The Greek food throughout its history and continuing today is for the Greeks a philosophy, they know that what makes a perfect feast is not just the food but also the good company. Food is nearly always prepared with the tastes of the guests in mind, should the dishes be roasted or fried, light or heavy? and the wine carefully chosen. Much of the conversation at the dinner table centres amicably around the food. The freshness of the fish , having just leapt from the sea; the vegetables newly dug from the ground or picked from the vines of the local farmers. The host will want to proudly point out how they have attempted to provide the best and freshest produce for you to enjoy. The traditional day is still de rigueur on the islands. It begins early with a quick breakfast of coffee and cigarettes or dried Rusk soaked in warm milk, followed by a substantial lunch and a siesta. After a few hours more work, evening is the time to relax with family and/or friends whilst nibbling meze (Greek appetizer). This is followed at 9 or 10pm by dinner with, perhaps, sweet pastries, cakes or ice-cream enjoyed later in the cafes. Strong distinctive tastes are the hallmark of this culinary rhythm. Herbs like rigani (oregano), thyme, rosemary, parsley, coriander, dill, fennel and sage; spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, vanilla and mastic are all crucial.
Greek olive oil
Greek olive oil enriches and flavours and the traditional cooking methods of grilling, long slow baking all enhance and mellow the food. Eating and drinking out in Greece is still wonderfully enjoyable and very democratic, young and old, wealthy and not so wealthy, the ordinary citizen and the celebrity, all enjoy the same favourite neighbourhood tavern, restaurant or cafe. Today, in many areas of Greece, celebratory meals, special occasions and family get-togethers are all more likely to occur in local taverns or restaurants than in peoples homes which means that you, the visitor, can vicariously enjoy the event which may also include live, traditional music and spontaneous dancing and perhaps fireworks! It seems academic to point out that thousands of years ago, the Greeks created one of the most important civilizations ever to be seen but part of this civilization was the idea of good living. Epicurus, for example, was one of the major philosophers in the Hellenistic period. One aspect of his teaching is that the point of all ones actions was to attain pleasure (conceived of as tranquillity) for oneself, and that this could be done by limiting ones desires and by banishing the fear of the gods and of death. Pleasure, simplicity and good friends you can trust were central to his theory of life.
The Romans during the period of the Roman Empire continued this tradition, but to enormous excess. Evidence of this are seen in the many famous feasts held during this time. This element of excess was and still is at odds with the Greek temperament, and was eliminated by the later Byzantines, thus preserving the authenticity of Greek cuisine for over a thousand years. Basically the traditional diet and method of cooking food in Greece has not changed since the ancient times, the original flavours and ingredients are still used along with the crucial basic ingredient of all – Greek olive oil. This is particularly so in somewhere like Crete, where the traditional diet is the same – simple and basic without the over spicing of much modern food. It is argued that the Cretan diet hasn’t really changed since Minoan times – using olive oil, cereals, wine and fish. Such a diet has created the worlds most healthy and long-lived people and is the basis of the famous Mediterranean Diet