Even food in Greece has its history. Events have marked Greek gastronomy throughout the ages, leading to a rich and varied selection of dishes. There are many traditional foods and highlights include:
A soup not included in the daily diet but traditionally referred to as the Greek hangover cure, patsas is always eaten in the early morning. Made of lamb hocks and stomach, patsas was traditionally the first dish to serve after the 40 days Easter fast in order to prepare the stomach for the heavy eating about to follow. They say it is good for you because the ingredients consist of a kind of gel, which eventually protects and lines the stomach. Today, except for during the Easter period, the soup is also consumed, usually after a seriously busy night’s drinking, to ease the stomach of the alcohol. The most commonly visited place to have patsa is the Athenian meat market.
A good patsas requires mastery in cooking but you can give it a try:
1. Wash thoroughly both the stomach and feet of the lamb, place them in water and boil for up to two hours.
2. Remove them from the pot, cut them into cubes and place them back to the pot, adding salt.
3. In the meantime prepare separately the avgolemono (eggs&lemon) by beating 3 eggs and slowly adding the lemon juice of 2 lemons.
4. After adding all the lemon juice, slowly add two spoons of the soup from the pot.
5. Pour the mixture in the pot over a low heat for 2-3 minutes.
6. Add pepper according to preference and the patsas is ready for serving.
Masticha is an agricultural product removed by chipping mastic bushes. It looks like rock candy and has a distinctive taste and chewiness. Mastica is a 100% Greek product, and as such is protected by the European Union. It is only produced on the island of Chios, in the Aegean Sea, and especially in the Southern part of Mastichohoria in the Mastic villages. Even though people tried to take mastic to different countries in the past, amazingly enough mastic is impossible to grow in any other part of the world except Chios.
Chios Mastic, popular since ancient times, was and still is a highly commercialized product due to its cosmetic, pharmaceutical and industrial applications. During the Ottoman Empire the Sultan used to give the mastic to his harems for fresh breath and white teeth. During the 1960’s it was exported to Germany to be used in the shoeshine industry.
Today it is believed that mastic has therapeutic uses to lower cholesterol, prevent ulcers and ease blood pressure. Mastic is mainly used for Greek delicacies (ipovrixio), ice cream (kaimaki), drinks, baked goods, chewing gum, cosmetics such as toothpaste, lotions for the hair and skin and perfumes.
The best period for harvesting is July and August. After the mastic is collected it is spread out to dry while it is washed manually. Unfortunately today the traditional craft of collecting mastic is slightly lost, but it is still important to the locals both culturally and economically. You can buy many mastic products in Greece. Mastic will cost you around 35 – 44EUR per kilo.
By Villy Ioannou
main image: A single drop of mastic hangs from the underside of this branch on a mastic tree. By Ailinaleixo – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11133632