Popular culture seems to enjoy associating the Greeks with celebration. If films such as “Mamma Mia!” and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” have anything to say about the Greek way of life, it is that they are big-hearted folks who find contentment in love, familial relationships and joy. Greeka Kouzina, one of the newest—and the blessed few—Greek restaurants in Manila is just as keen as expressing the celebration of life through their delicious food.
“My partner and I took a while to fully conceptualize Greeka,” manager Kacy Chua shares. “I came from an advertising background, and my partner had the necessary culinary skills, so we decided to venture into the restaurant business. The next issue was, what kind of cuisine? We wanted to bring something new to the San Juan area; the idea of serving Greek food came up since we don’t have that here, so that’s what we ultimately decided on.”
Located at P. Guevarra Street in San Juan
Greek cuisine, in general, is one of the healthier ones. They make wide use of olive oil, vegetables and various meats, which are prepared by grilling or roasting. “This is one reason why I think Greeka has clicked with the local community,” Kacy adds. “People nowadays are more health-conscious, so the prospect of having good, healthy food is very appealing.”
To start, I was asked to try out the Melitzanosalata (P130), one of their most popular pita bread and dip appetizers. This is basically charcoal-grilled eggplant mixed with various other vegetables that come together to create something new and refreshing. Aside from this, Greeka also serves large helpings of different kinds of salad to satisfy their dining crowd. The Grilled Chicken Souvlaki Salad (P420), according to Kacy, is highly popular with their male customers. “Because of all the lamb dishes that we serve, the guys who eat here hardly order any salad dishes,” she says with a laugh. “However, this one has some meat with it, so I guess that’s why they enjoy it.” Indeed, with the added charm of its char-grilled chicken souvlaki, this filling bed of mixed greens, raisins and nuts becomes an ideal alternative for a main dish.
Of course, Greeka quickly became heaven on earth for me thanks to the invitation to sample two of their best-selling lamb dishes. The Arni Lemonato (P580) is definitely my dish of choice for this restaurant. This is the softest lamb I have ever had, which is not a surprise thanks to the five hours diligently spent roasting the meat. It is juicy and tender, and goes perfectly well with the lemon butter sauce and the gravy that is served with it. The Paidakia (P560), on the other hand, is a richer, more flavourful (but less tender, as this is the rib part) lamb dish. Marinated in Greeka’s signature spices, the full-bodied taste of the lamb meat is amplified to suit adventurous tastebuds. All entrées are served with Greek mashed potatoes and your choice of siding.
The sidings are quite a treat as well. At P180 each (when not ordered with an entrée), they serve as more than favorable companions to your main course. The Watercress Pasta is one of the best pasta dishes I have ever had. It is cream-based, but not at all heavy due to the refreshing taste of the watercress and tomatoes. I also love the Moussaka for all its decadent cheesiness. It is, once again, eggplant-based with beef tomato sauce and cheesy béchamel.
Greeka has really amazing desserts, too. I love how Greek yoghurt is a big part of all of this because it is one of my most favorite things to eat. Their not-so-traditional Baklava (P180), which is layered phyllo with pistachio, walnuts and cashews, comes with a scoop of this so that the sweet-sour flavours come together perfectly. The Greeka Yoghurt (P170), a classic guiltless pleasure, rests on a bed of sweet honey and is garnished with chopped pistachio nuts.
Patrons of Greeka, I’ve noticed, like to dine in groups. Kacy and her staff often have a full house with customers willing to wait thirty to forty minutes for their turn to be seated. It is not only a great place to have some amazing food with the people closest to your heart, but a perfect place to celebrate the wonders of life.