Always ask for the “haloumi”

My parents were in town this weekend which meant a dinner of the whole crew (us, parents and sister/brother-in-law). These meals have a strange way of going off the rails, usually sometime around when we finish the carafe of retsina. For this installment we were at Uncle Nick’s, a Greek place in Hell’s Kitchen/Theater district. It is one block far enough west that the tourist crowds seem to miss it for the most part, and I’m just fine with that. Dinner is a cacophony of grilled fish options and other Greek specialities, all of which are delicious. But there is a special appetizer thing that they do which definitely caught our attention a few times, and is the impetus for the title of the post.

They have a flaming cheese dish. They take a hunk of cheese, bring it table-side, pour some Ouzo or other flammable liquid on it and then light it on fire. There is a whoosh of flame and heat and then everyone turns back around to their own meal. In the couple hours we were there it was served at least four times. So after the fourth we finally got around to asking what the cheese was. “It is a Greek cheese.”

(Now I must make an aside back to our trip to Cyprus for New Years 2007. While there we discovered the glory of haloumi. It has a very different texture and is a bit squeaky on your teeth. It also can be grilled or fried and not melt apart, so there are a number of ways to prepare it that keep it structurally sound, rather than oozing everywhere. And it is actually somewhat difficult to find in NYC (the one grocery we found it in stopped carrying it), so we’re always on the lookout.)

Back to NYC in the now, the “It’s a Greek cheese” response was clearly not sufficient for our group, so my wife asked “Is it haloumi?” At this point the waiter stopped dead in his tracks – while carrying a table full of empty plates – and did a complete double-take. “How do you know about haloumi?” Being as we don’t look particularly Greek or Mediterranean, the guy was stunned. After a bit of explanation everything was back to normal, but asking for the haloumi certainly got us a bit of extra entertainment for dinner. Oh, and the Galactobouriko for dessert was also delicious.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. If you’re looking for haloumi in the NY Metro area, you’ll probably need to head over to Astoria, Queens to find it (along with 6 different fetas, some bacalao, and GOOD olive oil). There’s also a place called Elias that serves tons of grilled fish and fried haloumi. Glad you enjoyed your time in new york!

  2. Actually we used to eat out in Astoria all the time when my wife lived there a couple years ago, but we don’t get back out there all that often any more. I guess we’ll have to start making grocery trips out there to stock up now that we cannot find haloumi in Manhattan.

    And we live in NYC, so it was more of dinner with my parents in town than a visit.

  3. The flaming cheese dish you describe sounds like “Saganaki” to me. Usually it is made with Kasseri cheese.

    Kali Orexi (bon appetit).

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