A perfect fall day, the sky was blue, the sun was shinning and we were all excited to be together. Watching the sea from high above Tinos, it is magical, the light brightens the pastures that are now green after a long dry summer. The sea shimmers, the reflection of the sun warms us up, the horizon is all blue.
We find ourselves arriving to a small building, a shack in the middle of nowhere, at least for us. High above the Aegean, the fall air hoards our sense. We feel a sense of excitement, a new experience, new place and together with friends we adore. We walk through the shrubs, those low bushes that tickle your ankles, or bite them with a thorn. We make our way through a small doorway to find a small distillery.
Inside the room, the tsipouro maker, a young man in his 30’s, he didn’t say very much, he seemed focused on his work. His assistant, his uncle in his mid sixties, he laughed and smiled. He seemed to be enjoying himself and especially the visitors. The table well-organized for a few sips of tsipouro, a red zinc flask and the small shot glasses, kept covered on the table at all times.
The helper’s sister, the makers mom, she appeared from time to time to check on us. Typically old-fashioned Greek hospitality, she was discrete, dressed in her winter cloths and kept out of the main story. Even though it was not directly involved, she kept a watchful eye, she made sure to offer us some of her own foods, what she had. Modest hospitality, tomatoes, potatoes and some homemade cheese.
Before I could cut the cheese and prepare it for the table, the assistant pulled out a small bag, the size of his hand. he opened it pushing it close to my nose. I quickly understood that he had his own private stash of organic mountain dried oregano. I sprinkled a little amount over the cheese, and drizzled some olive oil over it.
Our sweet and thoughful friend, she carried her own bag of goodies, she placed it carefully on a seat, so she should could get out what was inside. Anxiously, knowing her fingers make magic, we all huddled around the table in anticipation. The table was re-set with a small white table-cloth, and several dishes of foods she prepared herself were ready to be laid down. The table now set up her delicious foods were spread out crowding the table and leaving little space of an elbow. A gorgeous meze to suit the company of all guests; her homemade chickpea bread, olives, pickled okura, and homemade beans, etc,
Seated inside, a small space, not more than 5m by 3m, there was a table, 5 small chairs, several blue plastic barrels, two men and 10 of us, two families. Hard to believe we all fit, but the kids were “in and out”, mostly “in” for the food, and “out” for the drink. The perfect setting for Meze Mesubim! I talked about Meze in the past, but only recently I connected “Meze” and “Mesubim”, the idea that the Meze is an integral part of the Mesubim.
The importance of Meze is clear in my mind, families, invite their own communities, the people they wish to share, or have an obligation to share. The household prepares small table foods, guest and family sit, talk and enjoy them. The idea that these foods were part of the household, they represented the spirit of the homemaker. These foods should only be local, foraged from the forests, or fields, or made in local farms or by the household themselves. Today in the west we refer to them as h’ordeuvres, and in the same way these foods are meant to accompany drink and conversation.
Too often restaurants serve cheap Mezes as part of a preset menu, they are ordinary or store-bought foods, a means to an end. They miss love and the spirit of what they are all about. This is nothing to do what I am talking about, as it doe not embody the spirit of Mesubim.
Meze Mesubim a collection of local foods, home-made when possible and served around a table, shared with conversation and smiles. This day, my family experienced “Meze Mesubim” impromptu talk with people you aren’t familiar with, but somehow you connect with around the table. I keep referring to Mesubim as a table, the idea that drink and food are one and the same, they cannot be enjoyed on their own.
It takes a community of friends and or family, the focus is the pleasure you derive from sharing wonderful foods. The connection between people, sharing symbols of life, not all are easily understood. In some places it is rice but here it is bread and drink, a Greek table is not complete without bread.