The Village Salad & The Greek Diet

A serving of Horiatiki Salata. The full recipe can be found on The Food page.

I last visited Greece in 2009. It’s been three years, but the memories remain as vivid as the turquoise water of the Mediterranean.

While in Greece, my family and I live as locals, not tourists: we look after our own cooking and cleaning. My family lives in Piraeus, the Port City of Greece, situated south of Athens. My sister Steph and I met with Yiayia and Papou in Piraeus. After a week of cleaning the otherwise untouched floors and windows, we left for Kythera: Papou’s home island, nestled just off the southern coast of the mainland.

During dry summers, temperatures rise easily above 45 degrees Celsius. On both the mainland and the islands, one of the best ways to cool down is to cut a fresh salad when you can’t make it to the beach. Especially in the city where it was often too hot to turn on the stove or oven, we’d have to settle for a horiatiki salad.

Horiatiki salata is true Greek salad. Hwrio comes from the root word Hora meaning village. Horiatiki salad consists of the following fresh ingredients:

  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Onions
  • Olives
  • Feta
  • Olive oil
  • Oregano

Hence the name: these are ingredients small communities could (and continue) to harvest in their own gardens throughout Greece, and more specifically on the islands. It is an inexpensive and filling dish.

In Greece, genetically engineered and genetically modified produce isn’t the norm; most produce is imported from the islands. Sklavonitis, one of the main supermarket franchises, always carries fresh, Cretan tomatoes, one of my favourite vegetables, and a staple in the Greek diet. The Mediterranean diet is noted as one of the best in the world. Three staple condiments–garlic, lemon, and oregano–add flavour to every dish, and help keep heart-health in check. I recently read an article on Elena Paravantes’ Olive Tomato blog, about the decline of the Mediterranean diet. Elena writes:

“And it’s not just the locals who are rejecting their traditional diet, even the local cooking schools do not teach Cretan cuisine. Can you imagine that? Why would an island that has one of the oldest and healthiest culinary traditions in the world not teach its cuisine in the local cooking schools? The students are taught continental cuisine instead, and they learn traditional Cretan cuisine on their own time. The same situation is seen in other areas of Greece.”

Today, it is understandable that schools teach continental cuisine over traditional Greek cuisine, because most households continue to cook traditional dishes. Why pay to learn how to make these dishes? While it is a shame to even hear that the diet is declining, I don’t think it will perish because of it’s popularity around the world. I am constantly seeing advertisements for “Greek Yogurt” and “Greek Salad,” even if it is not made correctly. Doesn’t the fact that we see these ads in North America mean the diet is popular? Or at least should be?

Between my first trip in 2005, and my most recent trip in 2009, I did notice a shift in our cuisine, giving way to a saltier, more deep fried pallet. But while in Greece we rarely eat out because nothing compares with Horiatiki salata made fresh at home.

I dedicated a blog post to this salad, because one no one seems to get the salad right. I mean fine, I don’t have anything against lettuce, but part of the reason why the diet is diminishing is because chefs and restaurants choose to modify the ingredients, thus loosing the authentic, original recipe, over several “experimentation’s” of the recipe. Maybe we are just missing the opportunity to be taught authentic recipes. To wrap up today’s post, I’m wondering: do you think the Mediterranean diet is susceptible to a complete loss of authenticity? And also, have you adopted any recipes in your household based on the Mediterranean diet?

Elena’s post can be found here. Also check out the following posts regarding the Mediterranean diet:

Five Steps to eat more like a Mediterranean this year. Step 5: It’s all about the condiments.

Olives, Olive Oil and Tomatoes

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2 thoughts on “The Village Salad & The Greek Diet

  1. Your blog makes me so hungry! Your description of food is so good that it makes me crave whatever you’re talking about. Being Italian, I’ve always been exposed to some bit of the Mediterranean diet. My family even makes a salad similar to “Horiatiki salata”, the only difference is we use bocconcini instead of feta. But your blog makes me want to go out for Greek food (even if it’s not done right). On that note I see your point that if no one bothers to make the original recipe and continue making their own substitutions then it’s quite possible the Mediterranean diet might be completely lost. Having said that, I don’t think it’s likely to happen mainly because it’s so unique that it couldn’t possibly disappear entirely. I also think that “experimentation” recipes are important and a fantastic way to discover new dishes (remember all recipes began as some sort of experiment and denying experimentation in recipes, in my mind, goes against one of the best parts of cooking). I think as long as people remember the basics of what makes the Mediterranean diet so good, it’ll never lose its authenticity.

  2. Thank you for the kind words! And that’s awesome, our cultures are, without a doubt, very similar. Random side note: I love bocconcini. And you make a valid point, that if the basics are remembered, authenticity will remain. I should take my own cooking for example: although I learn from watching my parents cook, and get the basics down, I improvise the rest. P.S. If you’re going to go for Greek food, go to Souvlaki Hut! (Their food is pretty good, not going to lie). 🙂

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