Monday, October 31, 2011

Greek Diners as Cultural Ambassadors

One might say that Greek Diners are at the forefront of American multiculturalism. Their eclectic menu interfaces with standard American diner fare. Greek dishes are standard menu fixtures, occasionally listed next to dishes from other cuisines (I have seen "Taco salad" along with "Salad of Myconos"). Also, they often venture into fusion arrangements, mixing elements of various cultures ("Greek burrito," for instance, in the Southwest). Greek Diners are uniquely placed, therefore, to promote Greek cuisine to the American public.

They may also take it upon themselves to disseminate cultural and historical facts about Greece, introduce Greek letters and words in the national vocabulary, as well as translate Greek words such as gyros. In other words they function as cultural ambassadors, as I found out while visiting the ΑΩ Authentic Greek Cuisine in Flagstaff, Arizona. Located at the historic Route 66, this family restaurant exhibits all the features of the diner experience with a strong element of Greek cuisine (and a generous dose of hospitality, to which I was graciously treated). 

In addition to the cuisine, a brochure in each table introduces Greek culture to customers. Here is a sample:

Greece – Did you Know?

• Feta, which is made from goat's milk, is the Greece's national cheese. It dates back to the Homeric ages, and the average per-capita consumption of feta cheese in Greece is the highest in the world.

• In Greece, people celebrate the "name day" of the saint that bears their name rather than their own birthday.

• Thousands of birds stop in  Greece's wetlands on their migrations. As many as 1000,000 birds from northern Europe and Asia spend their winters there.

• The saying "taking the bull by its horns" comes form the Greek myth of Hercules saving Crete from  a ranging bull by seizing its horns.

• Rhodes has been inhabited since the Stone Age.

• Slaves made up between 40% and 80% of ancient Greece's population. Slaves were captives from wars, abandond children, or children of slaves.

• Greece organized the first municipal dump in the Western world around 500 B.C. 

• During the Nazi occupation of Greece in WWII, most Jews were taken to concentration camps across Europe. The Jewish population in Greece fell sharply from 78,000 to less than 13,000 by the end of the war.

(the complete list consists of 13 items as well as brief introductions to Demeter and Dionysus)

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