The experience was one of the most disorienting I’ve ever had. The milk of the lion is also known as the ouzo effect – spontaneous emulsification if you want to get technical – and it’s caused by adding water to anise-infused alcohols, such as ouzo, raki, and absinth. Believe me, I’d never heard of it either before one hot May day in Athens.
At 10 a.m., the temperature was 110° F, but the outdoor cafes were bustling. I was walking down Agion Anargyron Street, which is lined with restaurants, with my Greek friend, Elizabeth, trying to find the best restaurant. It was so hot that I immediately regretted wearing a linen shirt; it was transparent with sweat. Every breath I took felt like breathing into an oven. It was one of those days when walking felt terrible and sitting felt worse.
It was still well before noon, but I guess that’s the right time to drink ouzo in Greece (a few days later, I would be served pink ouzo just as the sun was rising). Ouzo is the most popular alcohol in Greece. It has a high alcohol content and a smooth anise flavor. Think sambuca. It’s as important, if not more important, than water on Greece’s most famous party islands, such as Mykonos. Raki is a similar-tasting anise-seed infused spirit that can also be found in Greece, and it is the national drink of neighboring Turkey. But if you’re in Greece, drink ouzo.
The ouzo was served in a 250 ml bottle with three glasses, a small carafe of water, and a bowl of ice. Liz taught me how to drink ouzo. She explained that the ice was optional, but that in some way or another you needed to dilute the ouzo with water. I put a few cubes in my glass, then poured in a couple shots of ouzo. The alcohol was already beginning to grow cloudy white around the edges of the cubes. The trick was then to add water to suit your own tastes. I added about the same amount of water as I did ouzo, and the entire drink turned a milky-white. I think I may have been delirious with the heat, but it looked like magic.
We cheers-ed, ordered food, then sat around waiting for it. The heat was just getting worse when the ouzo took effect. The street, the Greek diners, the beads hanging in the doorway… everything became hyper-real. The heat trapped me in place, and the ouzo deranged me. Maybe I was having a panic attack? Whatever it was, the objects of the day swirled together. We ordered another bottle. Finally, night came and the day ended. But the ouzo didn’t. That night my friend took me to The Areopagus, aka Mars Hill: a super slippery marble outcropping that sits just below the Acropolis of Athens. The marble rock was the place of judgment during ancient times, and the tragic poet Aeschylus says that Orestes was judged there for killing his mother. And, the Apostle Paul was said to have delivered his most famous speech there.
Liz and I met some friends (some of whom were drinking ouzo and Coke, which I highly do not recommend). The view of Athens was incredible, but even more incredible was the artfully lit Acropolis towering just behind us.
And, when in Athens, if you drink the Lions Milk, remember it is very potent stuff!
Written by Mattie Bamman for EuropeUpClose.com