I pushed away the dinner plate, unable to fit another morsel of food into my mouth.
“But you haven’t eaten anything!”
“Auntie, I don’t normally eat three plates of food in one sitting.”
Quantity is in the eye of the beholder. And with Greeks, the more they dish out, the better the host.
“Come for lunch tomorrow,” one aunt would suggest.
“And I’ll be expecting you for dinner tomorrow,” another insisted. “I won’t take no for an answer.”
Sitting at the table, my aunts triumphantly made their offerings, until I stunned them with announcements such as, “I don’t eat lentils,” or “I don’t eat beans.”
“Eggs are fine.”
“You can’t just eat eggs!” they’d tut-tut, shaking their heads. “What would your mother say?”
Since that initial shock, my aunts would ring the day before to inquire about my eating habits.
“Do you eat chicken? Good, then come over for lunch tomorrow.” (This carnivorous phase was about nine years before I converted to vegetarianism following a subsequent working holiday to Greece).
You must be hungry (again)
At the risk of offending relatives on that first visit in 1988, I often succumbed to their invitations and spent most of that year eating.
“You look hungry. I’ll make you something to eat,” dad’s sister would say.
“No, I’ve just had lunch with auntie so-and-so.”
“But that was two hours ago! You must be starving by now.”
It was a losing battle in the face of over-bearing matrons, who also insisted I have mouth-watering sweets with my Greek coffee.
Okay, I admit I didn’t overly protest these particular offerings, because I just love Greek desserts. I was always drawn into the confectionary shops with their expansive display of rich sweets dripping with honey and nuts...
I simply resigned myself to the fact that it was pointless getting on the bathroom scales while I was in Greece; I'd attend to my expanding waistline on my return to Sydney 12 months later.
Going back for seconds
I temporarily escaped the constant food intake by travelling to other parts of the country where I could regulate my eating habits.
“You look thin,” my aunts exclaimed on my return. “Haven’t you been eating?”
When I could finally walk the streets in safety - without the fear of running into relatives who dragged me indoors for a feed - my parents and brothers arrived for a visit.
This effectively threw (my) life into chaos with my well trained aunts returning to their over-zealous ways.
“You must have dinner with us,” they told my parents.
“And tomorrow it’s lunch with us.”
My stomach (and ever-constrictive clothes) couldn’t cope with the renewed influx of food offerings; however, I successfully excused myself from attending family gatherings on the grounds that I’d been living in Greece for eight months and had fulfilled my quota of household visits.
Having adjusted their cooking to suit my needs, my aunts were again challenged by my brothers’ eating habits; while one devoured everything placed in front of him, the other was particularly fussy with his food.
“He doesn’t eat fish,” I warned my aunts. “Or pork. Or beans. Or spinach. Or vegetables.”
Fortunately, mum was on hand to cook different meals for her three wildly disparate children.
One more helping for the road
In preparation for my family’s return to Australia, mum and dad spent their final two weeks eating systematically from one relative’s home to another.
When my brothers left a couple of weeks later, they were destined for the same ritual.
“How can you leave without having a farewell meal?” my aunts insisted.
You just can’t win.
Postscript: While travelling through the Peloponnese in southern Greece in 1988, my younger brother stormed out of the bathroom in a huff one day. “I'm now 65 kilos!” he declared. “I was only 60 kilos when I left Australia three weeks ago!”
Shortly after returning home, he wrote me a note saying he lost five kilos – just by eating normally again.
Do you put on weight when travelling overseas?
What's your favourite local cuisine?
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I acknowledge the traditional Custodians of the land on which I work and live, the Gubbi Gubbi / Kabi Kabi and Joondoburri people, and recognise their continuing connection to land, the waters and sky. I pay my respect to them and their cultures; and to Elders past, present and emerging.
© 2023 HARI KOTROTSIOS