Friday, 4 March 2011

Another take on Greek 'fast' food

This weekend is going to be a long one - but in the nicest possible way.

It's the first time this year that a public holiday tacks itself neatly onto the weekend to give us THREE WHOLE DAYS free of work, school or the need to get up at 6.45am (though knowing me, my eyes will snap open at that ungodly hour even though they don't need to).

The holiday that will give us that delightful gift is what the Greeks call Kathara Devtera (Clean Monday).

Like Pancake Day back in the UK, it marks the official start of the 40-day fast before Easter - but it's on a much bigger scale, like most things related to food and religion here.

Traditionally, for the duration of Lent, God-fearing folk swear off meat, fish, eggs and dairy products (although strangely, seafood is permitted). The "Clean" part refers to the fact that housewives used to throughly scrub their kitchens and cookware to be absolutely sure that no trace of animal product creeps into their cuisine.

Now, the truth is that few Greeks observe the fast for all of Lent these days (though many do in Holy Week, in preparation for the food fest that awaits them on Easter Day).

However, on Clean Monday, after the obligatory attempt to fly a kite (another tradition of the day whose origin is a total mystery to me), most Greeks can be found gathered at a table groaning with all manner of fast-friendly food, and having a good old natter with their friends and family.

Spinach pies, rich bean stews, chickpea fritters, barbecued prawns, macaroni with octopus cooked into velvety submission in a wine sauce, steaming bowls of wild greens, fresh crisp salads, aniseed flavoured bread - it's all good yummy stuff.

As you may have gathered, religion plays no part in my life. However, it is there in the background with the Greek family I married into - and it plays an important part in the social fabric of the Greek society.

I go with the flow.
After all, it's one of the few times I'm not viewed with surprise and suspicion for not eating meat.

Now, you might think that the Lenten fast is a great way to lose weight. Think again.

Consider the joys of chips, fried squid, fried aubergines, fried courgettes, deep fried prawns (are you seeing a trend here?) etc., and you'll see that we’re looking at a truck-load of calories. And then there are all the ‘virtuous’ sweets that the fast permits, all packed with sugar and usually swimming in syrup. Or my personal favourite, ‘tahini’ (sesame paste) mixed with honey, a delicious smooth and sweet nutty concoction that I can literally devour by the jar.

Not much chance of dropping a jean size or two before Easter then.

Now I do know that it is not really that hard to eat extremely healthily and lose weight while observing the traditional fast. Trouble is, I’m a foody. I love food. I love planning it, I love cooking it and I love eating it (so long as it is well-made from good ingredients). While I don’t think I live to eat, I do consider it to be one of life’s pleasures, so a week of plain boiled cauliflower is not for me. Is that a sin?

And finally, a question for any Greek readers out there (@HonestMummy can you hear me?). Fish and eggs are forbidden during the Lenten fast, right? Why, then, is taramosalata (principal ingredient fish roe) permitted?

Not that I mind, of course.

Pass me that bit of pitta bread.

1 comment:

  1. I attempted to google for you and failed miserably. My bet is that it is merely an oversight.

    That sounds such fun (fattening fun, but in my opinion that's the best kind).

    We went for a meal last night and suffering today. I'm working from bed and the other arf is asleep still. Ill.

    Plus, I had pancakes on Tuesday thinking it was Shrove Tuesday. Which is, of course, next week. What a pr*ck.

    I love your little snippets of Greek life. It makes me feel knowledgeable and cultured :)