Mageirevo is the greek verb for “I cook.” Mageireia, according to my Greek teacher, is a very old word they don’t use anymore. It’s a place where the food is cooked in the oven or on the stove, as opposed to on the grill. Now Greeks just call this place a taverna. It’s kind of like the prepared food counter at Whole Foods … but everything is hot and ready to serve immediately. And the dishes are less varied; he’s got 5ish things a day and that’s it.
Papou introduced me to our local mageireia here in Voula. His name is Manoulis. He likes American music from the 60s, like Nancy Sinatra, and he keeps albums behind the counter. He often shows me this or that, and I don’t know any of the female singers. He says I look like Jane Fonda. (I don’t.) He has a great staff — a younger fella I think might be his son who speaks a lot of English, and a really friendly delivery guy. He has maybe 4 tables, and when I stop in there’s usually one or two people having lunch, but it’s his takeout business that is fantastically busy. After cooking all morning, he opens at noon. But if you go at noon, it’s not a sure thing that everything will be ready. The magic time is 12:30 until about 1:15. After that, he pretty much sells out. I think he closes at 3.
I love going there. I tend to go on a Tuesday or a Thursday when the boys come home starving at 5:00 and I can fill plates immediately. In my very broken greek, I tell Manoulis that I could work for him or live in the shop, whichever he prefers. He doesn’t speak much English, but he understands when I say “the best.” He almost always has roasted eggplant with olive oil and tomato sauce. He also almost has yemista, stuffed tomatoes and peppers with rice and ground beef. (They know I’m American because instead of mincemeat, I say ‘ground beef.’) He often has pastisio, a pasta with meat sauce dish which the boys love. You can get roasted chicken or rooster in tomato sauce with spaghetti or rice. You can get soutzoukakia (meatballs) with spaghetti or rice. Sometimes he has more traditional, old school dishes like tripe. I can’t bring myself to try it, but Papou sure loves it.
In the winter, he makes a few soups and stews. Greeks don’t really consider soup to be a food, but heartier stews appear acceptable. Revithia is a good one – chickpeas in broth. So are his lentils. His gigantes, giant white beans, are different than the traditional dish with tomato sauce and dill; he uses a bunch of herbs and olive oil. Last week he brought me around the counter to have some gigantes that were cooking in a giant caldron behind the counter. My favorite, though, is laxanadolmades with avgolemono, stuffed cabbage with ground beef or pork, rice and herbs in an egg lemon sauce. We also love giouvalakia, meatballs with rice and mint in egg lemon sauce. Spring is coming and the artichokes are starting to appear … I can’t wait to see what he does with those.
His tomato sauce, though, is pure magic. I tell him this in English. He chalks it up to really good ingredients, which I of course believe, but I’ve never had tomato sauce like this. And lucky for me, he uses it in everything. I think lentil soup is fine. His lentil soup has this tomato sauce as the base and we buy 3 portions and eat it for days. He makes fazoulakia, a summer dish of green beans in this sauce. In the winter he roasts okra in it. I don’t know his secret. I wish I did. I have a pretty great fazoulakia recipe that I make often and everyone loves, but it just doesn’t compare. Papou told me to prepare myself to never make fazoulakia again after having the ones from Manoulis.
Sometimes I think about having my own mageireia in Denver. But where will I get the tomato sauce?