Greek food is generally considered to be rather simple. That’s not to say it’s lacking in flavour or elegance. It actual fact, there’s a sophistication about it, with tastes that range from the very subtle, right through to big and bold. It’s also quite healthy, especially when fresh produce is used and a variety of dishes are enjoyed. If all you ate was roast goat, it’s probably not going to be the best choice for your waistline. But throw some Greek salads, olives, seafood and other mezze style dishes into your weekly consumption, and you’ll be enjoying the Mediterranean diet that’s famed for its goodness. Here’s a few interesting facts and figures about the cuisine of Greece that may help you understand why it’s so varied and where its origins lie.
Prior to Alexander the Great traversing northern Europe and Asia in 350BC, Greeks mostly ate basic seafood, grains and meat dishes with little flair. But with the mixing of cultures brought about by Alexander, the food became what’s best described as a fusion. The influences of all these conquered nations found their way back to the kitchens of Greece, with new herbs, spices, recipes and techniques entering the diets of the masses. Similar happened when the Romans conquered the country, bringing with them their own tastes, some of which were quite exotic.
The next major leap in the food culture of Greece came with the Ottoman Invasion. This saw Turkish cuisine enter the scene in a more prevalent manner than ever before. It also meant that many dishes that had long been cooked in Greece prior to their arrival, were given Turkish names. Some remain today, long after their 400 year reign ended. Think Tzatziki, hummus and dolmades, all of which have Middle Eastern origins.
In more modern times, the people of Greece can thank Nikólaos Tselementés for revolutionizing their cooking. It was this French trained chef that brought a wider European influence to the kitchens of Greece, when in 1932 he published Odigos Mageirikis, the first complete cookbook in Greece. Prior to this recipes had typically been handed down on a scrap of paper or orally. Now, people could find all the classic dishes in the one place, complete with modern, French and broader European inspired twists. You could say that he’s the most influential Greek chef in history.
So next time you’re having some taramasalata, moussaka, bougatsa or keftethes, think about how it might have come to be a part of Greek cuisine. There’s probably a fascinating story behind it!