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E - 85 : The invisible Border (3) - Greece's Levantine Cuisine

Updated: Apr 21, 2021

We talked in previous blogs what still separates Italy from Greece and discovered the old border between East and West Rome. The former border is still evident in the different Alphabet (E - 113) and the line that separates Catholics from Orthodox Christians (E - 109). Not surprisingly it is also visible in the art of cooking. Greek Cuisine has few ties to Western Europe but is strongly related to the Middle East. I'd call it a cousin of the Levantine Cuisine.

Culturally, Greece belonged for far longer to the Middle East than to Europe. From the time of Alexander's victory over the Persians in 333 BC to the Arab conquest of the Levant in 637 AD, Greece was politically and commercially part of the Middle East. After few interruptions, the link was re-established during the Crusades and after the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1453. Only in 1822 did Greece become an independent nation. Commercial ties always continued, despite the political situation.

Most of us love Moussaka and our chef Konstantinos makes a specifically good one. But also most of us think it is a Greek dish - except that it is not. The word "Musaqqa'a" is Arab and Moussaka like egg plant dishes can be found throughout the Middle East

The Greek Dolomades, grape leaves stuffed with minced meat and rice, find their equivalent in Dolmas in the Levantine Cuisine, stuffed vegetables like peppers, aubergines, tomatoes or courgettes

Almost the same can be said about the Greek Souvlaki which have their peer in Shashlik.

The Greek Gyros are not only popular with European tourists - I like them as well. They are though rather the same as the fabulous Shawarmas I can buy at Edgware Road in London.

And Greek Spanakopita becomes in Turkey and Albania Byrek

Of course we can not leave out the famous Greek Yoghurt be it eaten with honey or made into Tzatziki like on this photo. Yogurt is a Turkish word though and the origin of strained milk lies in the steps of Asia

At least the sweet and delicious Baklava is called everywhere the same

Which is not the case for coffee. Don't order Turkish coffee in a Greek restaurant. It won't go down well with the owner. It is Greek coffee - made that mistake a couple of times - ohh!

Am not writing any of this to take the Greek cuisine down - to the contrary. It is delicious and I am looking forward to getting as much of it as possible. It just shows that cultural ties are far deeper than we usually know and that commercial activities enrich our lives. I do not really care who invented which food and who named it. What I treasure is whether it is good, fresh and prepared with love. People who create foods are artists and I pay tribute to their talents - not their passports. Konstantinos, here we come!

Wikipedia has a good site on Levantine Cuisine - have a look - you get hungry by doing so

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