Growing up in a Greek family, I was constantly barraged with many different Greek dishes. The Greeks, Italian, Jewish and many other nationalities, had one thing in common…our mothers insisted we eat and eat and eat.
Greek cooking dates back thousands of years, yielding an incredibly rich and diverse array of foods. While fresh and inviting, Greek meals also give one a glimpse back in time, into the history of Greece.
Like the Greek religion, over time little has changed. The Greek diet of bread, olives (olive oil), cheeses, and wine remain the staples.
Greece has a collection of small farms that produce a wide variety of mainly organic offerings of these oils, fruits, cheeses, nuts, grains, legumes, and vegetables. These are the foods that form the basis of Greek cooking and provide variety and nutrition.
The temperate climate of Greece is very conducive for growing olive and lemon trees, two of the most important elements of Greek Cooking. Spices, garlic and other herbs such as oregano, basil, mint, and thyme are widely used, as are vegetables such as eggplant and zucchini and legumes of all types.
20 percent of Greece is made up of islands. And with no part of the Greek mainland more than 90 miles from the sea, fish and seafood are also common in the Greek diet. Lamb and goat (kid) are the traditional meats of holidays and festivals, and poultry, beef, and pork are also in plentiful supply.
Greece is also known for fine wines and spirits most notably ouzo, an anise-flavored liqueur that is the national spirit. Grapes grow in abundance in the hilly terrain.
Living in Hawaii we are all familiar with Pacific Fusion- the blending of our island cuisine with others like Japanese and Chinese. Greek cooking has also been influenced by other cultures, and one could say the fusion started there as it can be easily traced back to 350 B.C. Alexander the Great extended the Greek Empire’s reach from Europe to India and certain northern and eastern influences were absorbed into the Greek cuisine.
In 146 B.C., Greece fell to the Romans which resulted in a blending of a Roman influence into Greek cooking and in 330 A.D., Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Constantinople, founding the Byzantine Empire which, in turn, fell to the Turks in 1453 and remained part of the Ottoman Empire for nearly 400 years.
During that time, dishes had to be known by Turkish names, names that remain today for many Greek classics.
With each successive invasion and settlement came culinary influences – Dishes with names like tzatziki (from the Turkish “cacik”), hummus (the Arabic word for chickpea) and dolmades (from the Turkish “dolma”), can be found in kitchens from Armenia to Egypt. They have also found a home in Greek cooking, and been adapted over hundreds of years to local tastes and traditions.
And during those times, the classic elements of Greek cuisine traveled across borders as well, adopted and adapted in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and … with Alexander the Great, farther east.
The first cookbook was written by the Greek food gourmet, Archestratos, in 330 B.C., which suggests that cooking has always been of importance and significance in Greek society.
Modern chefs owe the tradition of their tall, white chef’s hat to the Greeks. In the middle ages, monastic brothers who prepared food in the Greek Orthodox monasteries wore tall white hats to distinguish their work from the regular monks, who wore large black hats.
Greek food is simple and yet elegant, with flavors subtle to robust and textures smooth to crunchy. It remains fresh and timeless, nutritious and healthy. Preparing and enjoying Greek food, anywhere in the world, is an adventurous journey into the cradle of civilization and the land of the Gods of Olympus. Discovering, tasting, and experiencing Greek food: truly one of the joys we can all share.
We invite you to sample some of the best Greek food in Hawaii at the Greek Festival.