to hear my husband say “It’s agradable (pleasant), reminds me of Spain!” Maybe Greece and Spain are more similar than I had thought …after all?
1 octopus, cleaned, cooked and cut into small pieces
1 cup oil
1 cup red vinegar
2 shots of ouzo
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 of each: red, yellow and green pepper seeded and chopped
1 onion peeled and chopped
1/4 black olives, pitted and sliced
1-2 handfuls of freshly chopped parsley
1 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste
Combine oil, vinegar, ouzo and oregano in a large bowl.
Add octopus and marinate for 2-3 hours.
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan or grill pan
When warm, add the onion and fry until soft.
Then add peppers, olives and remaining seasoning.
When tender, add the octopus.
Cook for a few minutes, stirring all the ingredients well.
Add the leftover marinade, parsley and season with salt/pepper.
Toss and make sure all the ingredients are well coated.
Serve with slices of good bread!