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Article by Marina

These past few weeks there have been quite a lot of food traditions going on around us. Have you smelt a mouthwatering barbeque in your neighbourhood? Or driven past a park or field and seen families stretched out on picnic blankets with all sorts of delights in front of them?

The reason for all this activity is quite simple: Easter is approaching!

In the Greek world, the approach to Easter is marked by a number of traditional culinary customs, as people prepare to fast. Fasting lasts for 50 days before Easter (it's actually 48 days because two fasting days fall into the carnival period).  Fasting means that people avoid meat, dairy and most fish.

So of course, there must be one final party to enjoy meat before fasting begins, and this occurs on a Thursday and is known as Sykoses.  This name comes from the Greek verb ‘sikono’, which means ‘to lift’ – what happens on this day is that all meat is ‘lifted’ or taken away in preparation for fasting.

On this day every year, you’ll see people barbequing in their backyards, in village squares or on town streets. Even office workers will set up barbeques on their office balconies, or on the street!

The air in towns, villages and neighbourhoods is thick with the fragrance – and smoke – of grilled meat.  This smoke is called ‘tsikna’ in Greek, and so the day has come to be known as ‘Tsiknopemti’, or ‘The Thursday of Tsikna’.

But of course, celebrating the end of eating meat for 40 days is not enough for us Greeks: we then have to celebrate the start of eating only vegetables! This day is called ‘Kathari Deftera’, or Green Monday (although this literally translates as ‘Clean Monday’).

On Kathari Deftera, families go out into the fields and reconnect with the earth and all things green! They spread blankets on the ground and unpack a never-ending stream of vegetarian treats.

There is no ‘salad’ on the menu, but greens are simply washed and eaten raw. On a typical family’s Kathari Deftera picnic blanket, you could expect to find the following:

Maroulia (lettuce), rokka (rocket plant), tomates (tomatoes), anginares (artichokes), piperia (peppers), panjaria (beetroots), elies (olives – both green and black),  tahini, houmous, moungra (cauliflower specialty), lagana bread, daktilies (soft sesame seed covered bread), taramosalata (smoked cod’s roe),  repanakia (radishes), koliandros (coriander), kouloumbra (kohlrabi), and angourakia (small cucumbers).

‘Kali Sarakosti’ is the wish exchanged by all on this day, and Kathari Deftera sets an end to carnival, to meat eating and cheese eating.  Fasting begins, and with it comes a host of imaginative and delicious vegetarian meals!


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