The greek "cookies" Melomakarona and Kourampiedes never miss from any Greek house during Christmas. But what is their history?
From the ancient “makaria” to Christmas
Who does not drip honey when he speaks about melomakarona. The best is crispy outside and quite honeyed inside, sprinkled with plenty of nut and fragrant spices. The etymology of the word -meli and makaroni- is Greek, with macaroni being originated from the word "makaronia" which used to be a funerary dinner during which they offered “makaria", otherwise a pie in which over the years they added honey and that’s why it was named melomakarono. And if you are wondering why it was established as a Christmas dessert, the answer lays in honey, already considered by the ancient years as a symbol of well-being and creation, everything that we want the New Year to bring us.
A tradition from East
Nobody has managed to eat kourampiedes without even slightly being dusted with icing sugar, but the taste is worth every sacrifice. For the perfect kourampiedes you need good quality fresh butter, lots of almonds and, of course, plenty of icing sugar. Some also add rose water for extra flavour. As for what the story is? The word kourampies comes from the Turkish word kurabiye meaning dry biscuit, but it has Arabic roots. In dry biscuit later almonds were added and icing sugar and this is how we got to know our favourite kourampiedes, that we place in platters laminated as snowy mountains.
Walking in Athens we met the people from the solidarity group "Other Human" they cook for all and invite all of us to join them, their aim is to help homeless people but, also to build strong affiliation between all the citizens. Their action isn't philanthropic or charity, their aim is to build to awaken consciousness in almost daily basis they cook outdoor for people and invite the people to join them with this way "we could all come together and break through any shame or embarrassment which might be an issue for anyone." they told us.
"The impetus for the "Different Person" community kitchen was when we saw people of all ages, nationalities, ethnicities, and social classes looking through the left-overs at Athens farmers' markets in an effort to gather food that they could not afford to buy. The first response was to cook food at home and try to distribute for free at the farmers' markets. We then asked vendors to each donate one product from their stands so that we could continue the next day. After that, we decided to instead to both cook and eat together in an effort combat the shame of receiving a free cooked meal. Another purpose of our community kitchen is to distribute any left over funds (typically 30-40 EUR/month) to unemployed people who help us on a daily basis and when possible for our volunteers too!"
We decided to support them with a part of our revenue from our tours and also to plan a de-tour in Athens, with finally destination their open air kitchen through the streets of Athens. Stay tuned for the dates!
Souvlaki comes from the Aegean and was baked at straws in Santorini before 6500 years! Sought-after delicacy was garon, a fine sauce of fish, praised by Sophocles and Plato...
What did the Greeks eat in 1600 BC .; The archaeologist Christos Doumas left for a while on the edge all the problems faced at Akrotiri on Thera and talked about the delights enjoyed by our ancestors 3,500 years ago.
The delightful conversation took place in May 2014 with Evanna VENARDOU from Eleftherotypia newspaper:
"We found many fruit remains in containers that were kept in homes. As the ash fell it carbonized and that is how they were preserved," explains Chr. Doumas.
"Those fruits were products of cultivation -So that’s how we have knowledge of the agriculture of that time. We found fava beans, lentils, barley (krithari)- in a jar full of ash we even found almond prints. We also found many crushed olive cores, so we can talk about oil production. We found a jar with snails, although those were imported! They were Cretan snails." But they also found a lot of figs seeds: "That was their sugar. And of course, the fig was their laxative! "(Smiling).
- Did you also find any fish remains?
"Within jars we found dried fish and fish bones. Actually, as we were excavating in deep layers for the foundations of the pillars of the shelter, we found garon (garum by the Romans). It is a paste made of fish, a delicacy for the Romans. The aristocracy enjoyed the best part of the fish, while the "plebs" and the army ate their heads, tails and fins. We found such a little jar which was a breakthrough as it proved that 1500 years before the Romans they were making it in Thera. It is certainly a characteristic of people who lives with and from the sea."
But the rarest delicacy was garos a fine sauce praised by Sophocles, Plato and Plinios made from fish insides and small fish (sardines, smelt) that were cured with thick salt and spread out in the sun for 2-3 months. The thick liquid they received from draining them was diluted with olive oil, wine or vinegar and was stored in gararion for sauce. In some areas, in fact, they only made garon from chub mackerel liver while the original recipe gave the idea for the anchovy sauce to Sicilian and Worcestershire sauce.
- Did they eat meat?
"We found plenty of bones from sheep and goats, a main kind of farming today in the islands, a few cattle (at the islands they can not breed large animals) and very little hunting (rabbits and migratory birds). But we found a lot of remains of sea urchins, clams, cockles and other similar seafood."
- Do we have any idea how they cooked all of them?
"We know that they had tripod cooking pots -which mean that, if anything, they boiled. However I do not think they made tomato sauce, because they did not have any tomatoes. Today we can we talk about the famous Santorini cherry tomatoes, but our tomatoes came from America! We also found pans and portable tripod ovens: Fire from above, fire from below and a pan with lid and small door. Kind of a crock pot with feet."
- What surprised you most of what you discovered?
"The Krateftes: where they baked souvlaki. They had notches and holes to circulate the air and not put out the coals. It was very ergonomic. At the edge of the head they had the shape of a ram and they ensured a healthy cooking, since the fat fell."
- That means that souvlaki is our dish. And yet, some people today still think it is of Turkish origin.
"Souvlaki comes from the Aegean. The Turks came in 1453 AD. I once had a conversation with an eminent Turkish archaeologist, the Hellenist Ekrem Akourgkal. And I was saying to him that we borrowed a lot from the Turkish cuisine, bringing as an example the meatball. And he tells me:
"You are naive. The Turks came here when they were nomads. They did not have a cuisine. They just adopted the Byzantine cuisine. Let's not kid ourselves: the word "keftes (meatball)" is not Turkish. It is the Byzantine word "kopton kreas (chopped meat)”. And indeed, I still remember my mother and grandmother cutting quickly the meat crosswise with two sharp knives making minced meat!"
- Are the excavations of Akrotiri the oldest evidence of what the Greeks ate?
"No. There are scattered findings from the Neolithic period (5th and 4th millennium BC) in Thessaly, Macedonia, Thrace. But in Akrotiri, thanks to the volcano, it was the first time we found so many gathered -and so well preserved. Just consider that in the lavas of Santorini there are inclusions of plants such as palm trees or olive trees dating back to 60,000 years BP. And they reveal a climate that does not differ from the current one. In early historic times, the 5th, 4th or 3rd millennium BC, people began to cultivate the same wild flora."
Εventually, the famous Mediterranean diet has very distant roots ....
On Thurday 3rd of December it was the International Day of People with Disability and we dedicated it to “Action Go where you've never been”, held in the context of voluntary actions weekend Sparks 2015 by GloVo and Glovo4all
Τhe organizers chose Plaka, the area of the Ancient and the Roman Agora and Monastiraki, most favourite destinations for visitors and residents of this city and yet prohibitively accessible to people with disabilities. Visitor of the action was Demetra, a student at University of Athens in the department of psychology and her desire was to go where she has never before gone... And we started...
This city we all love to live in showed hostile. No facilities for access to archaeological sites for people with mobility problems, broken or no sidewalks and occupied routes that are meant for people with reduced vision. And yet all can be so easily corrected so that everybody without exception can enjoy this city. From our side what we can offer in the current situation is our assistance to people with mobility problems to reach and navigate in Athens through our walks. A pleasant surprise in our wandering was Couleur Local, at Romanos street which had a lift access to the terrace with view of the Acropolis for coffee or a drink. Let us all try to make this a welcoming city for everyone so that we can all enjoy her equally with the necessary infrastructure, access and services for people with disabilities! Infrastructures that don’t take money or time to make….