The Gr8 Elements

102 The Gr8 ElementsHellas is known as one of the sunniest countries in Europe and one of the most famous tourist destinations in the world. Its hospitable and cheerful inhabitants always make you feel at home with their spontaneous and friendly behavior. Ancient tourist sites in Greece are plenty, indeed, involving mythology, legends and history. But, unfortunately, Hellenic cuisine is always unappreciated and underestimated and there’s no logic explanation for that. Despite this notion, the country has 8 eight elements constituting the Hellenic cuisine.

Olives and Olive Oil: They are like a national emblem of the country. Nowadays Greek folks’ wealth is not evaluated through the number of houses, villas and cars they have but through the number of the planted olive trees they possess. In Hellas one is thought to be really lucky, when they inherit olive trees and olive groves not real estate of another type. There are plenty of examples related to olive groves appearing on the horizon all over the country, one of them being the island of Thasos. The Green Paradise of Hellas, as it’s often nicknamed, is quite diverse. One can wander in the grey island’s capital and along the modern port but they can also see the other face of the island. Small fisherman’s settlements and mountain villages are scattered here and there and endless olive trees are all around while oil presses produce high quality olive oil.

Bread: There used be two things in every Hellenic villages – furnos (let’s compare it to the village bakery) and well (or it was sometimes a gurgling spring). A village baker was even more important than a mayor. Every village had its own bread whose uniqueness was dependent on the taste of the local water, the quality of wheat and olive oil and, of course, on a baker’s techniques and skills. Today it cannot be said that all this is still applicable because lots of Greek islands (like in Italy as well) have been greatly influenced by the numerous invasions. But maybe an exception is Crete and its bread. The traditions for preparing bread have still been kept and the “secret” of its exceptional taste is due to the yeast that is too strong on the island where small valleys are filled with pollens, grapes, birds and bees and the tender touch of the Mediterranean Sea is tangible.

Fish: It’s known that in Hellas every non-sea city (especially on the mainland) is not more than 100km far away from the sea. That’s the reason why Greece has always been known as a sea country and the consumption of fresh fish is huge there. There’re two particular species of fish that have been crowned as the “kings” of the Hellenic “fish culinary kingdom”. An octopus (it’s supposed to be one of the most intelligent sea creatures) could be easily captured in shoal waters. A diver equipped with a harpoon should only know where to find it out – in sheltered places and holes where an octopus turns into a “knot of sea muscles” changing its colour according to that of the surrounding environment. A Red Mullet (or better known as Barbounia in Hellas) has been one of the well known fishes since ancient Roman times. There’s a very curious Greek-Italian connection regarding its name. The ancient Greeks called the fish “trigli”. That name is used by the Italians today (triglia di fango and di scoglio, for barbatus and surmuletus, respectively). However, when the Venetians colonized a lot of parts of Hellas in the 14-15th centuries they left their dialect name for mullet, namely – barbone, which means “beard-bearing”. And thus nowadays, the Italians use the Greek name while the Greeks – the Italian one.

Cheese and Potatoes: Apart from the famous Feta white cheese from sheep’s milk, Hellas has another one which is produced on the island of Naxos which is jokingly known as the cheese pilgrimage island. That is one of the few Hellenic places that hasn’t been devastated by mass tourism yet and it’s not wholly dependent on tourists. When it comes to the island, one would choose to visit it for the food alone, for Graviera in particular. The 8-month aged cheese is from cow’s milk that could become a delicious dessert when topped with honey. Other cheeses could be marinated in oil, herbs and even garlic, all this leaving an irresistible taste and memories and suiting perfectly well the combination with Naxian potatoes which are so delicious due to three factors: the peculiarity of the local seeds, the volcanic soils on the island and excessive wind and water.

Honey: There’s no doubt that the best honey produced in Hellas is that on the island of Kythira (or also referred to by its Venetian name – Cerigo). The island itself is geographically supposed to be one of the seven major islands in the Ionian Sea but it’s not very accurate because of its proximity to the Cyclades (although the tiny pearl has nothing in common with them except for the usual tectonic activities). Although Kythira is almost inaccessible, it possesses millions of pale-yellow blossoms coexisting with millions of bushes and wild herbs that almost cover the island from top to bottom in plant life. And all this predisposes the production of the well-known Kythirian thyme honey whose taste is of cream mixed with the lemon flavor of the thyme owing to which that honey isn’t that sweet.

Wine: Last but not least, wine is an inseparable part of the Hellenic table. The ancient Greeks brought vines to fertile regions (such as Tuscany and Bordeaux) which are well-known wine producers nowadays. They have developed the production of wine more and more through the centuries unlike Greece. In spite of this, the country has traditions in wine production, especially on islands like Crete, the Cyclades and the Ionian island group.


3 thoughts on “The Gr8 Elements

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