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Greek Food and Culture

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Greek food in the past consisted mainly of gruel, legumes, salted fish, olive oil, vegetables and very little meat. At the time most meat was consumed during sacrifices and religious holidays. Vegetarianism has a long tradition in Greece. It was adopted by Pythagoras who did not eat meat for moral and religious reasons. This tradition has been kept by the deeply religious, who abstain from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays and during the forty days of Lent. During the Byzantine period food began to materialize as an art form. The royal court had a large staff of professional cooks who expanded the traditional foods to include imported foods such as spices and caviar. After the Byzantium, the courts of Ottoman Sultans took up many of the cooking styles of the Byzantine period and added to them with their own traditions. Under the Ottomans, Greek foods were influenced by Turkish foods.

This can still be seen today in dishes such as Tzatziki, which is a yogurt-cucumber dip, Imam Bayildi, which is eggplant casserole, and Soutzoukakia, which is spiced, sausage shaped meatballs in tomato sauce, Souvlaki, which is meat kebabs in pita bread, and Moussaka, which is eggplant and meat casserole. In the small areas of Greece that were under the Venetians, such as the Ionian Islands and the Cyclades, foods were strongly influenced by the Italian culture. Dishes that were influenced by Italians included Bourdeto, which is a fish stew from Corfu, and Poutinga, which is a pudding that is outlawed by the Greek Church. Greeks also enjoy pasta, which serves as evidence of the Italian influence on their foods.

After the Greek War of Independence, which occurred during the 1820s, food was Europeanized in Greece. Many of the spices that were used in dishes were taken out and the food became tasteless. When refugees from Asia started arriving in Greece during the 1920s, they became well-known and celebrated for their culinary skill, which included the use of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cumin.

Today Greek food is an original way of making a straightforward meal using fresh vegetables, lamb, fish, chicken, feta cheese, olives, capers, and tomatoes. Herbs and spices used usually include oregano, dill, fennel, bay leaves, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg. Greek food is centered on the use and taste of the freshest produce available. Although it is possible to make Greek dishes in America, the taste cannot compare with the fresh red tomatoes sprinkled with oregano that is commonly found in Greece. Each type of Greek cooking is represented by its own specialty restaurant. Tavernas are found all over Greece and focus in pre-prepared casserole items, such as vegetables stuffed with rice. Psistaries serve only grilled meats. Pitas, Pastry pies that are stuffed with greens are usually bought from bakeries and eaten while on the run. These pastries are rarely served in restaurants and are considered to be common village food which are made at home or purchased from either a bakery or a street vendor. In Greek culture a Greek housewife must know how to make pitas very quickly and tasty for guests.

In the United States almost every city has at least one diner or restaurant owned by Greeks. The menus at these restaurants include hamburgers, hotdogs, meatloaf, eggs, and a few Greek items, such as Moussaka or a Gyro Plate. In the United States Greek cuisine has this fewer vegetables and fresh seafood.

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