Greece, which is often termed as the cradle of the western civilization, is a beautiful country with its pristine beaches and magnificent culture. The country which is home of the great Grecian epics and legends, boasts of a unique cuisine which is as old as 4000 years. Fresh olives and olive oil form a major part of the Greek cuisine as olive trees grow abundantly in the region. The vineyards in the mountains produce gallons of wine, which has become an indispensable part of their daily life.
Almonds and cereals were largely cultivated in ancient Greece. The Minoan civilization which flourished in the island of Crete from BC 2700 onwards, introduced the farming of grains. It was the Minoans who brought sheep and goat to Greece. Besides, they had significantly contributed to the Greek cuisine by making olive oil from olive fruits and wine from fresh, ripe grapes.
Later the Greek cuisine was greatly influenced by the people who came and settled from the Ural Mountains. They brought honey bees and honey, and also taught the Greeks to make bread. It is their language which is widely known as the ancient Greek language. They had even recorded the year when they made wine in huge jars for the first time. Historians say that there were lots of fruits and nuts orchards in the ancient Greece, and the people reared animals like cows, goat, sheep, and pigs.
In BC 350, Alexander the Great invaded Greece and extended the empire as far as India. So, northern and eastern influences could be seen in the Greek cuisine and culture as well. With the Roman expedition in BC 146, Greece became the centre of the trade route opened by the mighty Romans. This brought different and unique ingredients and spices from around the globe to the Greek market places.
In AD 330, the Romans shifted their capital to Constantinople and established the Byzantine Empire. Turkish delicacies made its way to the Greek cuisine when the Ottoman Turks invaded Greece in 1453 and ruled there for the next 400 years. Turkish dishes like hummus, dolma, and tzatziki are relished by people from Armenia to Egypt. During the Ottoman reign, many authentic Greek dishes travelled to these countries. It was in 1830 that the modern Hellenic Republic of Greece was born.
History of flavours
The first cookbook in Greece is believed to be written in BC 330. As per the historical documents, black pepper was imported to Greece from India in BC 500. One of the most significant features of the Greek cuisine is that the names of the dishes, recipes, or basic methods of cooking haven't changed much even after almost 4000 years. Bread, olives, and olive oil and wine have been a part of the Greek cuisine from the ancient times itself. The Greek cheeses primarily made from goat's or sheep's milk are mentioned in classical literature as well. It is said that cheeses like feta and casero were used in the cuisine even 6000 years ago.
Seafood, too, has a special place in the Greek cuisine which is influenced by the Mediterranean dishes. Garlic, oregano, mint, basil, and thyme are generously added in Greek food. The Greeks consume lots of vegetables as well. Wheat, durum wheat, and aromatic herbs, too, are used in their dishes. The Greeks are known to use fresh, seasonal vegetables in their preparations.
Lamb and fresh water fish are mostly consumed in Epirus, the western region of Greece. The region is also known for its different types of vegetable stews. In Epirus, one can taste the exotic wine which tastes similar to the wine made in Alexander's Macedonia. The Jews are a major community here and its influence can be seen in the cuisine as well.
At Thrace, which lies close to Turkey, barley pilaf, sour milk noodles, roasted goat, bread and honey are specialities. Thrahana dish which dates back to the time of the Minoans are still cooked in Crete. The Ionian island is famous for its karithopita, a walnut cake with syrup. Athens, the capital city is truly a food lover's paradise as traditional dishes from all these regions are available here.
Dolmadakia, one of the classic Greek dishes, is stuffed grape leaves which has spiced meat and rice as the filling. The Greek platter is incomplete without the iconic salad which has tomatoes, olives, and cucumber and feta cheese in it. The salad dressing made by mixing vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper adds the perfect flavour to the dish.
Tzatziki is a popular sauce or dip made with yogurt, garlic, olive oil and dill. This is an amazing dip for souvlaki meat dishes. Amigthalota is Greek almond biscuits which are usually eaten with Turkish coffee. Beef stifado is classic Greek beef stew cooked in clay pots or casserole. Ofto, a popular dish in Crete, is lamb roasted in open fire. Baked tomatoes stuffed with rice and minced beef, called yamistas, is a perfect summer dish.