Tasting of anise with subtle hints of cardamom and clove, the fiery national tipple of Greece known as ouzo is meant to be sipped siga (slowly) with a bit of food and in the company of friends.
While some drink ouzo straight up, most add a splash of water, turning it cloudy. Greeks traditionally toast a bridal couple or a newborn with ouzo. Many use it as a folk remedy, rubbing it into aching joints. But most commonly people sip ouzo, as one adage says, “to slow the pace and sweeten the day.”
Like the drink, ouzo’s history is hazy. According to some, the product originated in the early 19th century in the silk-producing town of Tirnavos in northeastern Greece. There, fans of the spirit declared it smooth as “USO Massalias,” the name used for premium silk bound for market in Marseille. Others argue ouzo comes from the island of Lesbos, where its production is centered today.
Travel Greece and you’ll find an ouzerí in nearly every community. In Piraeus, Athens’s port since classical times, one of the oldest ouzo bars is To Steki tou Artemi. Beneath walls cluttered with vintage ads, patrons drink ouzo while playing backgammon and arguing politics.
In Plaka, an ancient neighborhood near the Acropolis, Sholarhio is a favorite of academics and artists. Some Greeks say, “Ouzo makes the spirit.” Linger over a glass on the ivy-covered terrace at Sholarhio, and you may agree.
This piece, written by Alexis Marie Adams, appeared in the April 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveler.