Sunday, April 15, 2012

Greek Easter food


easonality in food is all the rage now. The First World's affluent classes' fatigue of sour January strawberries has found its expression in a pursuit of food that is not lured into growing with high-tech trickery and complex chemicals. This latest niche trend is not all down to nifty marketing. As the palates have become more sophisticated,  people realised that all that pciture-pperfect perfect-looking fruit that does not go bad for weeks tastes quite like moist toilet paper.
Seasonality can also be fabricated, Baudrillard's fourth stage of simulacrum: in the 90s Japan when I was a student, the marketing cycle for junk food from the product launch to the definite discontinuation was already three months. A lot of it was tied to seasons and particular occasions. For example, Harvest Moon burgers in Japanese McDonald's would be phased in and out within a week.

Coming from the other end, seasonality can be rooted in tradition. Eating turkey for Christmas may be a Victorian invention but holiday-specific food most certainly dates from pre-Christian times. Marking harvests, solstices and such with special food gives the human life a rhythm, connects the mundane with the celestial and repletes our existence with a meaning larger than our lives.

Commensality, eating together, can reconfirm kinship ties, community cohesion and even national unity. The latter is probably the case with the Greeks who have weathered out five centuries of Turkish rule by eating arni psito (Αρνί ψητό, charcoal-grilled lamb) and Easter bread with dyed eggs.

As visitors, we can only partake in such customs superficially, enjoying the taste and the festivity of the occasion but missing out on its deeper meanings. Oh, just as well. I have timed our trip around Peloponnese with the Orthodox Easter to enjoy this time-limited opportunity to gorge on the food the Greeks consider good enough to celebrate God's resurrection with. And pretty good it turned out to be.
Before Easter Sunday meat consumption is to be avoided so we had ourselves a seafood platter. Simply deep-fried tempura style it goes well with Greek salad, fried potatoes and very simple yet honest local white.

Easter Sunday morning is full of barbecue flavours wafting through the air. Grilled lamb is nowhere on the menu but served everywhere, just ask for arni psito. We had ours with Monemvasia's local dry red, Oinos o Laikos, People's Wine. Arni psito is cooked very simply, no herbs or spices, but the flavour depth of outdoor bred sheep makes good amply for the lack of culinary sophistry.

The red-dyed egg in the Easter bread symbolizes Christ's blood.