The Greek traditional cuisine
You’ve certainly have heard about the English breakfast and probably some other breakfasts from nations around the world, but have you ever heard about the Greek breakfast?
Greeks always liked healthy and quality products and food and despite the fact that things have changed a lot in the last centuries, they generally still despise fast food, unless we are talking the traditional junk food, souvlaki, which is of course a lot healthier compared to what people from other countries consider to be junk food. Also virtually unheard of amongst traditional Greeks are any fad diets – they just love that fresh, healthy food too much.
Wheat and bread
The history of Greece is tied to the history of wheat and bread. We know from ancient texts that bread was offered to the Gods and that Demeter was the goddess of grain and agriculture. The tradition of baking bread has been kept for centuries and today you can find excellent bread made of wheat or barley and local recipes that like to include fruit, nuts and other products. My personal favorite is olive bread and bread with cheese. You should them if you ever have the chance.
In Thessaloniki, locals make their famous bun, with just wheat, salt, sesame and a very small amount of olive oil, whereas in the island of Crete the famous “dakos” is made of barley and in some variations olive oil is also used. Herbs and nuts are put in the dough in various other islands like Lesvos, Kythira, Karpathos, Chios etc.
Another thing Greeks have always been famous for are their dairy products. According to Mythology, Aristeo, the son of God Apollo taught the Greeks how to make cheese. Besides the well know feta cheese there are literally hundreds of different cheeses available with most important being graviera, kefalotyri, kaseri, ladotyri, anthotyro, galotyri and many, many others.
Every time I visit a new place in Greece, especially one of the 2000 islands, I have the chance to try a new local cheese and do not take for granted that me or any other local can find any cheese he wishes anytime. Some recipes are kept secret and only few locals know them and make sure they don’t ever leave their place…
Yogurt is another traditional Greek delicacy. This kind of food is very rich in nutrients and the traditional recipe for yogurt is made mainly of sheep’s milk or mixtures of sheep’s milk and goat’s milk. Greek cow milk yogurt, although tasty and well known around the world, is just a recent development.
From antiquity to the present day, olive trees are the most sacred in Greece and are directly linked to its culture and diet. Branches of olive trees were used in ancient Greece as symbols of peace, wisdom and victory and olive trees were closely linked to religion, art and of course diet. In fact, the whole Mediterranean diet is based on olive oil and it’s without a doubt the most valuable and commonly used material in the Greek traditional cuisine.
It’s used raw in salads and of course for both frying and cooking. The fact is that the taste, aroma, color and density of olive oil changes from place to place. My home place Crete has one of the best quality and taste olive oils one can find in Greece, but also Messinia, Chalkidiki and Lesvos produce excellent quality olive oil.
Pies are one of the most characteristic dishes of traditional cooking in Greece. You just put flour, water and salt to make the dough and fill it with anything you could imagine. The pie filling is different from place to place and greatly depends on the local products that are produced and the local customs as well.
The most common pies are cheese pies, spinach pies, mixed vegetable pies, and more complex pies stuffed with sausages, meat, and other ingredients. Again olive oil is an essential ingredient in the preparation of any type of pie, unless it’s a period of fasting and it is not used at all.
Last but not least I need to mention Greek sweets. Because of the fact that fruit are abundant in Greece, they are commonly used in the preparation of traditional sweets. Fruit jams are very common as well as the so called “spoon sweets” that are boiled fruit in syrups, the most characteristic of which are oranges, mandarins, cherries, bergamot etc.
Many sweets have their origin in the Near and Middle East like baklava, kataifi, galaktoboureko, therefore similar versions are also found in Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and other Arab countries.