Angie Giannakodakis is Melburnian, but she’s also third-generation Cretan and has spent over a decade living in Athens. Her two restaurants, Carlton’s Epocha and Camberwell’s Elyros, are involved with Oinofilia, so who better to talk to us about Greek culture and its expression in Melbourne than her?
Melbourne has a huge Greek population. How similarly does Greek culture play out here to how it does in the motherland?
Family and duty is pretty huge on the Greek spectrum, so I think that sense is the same here and in Greece. Most Greek-Australians have a nostalgic attachment to the homeland, they’re very much into their meat and foraging, they still have their traditions and religion, they still go to church, they still dance like they used to dance, nothing’s changed as far as that’s concerned. They’ll fast right up until just before Easter. So that’s been kept up. I remember fasting and being really upset about it!
I guess when we came here there was a need to work, there was a need to prosper, and a need to evolve and continue the race, really. We still have our spirit – the spirit of Greece is still strong in us. But I think we don’t always understand why. Some of the younger generation don’t understand why we celebrate the 25th March (Independence Day) or the 28th October (Oxi Day). So there’s a lot of information some of us have missed out on, a lot of history, a lot of culture unique to us.
There is this perception that because we still dance, we still eat souvlaki, we’re temperamental and we use our hands, that that’s all there is. But that’s just a basic way of looking at things. In Greece, students study Ancient Greek, they write in different languages, they’re educated to a point where it’s crazy. But they understand life better than we do, they understand how precious it us. We get caught up in the rat race here more than they do. They still find time to have a coffee in the morning with their friends, to take a holiday break around August. Their work ethic is intact, but their mental health is completely different. They’re thinkers, definitely.
What about Greek food?
The dishes are similar but the way we eat here is maybe a little different. If you went to someone’s house, they wouldn’t start off with bread and all the dips and fry some cheese up, it’s not sustainable for a Greek household. During the winter time you’d get a casserole dish, something quite hearty. In summer, maybe some stuffed tomatoes and peppers, your Greek salad or seafood, just really simple with olive oil. We still go through quite a lot of olive oil in Australia which is a good thing.
What do you want people to take away from Oinofilia?
I want people to think that Greece is something that’s part of them. If one of the first European cities was Knossos in Crete, and we are the original Europeans, and we are the beginning of Western civilization as we know it, there must be something that ties all of us together. The reason lots of what’s done in cuisine and wine is a direct link to the ancient world of Greece. And there are other similarities. If I went to a wine bar in Greece right now (and there’s shitloads of wine bars over there right now), there would be young people drinking glasses of wine and socialising and enjoying life, and they’d have the same viewpoints about the world as the Australians do.
Half the English language is based on Greek, too, so in a way, Australians actually speak Greek. So many words that we use… even the word ‘dialogue’ is Greek. My favourite is ‘symposium’ which means ‘a drinking party’ in Greece. The original sommeliers came from that drinking party. The symposiarch was in charge of keeping things in good spirits, he would source and serve wine and manage the whole process of the party. That’s your modern day somm.
Basically I don’t want anyone to think that Greece is a foreign world. I want everyone to feel like they’re part of it. They should feel like the modern Greeks. It’s a state of mind and not a citizenship.