Friday, July 25, 2014

Dining in Greece in 1903.

Yesterday we glimpsed early twentieth century Romanian cuisine through the eyes of
Lieut.-Col. Nathaniel Newnham-Davis, the author of Gourmet's Guide to Europe, published in London in 1903.  I don’t want to leave this fascinating book without giving you one more opinion on European cuisine from the ‘Anglo-Saxon gourmet.’ I have chosen his description of Greece, I confess in part because of the frighteningly funny suggestion in the final paragraph.

Grecian Dishes - Athenian Restaurants.
No one lives better than a well-to-do Greek outside his own country, and when he is in Greece his cook manages to do a great deal with comparatively slight material. A Greek cook can make a skewered pigeon quite palatable, and the number of ways he has of cooking quails, from the simple method of roasting them cased in bay leaves to all kinds of mysterious bakings after they have been soused in oil, are innumerable. There are pillaus or pilafis without number in the Greek cuisine, chiefly of lamb, and it is safe to take for granted that anything à la Grec is likely to be something savoury, with a good deal of oil, a suspicion of onion, a flavour of parsley, and a good deal of rice with it. These, however, are some of the most distinctive dishes: Coucouretzi, the entrails and liver of lamb, roasted on a spit; Dolmades, meat balls wrapped in vine or white cabbage leaves, and served with a cream sauce and a squeeze of lemon juice; Tomates Yermistes, which are tomatoes stuffed with forcemeat; Youvarlakia, balls of rice and chopped meat covered with tomato sauce; and Bligouri, wheat coarsely ground, cooked in
broth, and eaten with grated cheese. Argokalamara, a paste of flour and yolk of egg fried in butter with honey poured over it, and Chaha and Loukoumia, are some of the sweets of the cuisine. All Grecian cookery is done over a charcoal fire. A too great use of oil is the besetting sin of the indifferent Greek cook. The egg-plant is the great "stand-by" of the Grecian kitchen ; it is stuffed in a dozen different ways.

The food of the peasant is grain, rice, goat-flesh when he can get it, a skinny fowl on the great festivals, milk, and strong-tasting cheese. A bunch of grapes and a hunch of sour bread is his usual hot weather meal.

The Grecian wines, though some of them taste shockingly of resin, are not unpalatable. Solon, Soutzos, Kephista, Kephallenia, are all quite drinkable; and the better-class wines of Kephallenia, and those of Patras, made by a German firm, are enjoyable. Much of the Greek wine goes to Vienna and other centres of the wine trade, and reappears with labels on the bottles having no connection with Greece.


The restaurants of Athens are not happy hunting-grounds for the Anglo-Saxon gourmet. The Restaurant Splendid, in the Hotel des Etrangers, Place de la Constitucion, the Minerva, and the D'Athenes, both in the Rue de Stade, are the pick of a not too promising bunch ; and Murray recommends one in Amalias Street, near the Palace, which I do not remember to have seen.

A most grave litterateur to whom, as he had been lately travelling in Greece, I applied for supplementary information, applied the adjective "beastly" to all Greek restaurants, and added that the one great crying need of Greece and Athens is an American bar for the sale of cooling drinks in the Parthenon.

As the recipe for the day I feel compelled to again use as my source Foods of the foreign-born in relation to health, by Bertha M. Wood (Boston, 1922.)

Bean Stew (Greek)
¾ quart shelled beans (fresh)              ½ teaspoon salt
2 cups tomatoes (canned)                   ¼ teaspoon pepper
1 small onion                                       4 tablespns. olive oil
¾ cup lamb (cut into small pieces)

Put meat in hot oil and fry until nearly cooked, adding onion, chopped fine. Add tomato, beans, water, salt, and pepper. Cover well and cook over a rather slow fire.

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