At Christmas, the holiday table displays a galore of mouthwatering dishes, salty and sweet alike, which uphold age-old traditions and honour culinary customs. Let’s take Christmas as the opportunity to redraw the gastronomic map of Greece.
The festive table
The absolute master of the Christmas table is pork, whose consumption is connected to festivities since the times of Ancient Greece. Back then, the farmers would sacrifice pigs and invoke God Cronus and Goddess Demeter to mercy them with fertility for their lands and purgation from the bad demons for their houses. Pork and celery is the most common recipe throughout the country. On the Ionian Islands and especially on Kefalonia (Cephalonia) they have poutrida (pork boiled together with cauliflower and cabbage); in Crete, they roast pork’s shoulder blades on lemon leaves.
In the city of Ioannina, they are known for their preference to wild boar, whereas on Samos they make a scrumptious dish of pork boiled with lemon and called pichtí (=thick). In the mainland, in Evia and in Peloponnese, they vary their choice between pork baked in the oven and pork kontosouvli, i.e. a large skewer. In Thrace, they burn the midnight oil boiling pork with several herbs and spices; they call it babo or baboo and have it after the Mass. Smoked meat and fried fat pork round off the meat overflow in many areas of Greece. In Epirus, they make their renowned pies; try meat pies with onions and leeks, zucchini pies, milk pies, batsára (vegetable pie with corn flour) or kothrópita (boiled chicken with rice). In the Dodecanese, they symbolize the swaddling clothes of Jesus Christ in the cabbage or vine leaves with which they wrap a minced-meat and rice mixture: those are the famous giaprákia.
Sweet teasers with cinnamon and honey
One cannot leave a table satisfied unless they have felt the pleasure of sweetness on their tongue. Honey is a symbol of abundance and that makes it indispensible for the Christmas table. Greeks enjoy it with pancakes, díples, and melomakárona. In the city of Volos, they are baklavá lovers, whereas on Corfu they skip honey to sweeten their palates with Christmas pudding. Sweet pies with walnuts (called platséda) await the diners on Lesvos, whereas the area of Kavala honours those famous butter and almond biscuits dusted with powdered sugar named kourampiédes. A version of those is peculiar to Samos by the name of katádes.
The traditional Christ bread
It is so traditional and so common to several areas of Greece that it deserves a special mention. The bread believed to be carrying the blessing of Christ is made of finely sieved wheat flour, nuts, sesame and spices. A cross etched on it and a walnut as symbol of fertility are topped off by dough designs (flowers, leaves, fruit) in decorating its surface.