While visiting my uncle, aunt, and cousin in Tampa, Florida, I had the pleasure of eating with them and other family members in a taverna called Hellas Restaurant & Bakery in Tarpon Springs, a town heavily influenced by Greek culture in central Florida’s Gulf Coast. Surrounded by bright blue and white buildings, the eatery serves authentic Greek cuisine with a gracious attitude. Eating a delicious gyro there with people I love was one of the highlights of my weekend trip. While browsing the menu, I felt a strong inclination to order something within my comfort zone that could transport me back to my junior year spring break trip to Athens. I had no hesitation in choosing the “Hellas GYRO,” which stood out to me as the first lunch special listed on the menu, indicating its popularity among the local population.
Before my main course was served, the whole table shared an appetizer plate of pita bread and tzatziki sauce, or a yogurt-cucumber dip usually made with garlic, dill, and lemon juice. The bread, cut into triangular pieces, was soft and warm. Complemented by the fresh and tastefully acidic tzatziki, the shared starter properly prepared us for our main meals. Soon after munching on this appetizer, our entrées arrived. My gyro (without tomatoes—a personal preference) was placed in front of me, and excitement and hunger radiated from within. This plate consisted of heated pita bread holding thinly cut beef and lamb, with sliced white onions on top and tzatziki sauce: what a smart menu selection! The first bite, to my delight, immediately reminded me of eating gyros in Athens. The dish truly accentuated the restaurant’s authenticity. Boasting a tender yet slight crispy texture, the sliced beef and lamb was pleasantly savory; the spices in the broiled meat perfectly elevated the meal’s warmth. The tzatziki sauce cut through the rich flavor of the protein, sporting a familiar vibrant tang that reflected the talent of the cooks in the kitchen. Lastly, the crisp onions provided an element of spice and freshness to balance out the gyro. All in all, the meal was packed with technique, simplicity, and heart.
Apart from acquainting yourself with unfamiliar sights and traditions, traveling, to me, is about making memories that I can revisit in my home country. The joy of experiencing a new culture should be transportable to faraway contexts. What is diving into a cuisine on its native soil without being able to recall, or better yet, feel the pleasure it brought you in the past? This aspect of traveling was definitely fulfilled when I ate a beef and lamb gyro at Hellas. Visions of the Acropolis, ancient art, and wonderful hospitality sprang up in my head while I indulged in the gyro; every bite tasted like the thrill of traveling in your early 20s. According to my uncle, Hellas is widely renowned in the area for its undeniably good food, which I believe entirely. Although my hometown is known for its delectable Latin American food, no Greek fare in the South Florida region even compares to what Tarpon Springs brings to the table. I’m so glad that my family up north brought me to such a spectacular spot with such scrumptious gyros.
As I exited Hellas, appreciation ran through my mind. Moments of nostalgia are hard to produce, especially when they involve specific flavor combinations. Culturally authentic food is difficult to transfer from one environment to another, as it is typically so nuanced and distinct. Therefore, it is ideal to dine at restaurants, like Hellas, that both honor and unabashedly represent the cultures whose food they serve. That being said, I am grateful that I got to spend time with my family while eating a dish that made me smile upon recalling such a memorable time in my life. I recommend that everyone from the United States, when they return from trips abroad, attempt to find a dish in their home states that will bring them back to unforgettable moments of foreign culinary intrigue.