Gastronomy offers a great opportunity to get a first-hand experience of the culture and character accompanying a particular place, as a mirror of the society and its economic aspects. Interestingly enough, while information and even recepies from antiquity (the first cookbook ever was writen by Archestratos in 330 B.C.) and the byzantine era have reached our days, there had been an interval with no gastronomical dishes from the following period until the last years of the previous century, when Greek gastronomy experienced a sound transformation. After all, good food and drink as well as sharing with the loved-ones have always played an important part in Greek culture and a skilled cook is highly admired in every family and friend company.
The Greek cuisine is based on 4 pillars: the freshness of its ingredients, with most vegetables cultivated in natural ways due to the mild and sunny climate and most herds ranging free and grazing on a wide variety of wild greens, nuts, buds and herbs -often along with game birds and hares; the excellent olive oil, which accompanies almost every Greek dish; the moderate use of herbs and spices, often naturally grown in the countryside, such as oregano, basil, spearmint, mint, thyme, rosemary, cinnamon and allspice, and finally the simplicity of the recipies which allows for flexibility according to the ingredients’ seasonality -yet more complicated recipies are not absent as implies the popularity of moussaka and pastitsio.
Traditional Greek cuisine is a good example of the healthy Mediterranean Diet, with limited meat consumption, mainly in special occasions and almost always accompanied with plant-based foods, such as potatoes, garlic and onions, in baked dishes and stews. The main meat products derive from lamb, goat, pork, poultry and sometimes game. Besides, fish and seafood, such as octopus and oyster, are very popular in Greek dishes either grilled or combined with vegetables, beans and legumes, wild greens, rice and pasta.
Apart from the above, the traditional Greek sweets should be mentioned. The most common of them are the so-called phyllo-sweets, filled with several nuts or cream based on semolina and flavored with a simple but aromatic syrup of honey or sugar and the spoon-sweets, preserves of wither seasonal fresh fruits, still soft in their shells nuts or particular vegetables in a simple sugar syrup. As for the latter, their name derives from the tradition of serving them on a small plate and eating them with a tea-spoon. Moreover, there are other sweets related with certain celebratory events and periods, like melomakarona, a kind of bisquit with walnut and honey syrup at Christmas, or diples, doughnuts, lokums and marzipans. The most common ingredients on which most of the recipies are based are olive oil and honey.
From a more cultural point of view, it should be kept in mind that the Greek cuisine is by large shaped under the fasting traditions of the Greek Orthodox Church. Moreover, every area has its characteristics in recipies, techniques and particular ingredients; thus cuisine of Thrace and Macedonia is heavily influenced by Greek refugees from Constantinople and Asia Minor, the well-known savory pies of Epirus have to do with the nomadic life of its shepherds, the extensive use of pork, olives and olive oil in Peloponnese comes from the fact that these are its most important food products, the strong Italian influence on the Ionian islands is due to the long Venetian rule on the area and the classic Mediterranean cuisine of the Aegean Sea remains the base of all the above. Another common characteristic is that, typically, there are no particular courses, but a variety of appetizers and nibbles (mezedes) and main dishes is present on the table in the same time. Of course, wine and other spirits, especially ouzo and tsipouro, are a vital part of the eating culture. Feel free to learn more about traditional products of the Greek cuisine.
Based on the deep tradition and the wide variety, especially after 2004, well-known locally and abroad Greek chefs have been using new exotic ingredients and sophisticated styles and techniques -reaching even to molecular cuisine- and offering a brand new version of the Greek gastronomy open to experimentation. Yet, as is implied by the renweal of the traditional taverna and restaurant menus, another turn to the basic values -even by large renovated- of Greek cuisine is on its way!