BY LYNN EDMONDS
Remember the part in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” where Aunt Voula finds out her niece’s fiancé is a vegetarian?
“What do you mean he don’t eat no meat?” she says, raising her voice with something like outrage.
A tense pause follows where she stares at Ian Miller. It seems that the outsider’s fragile acceptance into the Greek American family is at stake.
Then a thought comes to Voula and she smiles.
“It’s okay,” she says. “I’ll make lamb.”
It’s a punch line near and dear to the hundreds of thousands of Greek Americans and other ethnic Americans, because it showed just how incomprehensible the idea of vegetarianism was to some people in the community.
A collective memory of hunger, just one or two generations back, might be what has made so many older ethnic Americans scoff at the idea of voluntarily eliminating an entire food group from one’s diet.
I know I have a Greek grandfather who survived Nazi occupation during World War II and he’s got two refrigerators, ten kilos of oranges and onions on his balcony and an unstoppable addiction to grocery shopping.
Whatever the root cause, food, and dare I say gluttony, is entrenched in the Greek culture. And it’s a beautiful thing.
But so is fasting. Every lent, observant Greek Orthodox Christians fast for 40 days leading up to Orthodox Easter, which this year will take place on May 1st. During this period, they abstain from meat, dairy and fish-except shellfish, essentially becoming vegan. The most observant even largely eliminate oil from their diets.
Come Easter, the most holy holiday in the Orthodox Church, Greeks break the fast with “Magiritsa,” a soup made with lamb offal, lemon-egg sauce and fresh herbs. Generally eaten at midnight on Easter, the soup is a gentle way to re-acclimate the body to meat in preparation for an entire day spent gorging on lamb.
Easter lamb is typically cooked in the oven with potatoes, or even better, roasted whole on a spit. The salty, tender meat, which always has a layer of crunchy skin undergirded by sizzling, near-liquid fat is enough to have anyone who’s tried it saying, “What do you mean, he don’t eat no meat?”
So for those who wish they lived in the world of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” and those who have simply accepted that they do live in that world, Greek Easter is a holiday that must be celebrated.
And you don’t have the wherewithal to skewer a dead animal from butt to throat and then set it up to revolve for an indeterminate amount of hours while guests ask inquire “is it done?” Astoria has plenty of Greek restaurants that will be open on Greek Easter. Here are a few of the spots where you can go and enjoy an amazing Easter Sunday meal with other big fat Greek families.
This upscale Taverna with a modern take on Greek cuisine is offering a special Easter Menu on May 1. They are doing a pre-fixe menu with a Greek salad, fried meatballs with Tzatziki or fried calamari to start, followed by entrée of roast leg of lamb, roast pig, or Branzino. The price is $35. Reservations recommended.
31-29 Ditmars Blvd., Astoria
Telly’s Taverna is getting in the spirit with their third annual “My Big Fat Greek Easter,” featuring a festive atmosphere with live bouzouki music and lamb on the spit. They close the week prior of respect for holy week, a time of fasting and reflection, only to open with a bang on Easter Sunday. The Taverna has all the Greek Easter specialties like Tsoureki, Easter Eggs, and koulourakia as well as their full regular menu. “A lot of people, they don’t have back yard to celebrate it, so this is a good way,” Dianna Loiselle explained. Telly’s has outdoor seating and their own spit so diners can get the authentic experience. Reservations recommended. Hours of operation are 1 p.m. to 10 p.m.
28-13 23rd Ave., Astoria
This Cypriot restaurant has a special Easter menu available for diners between 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 30th and 2:30 a.m. on Sunday May 1st. The Easter menu includes a choice of three soups, the traditional Magiritisa, Avgolemono, or egg-lemon soup, and Trahana, a soup made from Bulgur wheat. Appetizers include Cypriot meatball made with pork and shredded potato and seasoned with salt, pepper and crushed mint. The main course is a choice of spit-roasted pork or roasted leg of lamb. Of course, the menu would not be complete without red dyed eggs, Tsoureki bread, and Flaounes, a special cheese pastry that is only available once a year, when the cheese in produced. Flaounes are almost like cheese pies but different. “This type of cheese is so different it’s kind of like its own thing,” Elena said. “They’re very time-consuming but very delicious and very traditional.” Zenon is accepting pre-orders for the limited-time only treat. Reservations are recommended. Price: $28.95
34-10 31st Ave., Astoria
Gregory’s 26 Taverna
This small and cozy Taverna has a very authentic and familiar Easter meal immediately following the resurrection on Saturday night. With the nearby Saint Markella Greek Orthodox Church less than a block away, many churchgoers come with their candles still lit from their ceremony over to Gregory’s 26 Taverna to have the traditional Easter foods: eggs, koulouria, lamb and kokoretsi – lamb intestines wrapped around offal. “I make it very nice,” chef Frida said. She said the gatherings on Easter midnight there had a special feeling. “It’s like a horio,” she said, using the Greek word for village. Gregory’s 26 is closed on Easter day. For Palm Sunday on April 24th they have a traditional menu of fried codfish and skordalia (garlic dip). Reservations recommended.
26-02 23rd Ave., Astoria