Opa! And Okra: The Greek Connection

| March 3, 2017 @ 4:00 am

By Bob Blalock

For more than a century, Greek immigrants have fed Birmingham. Good luck, though, trying to find many actual Greek restaurants in Alabama’s largest city.

When Eric Velasco came to work at The Birmingham News in 2000, he kept hearing from longtime residents about Birmingham’s Greeks who ran restaurants. But Velasco couldn’t find any that served Greek food, except for Pappas’ Grill. What he discovered, instead, were a bevy of Greek-owned restaurants.

For Velasco, a presenter at Food Media South (FMS) in Birmingham last week, understanding why there were so few Greek menus meant understanding Birmingham’s Greek immigrant experience. This year’s annual Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA) symposium, attended by food writers, restaurant owners and chefs, focused on immigrant stories.Birmingham’s first Greeks arrived in the 1880s, when the young city was sprouting like the unruly teenager it was. Founded in 1871, Birmingham burgeoned in those early years because everything needed to make iron and steel ­– iron ore, coal and limestone – lay beneath the soil in Jefferson County.

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