Greek cuisine is a Mediterranean cuisine, sharing some characteristics with the cuisines of Italy, the Balkans, Turkey, and the Levant. Contemporary Greek cookery makes wide use of olive oil, vegetables and herbs, grains and bread, wine, fish, and various meats, including poultry, rabbit and pork. Also important are olives, cheese, aubergine, courgette, and yoghurt. Greek desserts are characterized by the dominant use of nuts and honey. Some dishes use filo pastry.
Mezes is a collective name for a variety of small dishes, typically served with wines or anise-flavored liqueurs as ouzo or homemade tsipouro. Orektika is the formal name for appetizers and is often used as a reference to eating a first course of a cuisine other than Greek cuisine. Dips are served with bread loaf or pita bread. In some regions, dried bread (paximadhi) is softened in water.
The most characteristic and ancient element of Greek cuisine is olive oil, which is frequently used in most dishes. It is produced from the olive trees prominent throughout the region, and adds to the distinctive taste of Greek food. The basic grain in Greece is wheat, though barley is also grown. Important vegetables include tomato, aubergine (eggplant), potato, green beans, okra, green peppers, and onions. Honey in Greece is mainly honey from the nectar of fruit trees and citrus trees: lemon, orange, bigarade (bitter orange) trees, thyme honey, and pine honey from conifer trees. Mastic (aromatic, ivory coloured resin) is grown on the Aegean island of Chios.
Greek cuisine uses some flavorings more often than other Mediterranean cuisines do, namely: oregano, mint, garlic, onion, dill and bay laurel leaves. Other common herbs and spices include basil, thyme and fennel seed. Persillade is also used as a garnish on some dishes. Many Greek recipes, especially in the northern parts of the country, use “sweet” spices in combination with meat, for example cinnamon and cloves in stews.
The climate and terrain has tended to favour the breeding of goats and sheep over cattle, and thus beef dishes are uncommon. Fish dishes are common in coastal regions and on the islands.
A great variety of cheese types are used in Greek cuisine, including Feta, Kasseri, Kefalotyri, Graviera, Anthotyros, Manouri, Metsovone and Mizithra.
Dining out is common in Greece, and has been for quite some time. The Taverna and Estiatorio are widespread, serving traditional Greek home cooking at affordable prices to both locals and tourists. Recently, fast-food has also become more popular in Greece and Europe, with local chains such as Goody’s springing up. Although fast food is gaining popularity and many major fast-food chains have opened all over Greece, the Greek people still rely primarily on the rich and extensive repertoire of Greek cuisine. In addition, some traditional Greek foods, especially souvlaki, gyros, pita such as tyropita and spanakopita (respectively, cheese and spinach pie) are often served in fast food style.
Gastronomy, an Ancient Greek word, signifies the relationship between the senses and food, and exemplifies the attitude of the Greeks to life and food. The ingredients and methods of the Greek kitchen established itself more than 3.000 years ago. These simple methods have characterised the original and unique flavours of Greek cookery.
History records many Greek cooks in ancient times, such as Thimbron the Athenian, Archestratus (who penned the first known cookery book), and Soteriades the Sage, who claimed he prepared different dishes for different moods and ages – the young, the lovers, the older men and the ancient philosophers.
Famous cooks also found refuge in monasteries. Therefore, it is not at all unusual that we still find many Greek monasteries producing wines, cookery books and other produce. The cook in antiquity held low status, but the best chefs operated competitively and were often hired out to homes of the rich.
Of all the Greek cooks, Archestratus was regarded by many as the father of gastronomy. He has heavily inspired Greekalicious. In antiquity, cookery books were very different to the ones written today. Archestratus’ cookery book resembles a traditional epic and interchanges between gastronomically orientated poetry, puns, jingles, and comical styles. Historically, people rarely read in private, so cookbooks were written in verse, as to be recited at a banquet or a symposium.
Archestratus, however, took his recipes a step further and instructs on where one should buy the ingredients and from which region of Ancient Greece. His emphasis was always on simplicity, the harmonious use of ingredients, season in moderation, and an important emphasis on quality. He believed that foods of quality have “the height of pleasure within itself” and need only be seasoned with salt and olive oil and perhaps a bit of cumin.
Food influenced the balance of the humours of the body and eating was a sensual experience. He promoted a light, elegant style of cooking and much interest in texture. Freshness and quality were of foremost importance, along with a holistic approach to mealtime.
Aspects of a chef’s life verge on the comic, as complex and menial skills are combined in cooking. There is a sharp contrast between the heat in the kitchen and the calm of the banquet, just as there is an element of entertainment in the presentation of the food.
Much of the food prepared on the Greek mainland in ancient times was relatively simple and minimally spiced. The ancient trademarks of sweet and sour, like vinegar and honey, garos (fish sauce) and honey, fish and raisins, were also of great importance in ancient Greek cuisine.
To the Greeks, food has always had all sorts of religious and philosophical meaning. For example, Greeks never ate meat unless it had been sacrificed to a god. Even with vegetables, many Greeks believed that particular foods were cleaner and preferred by the gods.
Greek dishes have been influencing other cultures for thousands of years. Many Greek recipes today are found under assumed Turkish names and the cuisines of both cultures are very closely associated. The Romans also adopted and imitated Greek dishes, ingredients and the cooking style after employing Athenian cooks in Antiquity.
Greek cooking is an ancient cuisine with many culinary traditions. Different elements and dimensions are added to adapt, elevate and create something special in today’s busy kitchens. Fresh, seasonal flavours and sometimes unusual ingredients allow the seasons to speak for themselves, with the focus on the natural flavours of the fresh ingredients.
Food is a ritual; it’s about love, spirituality, philosophy, and an experience that simply must be shared and enjoyed in the company of family and friends. This is the Greek dining experience. The notion of sharing and offering is of outmost importance and this is called “kerasma.”
Food is more than nourishment. It is the focus of some of the most important moments and events in our lives. Memories are made, experiences are had, deals are done, and stories are told over a shared table. We sometimes fight and make up. A toast can seal love and understanding. But above all it is a celebration of life!
The process of selecting the ingredients, preparing the dishes, serving them and then consuming them resembles that of an ancient Greek ritual ceremony. The ingredients should be treated with respect and handled with care. One of the most important ingredients at every stage of the preparation of the food is that of the enjoyment of cooking and love.
Attention to presentation of the food shows respect, while the sharing of the food shows love towards others and welcomes anyone who consumes it. This process has made the preparation and consuming of food an occasion to celebrate.
The food must always be blessed before the ritual of eating begins and the words “Kalli Orexi” and “Stin Igia Sas” (Good appetite and to your health) follow, and it wouldn’t be a Greek meal without a toast with a glass of wine or ouzo. This must naturally be accompanied with Greek music in the background to complete the experience.
And in the words of the ancient Greek Philosopher and historian, Hesiod, who wrote in his poem Works and Days: “Observe due measure, moderation is best in all things.” “Pan metro ariston” – everything in moderation…the secret to a healthy and long life!
Greek food products
Greece produces more than 430,000 tons of olive oil annually, and more than 75% of that is extra virgin. Greek olive oil is exported throughout the world.
Olive oil plays a unique role in the Greek diet, being the basis of many traditional dishes and Greece is the world’s third leading producer.Olive oil have been around for many thousands of years.
Honey in Greece is mainly flower-honey from the nectar of fruit and citrus trees (lemon, orange, bigarade trees), thyme honey, and pine honey from conifer trees.
Mastic: Mastic is grown on the Aegean island of Chios.
Ouzo: Ouzo is an anise-flavored alcoholic aperitif.
In many areas, individuals or small-time local producers make tsipouro, which is essentially quite different than the widely known ouzo. The taste of tsipouro varies widely by producer, but many Greeks prefer their favorite local tsipouro to the more commonly-available brands of mass-produced ouzo. The traditional hospitality greeting for travellers visiting the monasteries at Mount Athos is a small glass of tsipouro and a loukoumi, a candy-like homemade treat.
• Feta: A semi-soft, crumbly, brined white cheese made from goat or sheep milk.
• Kasseri: a medium hard yellow cheese made from sheep or goat milk
• Kefalotyri: A hard and very salty cheese, used mainly for grating and serving with pasta.
• Graviera: A Greek version of Gruyere, it is served with meals or used for grating and serving with pasta.
• Manouri: An unsalted soft white cheese served on its own or used in savoury or sweet pies.
• Metsovone: A semi-hard smoked cheese traditionally produced in Metsovo.
• Mizithra: An unsalted soft cheese made from sheep milk. Served on its own or used in sweet or savoury pies. A slightly aged, sour version is called xynomizithra.
• Anthotyro is a hard grating cheese made by aging mizithra.
Greece is a heavy producer and consumer of wine. Click here to learn more about the Greek wines
Sources: Wikipedia, Greekalicious