Cuisine of the MR
- When the refugees arrived in the Monastic Republic, Lebanese and Greeks in 1885 and Greeks from Turkey in 1922 and 1923, they brought their cuisine with them. However, all the ingredients from their homelands were no longer available to them. It was difficult to import food in those days and they had to use what was at hand. In time a distinctive Athonite cuisine emerged, a blending of Greek and Near Eastern cuisines.
- Ethnic or national cuisines are defined by certain ingredients and the combinations of them that are used.
- The Middle East
- The Middle East is the cradle of wheat and barley, chick peas and fava beans and the olive. Sesame seed is used, not as a flavoring as in the Orient, but as a thick paste. The yogurt of central Asia is common, as is their tradition of spit-roasted meats.
- A variety of flavorings is used. Most important are fresh parsley, dill and mint. Sadly, cinnamon disappeared from the cuisine because of its unavailability. Lemon juice is used in place of the vinegar or tamarind of other cuisines. And the tomato, once it became available, has become a staple of Athonite cuisine.
- There are two basic flavor principles in the Middle East. The first is tomato/cinnamon with variations from lemon and dill. The second is lemon/parsley with variations from garlic and mint. It is this second that is used exclusively in the Athonite cuisine.
- Greek cuisine is a subset of Mediterranean cuisine and the olive defines Mediterranean cuisine.
- Flavoring include onions, garlic, parsley, basil, oregano, thyme, anchovies, pine nuts, almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts.
- The tomato and the bell pepper were added after the discovery of the New World. Interestingly, this cuisine did not choose the hot varieties of the capsicum pepper, but the milder bell pepper.
- Especially Greek is wild thyme, also called oregano. Together with olive oil and lemon, it characterizes much of Greek cooking.
- The Middle East
- There are restaurants (ρεςτοράν) in the Monastic Republic that serve Greek or Near Eastern or Turkish cuisine, but the taverns (ταβερνάκ) and inns (χαν) and B&B’s (πανςιόν) and coffee bars (καφενί) and tea houses (τεϊοποτί) and kiosks (κιόςκ) serve only Athonite cuisine. Consider yourself fortunate to be invited for dinner to the home of a citizen.
- Virtually all the bread consumed in the Monastic Republic, with the exception of pastries, is flat bread, i.e., unleavened bread, a simple concoction of flour, water, and salt (pita is leavened). In the Monastic Republic it is known by the Lebanese name saj (ςατζ). The Turkish name is yufka. Because this food item is the staple of the diet in the Monastic Republic every available hectare is devoted to the growing of wheat. This means virtually every hectare outside of the limits alloted to the three towns. The only buildings outside town limits are the prison and the Aoun Brewery.
- The Greeks from Turkey brought with them the concept of the tandoor oven (τάντιρ). Virtually every household has one in the courtyard (αύλι).
- The Orthodox nuns in Aktí bake a thinner saj that is used by the churches for the Eucharist. The monks bake their own.
- The only source of red meat is the occasional goat or kid from the large flock on Ammouliani. When one is available it is usually sold to an eatery in the town and, for a while, a chevon dish is served. Chicken is available. Many households raise chickens and often sell them to local eateries. When the chickens of the monasteries are no longer able to lay eggs, they are sold in the Lowland. Egg dishes are common in the Monastic Republic.
- Seafood is the main source of protein in the Monastic Republic. Each town has a fishing fleet and they bring home a large catch of fish and shellfish. Many recipes that originally called for meat have been recast for seafood.
- The only source of milk is goats. Some of it is sold for drinking, but the larger part of it is used to make cheese. The dairy on Ammouliani makes three types of cheese: a firm cheese (χέλιμ), fresh or aged, much like mozzarella, which is firm enough to fry; a crumbly cheese (φετ) like feta; and a whey cheese (μίζιθ) similar to ricotta.
Fruits and nuts
- Grapes, fresh or dried, are served. In season, there are fresh oranges. Lemon and lime juice are used as flavorings. The Sericulture Association, which has a monopoly on the mulberry bushes, sells fresh mulberries and makes mulberry preserves. Chestnuts are harvested by the Monastery of Sts. Peter and Paul and what is not used for their chestnut liqueur is sold in the Lowland. These are used frequently in recipes that originally called for almonds. Monks throughout the Holy Mountain harvest the seeds from the pine Pinus pinea, the pine nut, to sell in the Lowland.
- Some householders have a vegetable garden in their courtyards (αύλι). Large hothouses grow an assortment of vegetables hydroponically. Most of the space is given over to tomatoes, bell peppers, and eggplants. One complete hothouse is used to grow herbs. Fresh herbs are always available in the markets. Experiments are underway to grow mushrooms in artificial caves in the foothills of the Lowland.
- A variety of pastries are made in the Monastic Republic, the supreme example of which is baklava (μπακλάβ): layers of saj and pine nuts, sweetened with honey and rose water. Since ice cream must be imported, most of the eateries prefer to make and serve sorbets (ςέρμπετ): lemon, lime, orange and wine flavored. Chestnuts are candied.
- Although they must be imported, tea and coffee are drunk, with tea outdistancing coffee four to one. Of course, there is the wine produced by the monasteries and the citrus liqueurs made on Ammouliani. The Monastic Republic has its own brewery, the Aoun Brewery, which brews a light brown wheat beer. Ades are made from the citrus fruits and bottled.
Some Typical Dishes
- sarmádh (ςαρμάδ < Turk. sarmak, to wrap) (The Greek dolma < Turk. dolmak, to be stuffed, is properly applied only to vegetables that are stuffed, e.g., eggplant, squash, peppers, etc.) – The rice must be imported; no cinnamon is used. Either grape leaves or cabbage leaves are used.
- terbíye (τερμπίγε) – This Greek soupa avgolemono (egg-lemon soup) is made with fish stock and bits of fish and/or shellfish. It may also be made with chicken or vegetable stock. Lime juice may be used instead of lemon.
- souvlák (ςουβλάκ) – the Greek souvlaki, diminutive of souvla, skewer, < Latin subula, awl. Chevon, chicken, swordfish or shellfish may be skewered.
- hummus with tahini (χούμους με ταχίν < Arabic hummus, chickpea) – Chick peas (ρεβιθί) are grown in one of the hot houses. Lime juice is often used instead of lemon juice. Since the sesame paste (tahini) has to be imported, the paste added is often made from pine nuts.
- baba ghanouj (μπάμπα γανούδζ) (Greek, μελιτζανοςαλάτα, eggplant salad) – Essentially the same as hummus, but made with eggplant instead of chick peas. Lime juice is often used instead of lemon juice.