« Engines of Creation | Gene Expression Front Page | Modern life »
September 24, 2004


Oh you heretic! Ricotta? Bechamel IS an integral part of lasagna....damn americans...;)

Re: The following article

I'd bet good money that what happened to Greek moussaka happened to Italian lasagna. Hegemony, colonization, blahblahblah...

Judith Weinraub, "Back to the Classics", The Washington Post, 2004 August 11.

[In] 1896, when Athens hosted the first modern-day Olympic Games...the food on the very best Athenian tables was French -- chicken in a red wine sauce or a white sauce thick with Gruyere cheese, and boned poached fish with mayonnaise. More traditional regional dishes such as eggplant caviar or the caper, potato and garlic dip known as skordalia or braised wild greens were shunted aside as lower-class.

"The fashionable food of the time was completely French," says Aglaia Kremezi, a Greek culinary historian and cookbook author. "The chefs were French-trained. The menus were written in French, with all French specialties."

Kremezi, whose new book, "The Foods of the Greek Islands" (Houghton Mifflin, 2004), celebrates regional foods, thinks that's a shame. "At the end of the 19th century, they wouldn't have been interested in these [regional] dishes," she says. "They weren't considered fashionable. Even up until the 1970s, no one would imagine cooking these foods at dinner parties or serving them in restaurants. They were considered foods of the poor."
[After the emergence of Greece as a sovereign state in 1832] wealthy Greek families returned from self-imposed exiles in cosmopolitan cities all over Europe [bringing] the latest food trends with them. "They knew what the rest of the world was doing," says Kremezi. "They knew that French was the 'in' cuisine. This is what they tried to imitate and cook for guests in their homes.["]

Enter Nicholas Tselementes, a Greek chef who trained in Europe and who wrote what is considered the first comprehensive cookbook in modern Greek. Published in 1910, it became an important resource for fashionable Greek women and sold more than 100,000 copies in 10 editions by the time Tselementes died in 1958.

Although he pointed with pride to the ancient origins of the Greek culinary arts, Tselementes had a cooking style that was unabashedly European, and his influence was pervasive. In his kitchen, traditional regional dishes languished: No garlic for Tselementes -- or as little as possible. No affection for the spicy dishes of the Turks and Slavs either. And no particular pride in highlighting the bounty of the countryside or the sea.

"He really changed Greek cooking -- he destroyed it," says Kremezi, who has been studying his work and its impact for a decade. Instead of olive oil, Tselementes preferred butter. Instead of presenting foods naturally, he preferred them covered with precisely made French sauces, like bechamel.

In fact, his affection for the classic white sauce made with flour, milk and butter transformed two of the most internationally famous Greek dishes, moussaka (usually made with eggplant and ground meat) and pastitsio (pasta and ground meat). Before Tselementes, the casseroles came to the table without their familiar creamy topping. Ever since, they are rarely served in their original naked state.

The many reprints of his popular 500-page cookbook, "Odigos Mageirikis" ("Cooking Instructions") -- even after his death -- extended his reach to several generations. (It is no longer in print.)

"His book made the trend official," says Kremezi, "so people who were preparing the traditional foods were made to feel inferior."

emphasis mine

Posted by jeet at 11:34 PM