|Friday, 26 March 2010||Food of the Ancients|
By Shannon Latimer • Photography & Styling C&D Heierli
Food Assistant Nelleke Elston • Recipes by Diane Heierli
Food, for Greek people, is a philosophy. They believe a meal is not just about the food but about the people sitting around the table. On the islands, particularly, the day usually begins early with a quick breakfast of coffee and cigarettes, or a dried rusk soaked in warm milk. After a substantial lunch—of fish, veggies and fruit—a siesta, and a few more hours of work, evening comes. That’s when everybody comes alive. They begin by eating meze—Greek appetizers. Meze is followed by dinner, at about 9pm or 10pm with, perhaps, sweet pastries, cakes or ice cream enjoyed later in the night in cafés.
Surprisingly, this way of life is healthy. Maybe we need to learn from this and make good food a high priority in our lives—as important as our family and friends—and not rely on convenience foods as much. Then again, island life is a lot less pressured than life in a big city.
The world’s healthiest and longest-lived people
1. The Traditional Diet. In Greece, especially in Crete, the traditional diet is the same as it’s always been. Simple and basic. It is argued that the Cretan diet hasn’t really changed since Minoan times, when the basics were olive oil, cereals, wine and fish. And it seems that such a diet has created the world’s healthiest and longest-lived people—and is the basis of the famous Mediterranean Diet.
Research carried out by the International Scientific Community discovered that the inhabitants of Crete were very healthy because of the food they ate. Following the traditional Cretan way of eating—they eat twice as much fruit, a quarter less meat, and more pulses than other Europeans—leads to less chance of suffering from heart disease.
2. Strong Distinctive Tastes. You’ll find herbs and spices at the forefront of this culinary tradition. Herbs such as oregano, thyme, rosemary, parsley, coriander, dill, fennel and sage. Spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper and vanilla. Another essential ingredient, and one that is generously used, is olive oil—the staple of the so-called Mediterranean diet.
3. Eating Out. When you visit Greece, make sure you find an authentic, traditional Greek tavern. A couple of things to point you in the right direction: the tavern will be full of people speaking Greek and you won’t find signs in various languages, signs that brag about the restaurant’s famous Greek dishes. When you’ve found a place, start by ordering meze. And remember to take your time. It’s not just about eating food—it’s about the company and the fun of it.
4. Greek Wines. Thought of as the drink of the gods, wine is still the most popular drink in Greece. Famous, of course, is Retsina—you’ll either love it or hate it. It’s one of the older wines in Greece and its name and taste comes from the resin that they put in it. And it’s cheap. Still today, even in Athens, places sell Retsina from the barrel.
5. Ouzo. Ouzo is the most popular Greek aperitif and is enjoyed, globally, for its anise flavour. It’s mostly drunk with meze, and is particularly good with grilled octopus or salted mackerel—anything salty goes well with ouzo. Drink it straight or mix it with water.
Counting Down the Days to Easter Sunday
Easter is the most sacred and celebrated of all of the Greek holidays. It traditionally begins with a 40-day fast, where one of the weeks is chosen for the complete fast—only natural foods are eaten. During Holy Week, complete fasting takes place, and the churches are full each evening. Palm Sunday, the first day of the Holy Week, is a day when only fish and fish courses are served. On the Saturday before Easter Sunday, the food that will be served next day is taken to the church and blessed by the priest. Then at midnight the bells ring out, candles are lit, and the celebration of the Resurrection starts. On Easter Sunday roast lamb is the centrepiece of the table.
Will Your Egg Bring You Luck?
These Easter eggs are mainly coloured red to signify the blood of Christ. Hard-boiled eggs are baked into twisted sweet-bread loaves or distributed on Easter Sunday for the egg-cracking tradition, known as tsougrisma. This is similar to snapping a wishbone on Thanksgiving in the US. Friends and neighbours crack their eggs against one another’s to see who ends up with the whole egg. The one holding the last whole egg is said to be lucky.
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