Photo: During an impromptu visit to a local beekeeper's home, I was invited to share their very best - thyme honey, honeycomb, sliced cheese (honey with cheese is fabulous!) and some homemade bread. Nothing better!
"Hospitality" is the official translation of filoxenia, but it doesn't adequately describe it. Filoxenia (φιλοξενιά, say: fee-lohk-sen-YAH), that literally means "love of strangers," is a generosity of spirit, a joyful kind of the-best-of-what's-mine-is-yours attitude in which Greeks take great pride as a defining attribute.
Filoxenia is the reason strangers walking by may find themselves invited to a Greek family celebration. Filoxenia is the reason obviously lost tourists may acquire a volunteer tour guide. And filoxenia is the reason that guests in even the poorest Greek home will certainly find themselves presented with the best of whatever food is on hand - from the simplest cheese, bread, and olives, to many dishes created as though from air.
In Greek life, all kinds of events are celebrated around a table of food: sorrow, joy, friendship, family togetherness, and more - so it's only natural that food plays a major role when strangers (people we've never met before) visit our homes.
This concept of having food on hand for any guest who might come to the door is one of the reasons that Greek recipes for snack-type foods that keep well are traditionally made in large quantities. It's the reason a Greek kitchen is rarely without some cookies, stored spoon sweets, or rusks (twice-baked bread or rolls), and certainly never without bread, cheese, and olives. For "strangers," pantries, larders, the garden, and the refrigerator will be scoured for the best and tastiest.
Greece is an agricultural paradise, and strangers who are lucky enough to find themselves in the home of a farm family are often overwhelmed by the generosity. Olive oil from the family trees, wine made from the family grapes, honey produced by the family bees, eggs from the family chickens... the list goes on. And filoxenia is the reason many may go back to their homes loaded up with supplies of this bounty.
When inviting friends and family into our homes, we prepare much the same as those who live elsewhere, and while filoxenia is extended to everyone, it's the "strangers" or newcomers who are the focus of the most attention.
Whether it's sharing what's already on the table, or having your host or hostess create a spur-of-the-moment welcoming table, filoxenia means that you will never leave a Greek home without feeling that you had the place of honor while you were there. The best the family has to offer is the rule!