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At times, he thinks it would have been easier to run a Greek restaurant in Virginia.

In Astoria, “the Greek customers are very difficult, very judgmental,” he said. Greek-Americans are familiar with the cuisine and expect the same recipes that they have at home.

“It’s such a tremendous challenge to compete in Astoria. You have to be different from everyone else. And if you don’t do it the right way, someone else will.”

But Mr. Chrysostomon is quick to credit the restaurant — and food in general — with helping him forge ties within the community.

“We’ve been to weddings and baptisms of friends we have met here,” he said. “It becomes a family.”

Many Greek-Americans hold on to traditions that have been abandoned in the old country.

“One thing about Greeks,” said Maria Bouzalakos, “they like to see people eat.”

“And if there are four of us eating, I set a table for five,” added her husband, Eugene. “Always, someone comes. If not, I have set a place for Christ.”

“I go to Greece a lot, and I lament to them how they’ve sold their heart and soul for the euro,” said butcher John Gatzonis.

“They have given up their religion and have become Europeans,” he said, recalling a recent trip to Greece when he saw most Greeks disregarding the traditional period of fasting preceding the feast of the Dormition of Mary in August.

“If one wants to see a Greek now, you don’t go to Greece, you go to North America or Australia,” he said. “I’ve evolved, but to some extent I’m the same Greek I was in 1956.”

The family meal is one of those traditions preserved by many of Astoria’s remaining Greek-American families.

In all eastern Mediterranean cultures, “the meal time, the dinner time is a sacred time,’ said Father George Anastasiou of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Cathedral.

“Christ instituted the Last Supper as a meal. To eat with your family is sacred. You can see that to this day in Greek culture. We don’t have that American style of eating. We all order six, seven, eight dishes, and it becomes a familial thing.”

Though the duties of parish life mean that he is on the go, Father George remembers fondly the lingering meals of his childhood.

“We had three generations eating together for an afternoon meal,” he said. “To not do so is almost like heresy. There’s no such thing as ‘I’m going to grab a burger with my friends.’ ”

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Freelance journalist Vincent Gragnani is a frequent contributor to ONE magazine.



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Tags: Orthodox Church of Greece