Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Delicious Greek food the ancients would have eaten as well

I have zero inspiration today for blogging, but I am hungry. When that combination comes along, this is the sort of blog post you get. Sorry, especially if you're hungry, like I am.

Greek food is best known for the heavy amounts of meat, fish and tzatziki, but did you know that many of these dishes go back centuries? Here are some of the dishes the ancient Hellens would have eaten as well.

First, some basics: the main diet of the ancient Greeks consisted of bread, olives, olive oil, figs, cheeses, fish, squid, grapes, apples and other fruits, and honey. Meat was expensive and thus rarely eaten. Domesticated animals were only eaten after being sacrificed to the Gods. To not do so was barbaric and impure. Also considered barbaric was to drink wine which was not watered down and to drink milk. Breakfast and lunch consisted of bread dipped in wine, with olives, figs, cheese or dried fish added to the lunch menu. Dinner usually consisted of vegetables, fruit, fish, and possibly honey cakes.


Skorothalmi: skorothalmi (now known as skordalia) is a purée. Currently, it is often made with potatoes, olive oil and loads and loads of garlic, but it can be made with a walnut, almond, or liquid-soaked stale bread base. It was the latter that the ancient Greeks chose. It was--and is--eaten with bread or vegetables.

Loukaniko: loukaniko is an ancient sausage, dating back to Classical times. It must include pork and garlic to count as loukaniko but can also contain fennel, leek, and any other form of meat. The meat is roughly ground, stuffed into the casting, and then roasted over a fire.

Souvlaki: souvlaki is one of those foods that come to mind right away when thinking of Greek cuisine, like gyros. But unlike gyros--which came to Greece around 1900--souvlaki has been around since antiquity. It is mentioned by the greats like Aristophanes, Xenophon and Aristotle. Souvlaki is skewered meat, grilled over a fire. Any meat can be used and the cooking process is simple. In ancient Hellas, it was known as obeliskos (ὀβελίσκος), meaning 'spit'. The dish was eaten with bread.

Dolmades: dolmades are stuffed vegetables or grape leaves--something that the ancient Greeks had no shortage of--and they can be stuffed with almost anything. Tomatoes, eggplant and peppers didn't arrive in Greece until after the discovery of the Americas in the 15th century, and neither did lemons, oranges, and rice, so in ancient Hellas, dolmades were usually stuffed grape leaves.

Tzatziki: tzatziki is an appetizer or sauce made with strained yoghurt, cucumber and large amounts of garlic. It goes with everything and was thus eaten with meat, fish, bread or even vegetables.

Kakavia: kakavia is a Greek fish soup which can be made with any type of fish, including shellfish and squid. Any vegetable on hand can be added to it. This was probably a staple food for (poor) fishing families or anyone living near the coast.

Tyrokafteri: tyrokafteri (τυροκαυτερή) is a specialty of the region of Thrace. It is a spread or dip, made from feta cheese, roasted red peppers, and garlic. It can be made to be hot or mild. Again, it was eaten with bread.

This is only a sampling of the many, many dishes which have survived the centuries. Of course, any type if grilled meat or fish would also have been served at the ancient Hellenic table, as well as a multitude of cheeses. So, has this post gotten you hungry as well? As the Greeks say: kali orexi!

2 comments:

Memory Walker said...

My professor stated that contrary to popular belief, the Ancient Greeks ate relatively little fish. I can't remember that he gave any evidence (and I don't appear to have notes from that lecture), so my temptation to question his statement is pretty strong...

Elani Temperance said...

o_0''

Well, that's a pretty interesting opinion your lecturer has there. I guess it depends on where you lived in ancient Hellas. Inland, fresh fish was expensive and rare, but fish that could be preserved was eaten everywhere. Sardines and anchovies, for example, could be preserved fairly easily, so they were eaten a lot in Athens. At the coast, though, it would be incredibly counterintuitive to ignore such a rich source of food as the sea. The only exemption I know of is Aelian, a Roman writer. He claims that in Sparta, (some?) cooks were forbidden to cook anything but meat. We're not sure if this is actually true.
With all respect to your teacher, I'm pretty sure he was incorrect or at least incomplete in his explanation.