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What are Meze?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 September 2016
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Meze, or “small plates,” are appetizers in Greek cuisine. Meze are common at large meals, and they are a traditional offering at Greek restaurants and bars. There are numerous examples of meze, from the well known dolmades which are popular in many parts of the world to delicate pastries made from phyllo dough stuffed with ingredients like cheeses and meats. Like other aspects of Greek cuisine, meze are heavily influenced by Mediterranean foods like olives, fish, whole grains, cheeses, and fresh vegetables.

Typically, a spread of meze includes a wide number of these appetizers, shared by a group. Dipping sauces and tapenades are extremely common, as are dishes of olives and pickled vegetables. Sliced bread is commonly on offer as well, as are dishes of crumbled Greek cheeses like feta. Among the many dipping sauces are purees of beans, artichokes, or eggplant, a yogurt and cucumber sauce called tsatsiki, hummus, and mashed roasted peppers or garlic.

Meze can also be more substantial. Many restaurants offer kofte or meatballs, along with peppers or squash stuffed with rice, sausages, tabbouleh, fried and stuffed squash flowers, and sometimes fried or grilled fish or octopus. Salads are also a common part of a meze platter, made from greens, pickled beets, cheeses, melon, potatoes, or lightly marinated cabbage. Bean salads are also not uncommon. Plain yogurt is usually also set out with meze for drizzling on food or eating plain.

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Small pastries like phyllo dough wrapped meat or vegetables and dumplings are common in many regions. In some cases, small bowls of soup may also be offered with appetizers, although they can also be saved for a second course. Traditionally, meze are offered with wine or liquors like retsina. In bars, no night of drinking is complete without a selection of meze, which may sometimes be offered with the compliments of the house to encourage customers to drink more.

Depending on the venue, meze can be simple and hearty, or more delicate and refined, taking cues from cuisine in places like France. The tradition of meze or some sort of appetizer spread is common to many Mediterranean nations, some of which share appetizers between each other. Hummus, for example, is served in many parts of the Middle East, along with tabbouleh, and the tradition of stuffed grape leaves probably emerged in Turkey. Meze also make excellent snack foods for someone on the go who wants a reasonably wholesome meal without a great deal of effort.

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ysmina
Post 3

@fify-- I've never been to Greece but I'm Turkish and the concept of meze in Turkey is exactly as you described.

Meze is basically some snacks to go with drinks because alcohol tends to make people hungry and can be hard on the stomach. When my dad has drinks, either at home or outside, he always wants some cheese, bread, salad and fruit to go with it.

We have appetizers at Turkish restaurants too, but I agree with you that meze is not the same idea as American appetizers. I mean people in Turkey never go to restaurants to have just meze unless they're there to drink.

I think Mediterranean and Middle Eastern restaurants in the US have been adapting meze into appetizers because it is serving American customers.

fify
Post 2

When I was in Greece, there were places called meze house that basically just offered alcoholic drinks, especially ouzo (the traditional Greek alcoholic drink) and various types of meze dishes to go with it.

I saw mezes at regular restaurants too, but for some reason I got the feeling that meze should be eaten when people are drinking. Greeks who just wanted to eat often directly ordered their meal and skipped the meze.

So I think that meze is different than what we think of as appetizers which are eaten before a meal, regardless of whether people are having alcoholic drinks or not.

burcidi
Post 1

I've also noticed that the word and concept of meze is found in Middle Eastern cultures as well as Greek and Turkish.

I've eaten at all three types of restaurants and mezes were always offered. But there were some slight differences in the dishes. I think cheese, yogurt, bread, salads, stuffed grapes and olives were the main mezes at the Greek restaurant. At Middle Eastern restaurants, there was more meat like small shish kebabs, bread, hummus, baba ganoush (eggplant dish) and tabbouleh. At the Turkish restaurant, there was again bread, some salads, stuffed grapes, some meats and beans available.

Oh and soup, especially lentil soup was also part of the meze restaurant menu. The menus were all similar but also slightly different. I really like meze though, sometimes at Greek and Middle Eastern restaurants, I just order five or six different types of mezes for my meal.

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