Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Trendy Greece

(A field of Salicornia at the Bay of Kalloni)

There are fashion trends, there are the newest games, there may be computer trends and there are food trends. There even are people whose job it is to write about food trends, like the Dutch Marjan Ippel: Talkin’ food.

Now Greece would appear to be a country with plenty of ancient culture, dusty taverns and a timeless blue sea, but when you take a look at the new food trends, Greek food fits into plenty of these food hypes. If you go for holidays around the Greek Aegean, you can boast that you have been eating according to these latest trends.

It is, for example, fashionable to eat what the region provides (Region Focused). Going to a Chinese or Greek restaurant (when not in China or Greece) is not done anymore. For Greek food you must travel all the way to Greece. But when you are there, you will find a trendy food paradise; for example, here on the island of Lesvos. it is hard to find products not coming from the island (well, I must confess, slowly slowly supermarkets nowadays sell more and more foreign products). Most restaurants cook with local products and prefer even to cook with home-grown vegetables and fruit.

Then there is Social Dining, in Holland trendy with online free markets: getting food from your neighbour or other local chefs who like to cook and share their food for little money. Greeks may not yet be so accustomed in sharing online, but sharing food is a Greek tradition: the more people join the dinner, the better. And then Greek men regularly – some of them even daily – visit the neighbouring tavern for a bite with the ouzo, where (mostly) women prepare food for a day, served on tiny dishes with the drinks: Mama’s Greek pot!

Tapas is another trend. Greeks do not serve Spanish tapas, because those are made in Spain (and it is not done anymore to eat tapas in another country). But it is easy to put up a table only set with Greek tapas, called mezès: little dishes with small portions of food like tzatziki, salted fish, cheese, salads, vegetables and whatever you want. When tapas are fashionable, Greek mèzes are also part of that trend.

Another trend is to eat the entire product: Trash Cooking. Most Greeks will not realize that they have been doing trash cooking as long as they have been behind the stove: nothing gets thrown away, everything gets served. The entire lamb is eaten: not only the legs and cutlets but also the heart, kidneys, liver, brains, eyes, tongue and balls (a delicacy when drinking ouzo). The green leaves from the beetroots are also cooked and eaten, just as beans are cooked and served in their pods.

Direct trade is another trend known to the Greeks: buying your food straight from the farmer. At Easter farmers are busy slaughtering their animals and during the entire year farmers sell their vegetables and fruit from their open cars.

Greek food is also very Low Fidelity: it uses only very basic food. Greek dishes are seldom primped-up with expensive frills like caviar or truffles, nor is it seasoned with cream or alcohol. The products are served just cooked, baked or fried and only seasoned with fresh spices.

Paleo- or Primalvega & Urbanibalisme are trends mostly for countries that have lost contact with nature: this is cooking as was done in primal times and getting food from urban areas. Well, Greeks no longer cook like in ancient times, but plenty of their methods of cooking (like using a wood stove, grilling an entire lamb or making syrup from fruit in a huge kettle on an open fire) are rituals centuries old. By the way, cooking on open fires (Primal Fire) is another trend that in Greece is more like a tradition. And yes, city or not, Greeks do get their food everywhere: in sea in front of their houses, from the garden at the back of the house and maybe even from the City parks. When a Greek townsman can afford a garden, he will not grow flowers but vegetables.

Then there is the Umami-effect. I have to admit that I did not know umami, but it seems to be one of our five basic tastes: there used to be salty, sweet, sour and bitter and now you also have umami. Umami has the ability to balance sweet and salty tastes and encourages salivation. I have no idea how it tastes but it is in many products like fish, shellfish, fermented meat, mushrooms, ripe tomatoes, spinach, cheese and sauces made of fish or soya beans.

The word umami (it means something like delicious taste) comes from a Japanese professor who in 1908 identified it for the first time and decennia later this taste was officially added to the already existing four tastes. Even though the name is Japanese, umami is found everywhere, like in Greece especially in summertime when you may get bored by all the ripe and shiny red tomatoes or when you try to cool down with a glass of ouzo (is there umami in ouzo?) while eating lots of sardines and cheese, both products with umami.

Yesterday I collected some samphire (Salicornia), dressed it with a mustard-cream sauce. I do not know if Salicornia contains umami, but this lovely dish certainly accords with other trends: Tapas, Region Focused and Social Dining (the neighbours also got a bite) and had I not dressed it up it would also have been Low Fidelity. So Greek food it hot! And I do predict the newest trend: Crisis Dining, having dinners in countries that are in crisis. Trendy Greece will be on top of that list.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

@ Smitaki 2012

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