6 Ways to Explore Greek Culture in Seattle
Taste the riches of Greece through a MOHAI exhibit, IMAX film, books and more
Want to travel to Greece this spring without leaving Puget Sound? The convergence of an exhibit at MOHAI and an IMAX film at Pacific Science Center are providing a unique opportunity to explore the riches of Greece through May. Add in some other ways to explore Greek culture around Seattle — from food, crafts and games to movies and books — and your "trip" is set.
IMAX film: Greece: Secrets of the Past
First, see ancient Greece come alive in Greece: Secrets of the Past, an IMAX film showing at the Pacific Science Center through May 25. The film uncovers life before the eruption of the Santorini volcano in 1646 B.C.
This stunning IMAX presentation was filmed on Santorini, an island off the coast of Greece. It documents the story of archeologists uncovering and struggling to understand an ancient city, destroyed by a volcano more than 3,000 years ago. Through reconstructions, interviews and footage of ancient ruins, the film explores the influence that ancient Greece has on life today and even raises the possibility that this buried city may have been the fabled Atlantis.
A highlight of the film is the discovery of a 2000-year-old statue of Poseidon, discovered far under the sea. As Poseidon is hoisted up slowly from deep under the water, it’s as if the ancient past is emerging into our modern-day world. Poseidon himself seems to be saying, “I have been here all along.”
The film is relatively short, only 45 minutes, and is sure to make any child, or any adult, wish to witness firsthand the gorgeous blue water of the Aegean Sea. It might inspire an interest in archeology, too. Kids with a love of ancient Greek mythology are sure to be particularly engaged.
While you're at Pacific Science Center, you can also explore the ancient culture of Pompeii, though the exhibit that's on view through May 25.
Celebrating the influence of Greek culture on Seattle's history
Flying under the radar at MOHAI, A Place at the Table documents 100 years of Greek restaurants, culture "and the entrepreneurial spirit" and highlights the important role of Greek restaurants and culture in the development of the Pacific Northwest.
The exhibit, which opened in February and runs through May 31, is just a little room on the third floor of MOHAI, but it’ll draw you in and encourage you to linger and learn. Greek restaurants played an important role in Seattle’s early history. While acknowledging the difficulties of running a restaurant, this exhibit emphasizes the families and communities that developed in and around the hundreds of Greek-owned restaurants in our region and the special role that Greek culture played.
The wonderfully surprising thing about this exhibit is just how much there really is to learn about the history of Greek restaurants in Seattle. The room is designed to look like a small Greek restaurant. At each of three tables there are placemat exhibits: poetry, restaurant lists and a tribute to Greeks in other parts of the food business. The walls are covered with old photographs of Greek-owned restaurants. Some are familiar Seattle establishments in earlier times; others portray rooms full of happy patrons in restaurants that have disappeared long ago. Each photo tells its own story. Together the photos insist that Seattle and many of the small towns across Puget Sound grew up on Greek-owned restaurants.
Young kids will find it fun to peruse the matchbooks, old menus, worry beads and even bakery bags, and may wonder about all the small artifacts of everyday life and the stories that they can tell. Inspired kids can even set a table of their own! An apron, bowls, trays and a pleasing pile of laminated play money call to the young entrepreneur at a small table set aside for play.
The exhibit wisely doesn’t stop in the past, focusing attention on the many Greek-owned restaurants that continue to thrive in our region. Days after visiting MOHAI, I found myself in Ferndale Wash., and noticed that one of the town’s most prominent businesses is Dimitri’s Italian and Greek Restaurant Lounge. I began wondering about the owners, their story and the restaurant’s role in the town’s early history.
More Greek culture exploration
Taste Greek cuisine
After the MOHAI exhibit why not further your understanding of the role of cooking in Greek culture by dining at a Greek restaurant? We chose The Tantalus Restaurant in Issaquah and were lucky enough to be served by the owner.
Though he described himself as Persian and not Greek, he had worked in a Greek-owned restaurant for several years in order to gain the experience necessary to branch out and open his own. It was a fun story. The exhibit had described just such a phenomenon – Greek restaurants serving as willing training grounds for potential new restaurateurs.
We started with the appetizer platter — so many new delicious things to taste: Greek olives, houmos, pureed fish roe, mashed potatoes, pureed eggplant and spices, and a yummy chunk of feta cheese, all served with warm pita bread. We all enjoyed kid-friendly avgolemono (lemon chicken soup) which came with all main dishes and then sampled dolmades (vine leaves stuffed with beef, rice, and tomatoes), keftethes (meatballs in tomato sauce), gyros, and souvlaki (lamb and chicken skewers). No Greek meal would be complete without baklava (layered fillo dough, walnuts, spices, and honey).
We also sugest a trip to Big John’s PFI (Pacific Food Importers), in search of foods imported directly from Greece. This pleasingly chaotic warehouse is tucked at the back of the Immigration and Naturalization Services building in Seattle's International District. We found dark brown Greek honey, tubular imported Greek pasta and strong Greek cheese for sampling the authentic flavors of daily life.
Try a Greek game: Backgammon
Called Tavli in Greek, the rules of this game are simple enough to teach your 4- or 5-year-old but the combination of luck and strategy can also keep teens and adults enthralled.
Watch a Greek film
Relax with a movie filmed in Greece. Mamma Mia! (PG-13) portrays a young girl living on a Greek island on the eve of her wedding as she tries to find her father. Tintin and the Golden Fleece (NR) is a live action kids' movie based on the The Adventures of Tintin comic book series. Older kids might enjoy Zorba the Greek (NR), a classic from 1964 about a British writer who travels to Crete and meets a gregarious Greek named, of course, Alexis Zorba.
Read about the Greek gods
Many great kids' books are set in Greece or based on Greek mythology. Part of the "Princesses of Myth" series, Nobody’s Princess by Esther Friesner describes the life of Helen of Sparta before the war between Troy and Sparta. Percy Jackson & the Olympians is another popular kid-friendly book series. Although the Percy Jackson books do not actually take place in Greece, they’re based on Greek mythology, imagining the lives of the sons and daughters of Greek gods and goddesses in modern day.
Finally, if your family enjoys these opportunities for exploring Greek culture, save time in the fall for the Saint Demetrio's Greek Festival in Seattle where you can sample Greek food, music, dancing and more all in one day.
Ashley Steel and her husband, Bill Richards, are a Seattle-based family travel writing team who authored and published Family on the Loose: The Art of Traveling with Kids, a fun how-to guide that helps families explore together, whether it's around the world or around the block. Their daughter, Logan Richards, is also an enthusiastic cultural adventurer and budding writer.