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The Greeks who came to Astoria brought their cultural heritage with them — their language, their Orthodox Christian faith and, perhaps most notably (especially for non-Greeks with a discerning palate), their food.

“No one knows why so many Greeks became prominent as restaurant owners and cooks, activities for which they brought no special talents from the homeland,” wrote Theodore Saloutos in his entry on Greek-Americans in the Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups. “The Greeks did not necessarily excel in cooking, but the quality of their food was adequate, their prices low, and the bill of fare imaginative.”

For many, the mention of Greek food conjures up images of gyros — roasted lamb served in a pita, accompanied by lettuce, onions and tomatoes and drizzled with a yogurt and cucumber sauce spiked with dill, parsley and mint. But the dish actually originated in Turkey, and perhaps on that basis many proud Greek chefs have hesitated to include gyros on their menus.

“It’s too fast-foodish,” said Zephyr Polimenakos, whose family owns Uncle George’s, a 24-hour Greek restaurant.

“We are a restaurant, not a fast-food restaurant.” (Ultimately, her family relented. “It was ridiculous how many people would come in here and leave when they saw we didn’t have gyros,” Ms. Polimenakos said.)

Greek cuisine features an enormous variety of cold and hot salads, grilled seafood, roasted meats and game, sweet and savory pastries and cheese — many of them similar to other eastern Mediterranean fare. Popular dishes include dolmades, grape leaves stuffed with rice, pine nuts and mint; moussaka, layers of ground lamb, eggplant, potatoes and tomato puree topped with a béchamel sauce; and baklava, buttered filo pastry with alternating layers of walnuts or pistachio drenched in a honey or rose water syrup.

“In many ways, food is prepared here as it is in Greece,” said Themis Bollanos, a 23-year-old waiter who moved to the United States seven years ago.

“It reminds us of home. That is why people like it. Like filet of sole, red snapper, roast pork, roast beef, anything oven-baked. Of course, souvlaki and gyros are the most known Greek food, but they’re not the best.”

Greek cooking is unpretentious family fare. Even the most elegant of Astoria’s Greek restaurants stay true to tradition; variations reflect the mountain or island origins of families.

“You can get the same food here that you would in Manhattan for a fraction of the price,” Mr. Svolakos said. “It’s not going to be a big dish with a little food. It will be a normal dish with a lot of food.”

For those early Greek immigrants who diligently saved their paychecks, going to restaurants was a luxury. Rather, they would buy food at Greek groceries to prepare at home. Today, such stores do as much to draw people to Astoria as do the restaurants.

Each week, Titan Foods sells up to 25 110-pound barrels of its most popular brand of feta cheese, Arahova. It also sells 3,000 containers of Greek yogurt (which is thicker than yogurt made in North America) and 50 cases of Greek olive oil. The store takes phone and internet orders, shipping out as many as 20 packages a day.

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Tags: Orthodox Church of Greece