At 11 PM, the Saturday night before Easter, my family and I always find ourselves standing beside each other in one of the pews of Agia Varvara, a tiny Greek Orthodox Church wedged under the Manhattan Bridge. At 11:55, the lights go out and our candles are lit, and at midnight we wish each other "Christos Anesti" (Christ has risen) with a sense of giddiness and excitement. Yes, the tradition of midnight service is exciting; but I honestly believe the excitement we feel comes from the fact that, after midnight Service, we are finally permitted to enthusiastically "break the fast" (although, let's face it, we hadn't really been fasting previously). The whole family drives uptown to Ithaka, a classic greek "taverna" located at 306 East 86th Street (between 1st and 2nd Aves.), where we are greeted by all the other boisterous Greeks who are there to do the same exact thing as us: EAT.
Ithaka, which serves solid, quality Greek cuisine, makes a traditional Greek Easter Meal:
Avgolemono, an egg-lemon broth with pieces of chicken, carrot, and potato
Magirista, a lamb-offal soup with dill, onions, and vegetables (only for those with strong stomachs)
Prasini salata, a plain green salad seasoned with dill and lemon
Arnaki, roasted baby lamb served with lemon potatoes and vegetables
Loukomades, a fried dough pastry soaked in honey and cinammon.
If you're interested in traditional Greek cuisine, check out The Complete Book of Greek Cooking by the Recipe Club of Saint Paul's Greek Orthodox Cathedral. It's pretty legit.
Easter Sunday is characterized by more of the same food, plus a few more delicious traditions. Greeks are famous for tsoureki, a sweet, braided egg-bread that is flavored with vanilla and mastic, and decorated with sesame. This bread is consumed along with hard-boiled eggs, which are dyed red for the occasion.
Other classic Greek dishes that always make it to the table include:
Tzatziki, a yoghurt, dill and cucumber dip often seasoned with garlic
Simple onion and tomato salad seasoned with olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon
Tiropita, Phyllo-dough pies stuffed with cheese and accompanied by feta
Taramasalata, a dip made with salted, cured cod roe, bread crumbs or potato, lemon juice, vinegar and olive oil.
Tsoureki, dips, cheeses, olives, and many other typical Greek snack foods can be found at International Grocery, located at 543 9th Ave. (at 40th St.) This small store is phenomenal and quirky, and I highly recommend it.
To finish off the meal, we eat koulorakia, buttery cookies flavored with vanilla and decorated with sesame, and always twisted into swirls or spirals. We added a new tradition this year, with yummy homemade treats courtesy of my aunt: square pretzels with melted Hershey Kisses and peanut M&Ms on top. They were festive, and, apparently easy to make -- a great idea for any holiday. It's safe to say that our Greek Easter unfailingly turns into Greek Feast-er... but honestly, what's better than celebrating a holiday with good food and good company?