Sabbas This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

January 20, 2010
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I could only smile and laugh as he handed me my food while saying for what felt like the hundredth time, “Next year, when you come back, I’m going to find you a great husband.”

I had known about this gyro restaurant in the old part of Athens for a few years, but I can’t remember a day when I didn’t stop by, either to eat, or just to say hello this past summer. The summer program I went on, Journey to Greece, lasted about six weeks, and was located in downtown Athens. My apartment was in the middle of the city, and almost directly below the Acropolis, but the most exciting part about my location was how close it was to my favorite gyro restaurant.

The food is obviously the most heavenly food I have ever tasted, but Sabbas is where you go to eat your food, while gaining a new and exciting experience every time. My first day eating at Sabbas this summer was not a comfortable one. I walked into what felt like a boiler room, and gave my order to a man who gave me a scowling look and didn’t say a word as he handed me my receipt.
Next, I went up to the counter to where another old man was making the food, and nearly jumped when he shouted at me in Greek, “What do you want?!”
I gave him my order quickly and stood in awe as I saw how quickly but delicately he cut the meat, laid it on a pita, and placed all the toppings on perfectly. He practically shoved the gyro in my face, and signaled me to move out of the line. My cousin and I grabbed our gyros and shoved our way through the busy street of what we came to call “gyro street” and sat in a plaza called Monastiraki Square. We sat amongst the widest range of Athenians, immigrants, and tourists, with a complete view of the acropolis, and enjoyed our food. We did this almost daily.
As time went on, Sabbas became our “hang out” spot. The old man behind the counter was no longer just an old man, and the angry cashier began to smile at us. The waiters at the restaurant would pick on us and offer us free drinks when we walked in. There’s no greater feeling than feeling accepted in a harsh and tight-knit community. Whenever we entered that restaurant, the old man, whom we nicknamed Harvey Keitel, would always be singing a new song, and was always giving us Greek pet names that translate into, “my love” or “my girl.” He stopped asking for our orders, because he’d had them memorized. He knew we both liked French fries in our gyros, and would yell at the waiters to stop harassing us. After about a week of eating at the same restaurant, the cook somehow felt like family. We felt like we’d met a long lost relative, and he reminded my cousin and I too much of our crazy old uncles who use the same nicknames and treat us the way that he did. I’ve never felt so attached to a stranger whom I knew nothing about.
It wasn’t until returning from my trip that I realized the effect this man had on my life. At the time, he was simply someone who I’d visit because he could always put a smile on my face with his singing and his jokes. He had the power to make the most heavenly gyros I’ve ever tasted. But I understand now that he was more than that. He made me feel like I was a part of the community. I felt like I had found a long lost family member, and I’ve never felt that with a stranger before. I give thanks to this man for helping me feel like I had a home away from home, because I know this summer would not have been that way without him. The angry little cook behind the counter, whom I knew nothing about, gave me the greatest experience of feeling accepted I had while being abroad.

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