Greek food, while fresh and inviting, is also a trip back in history. Greece’s culinary traditions go back over 4,000 years!
Greek cuisine, historically a forerunner of Western cuisine, spread its culinary influence – via ancient Rome – throughout Europe and beyond. It has incorporated influences from other peoples the Greeks have interacted with over the centuries, making it the very first example of “fusion’ cuisine.
Greece’s “fusion” cuisine can be traced right back to 320 B.C. when the ancient Greek poet Archestratos wrote the first cookbook in history. Ancient Greek cuisine was characterized by its frugality and was founded on a Mediterranean triad of wheat, olive oil, and wine, of which olive oil has always been central. Meat was rarely consumed, fish being more common. (This trend continued in Roman and Ottoman times and changed only fairly recently when technological progress has made meat more available).
In 334 B.C., Alexander the Great extended the Greek Empire’s reach from Europe to India. As a result, certain northern and eastern influences were absorbed into Greek culinary repertoire.
In 146 B.C., Greece fell to the Romans, which resulted in a blending of a Roman influence into Greek cooking. In 330 A.D., Emperor Constantine founded the Byzantine Empire, on the site of the Greek colony of Byzantium. This became onstantinople, the centre of the hellenized eastern Roman empire, becoming a cosmopolitan melting pot of European and Asian nations. The Byzantine cuisine was similar to the classical cuisine, including however new ingredients that were not available before,like caviar, nutmeg, lemons and basil, with fish continuing to be an integral part of the diet. Byzantine cuisine benefited from Constantinople’s position as a global hub of the spice trade.
Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453 and remained part of the Ottoman Empire for nearly 400 years. Many of these influences were, in turn, absorbed into Greek sweet and savoury culinary traditions.
Throughout these times, classic elements of Greek cuisine travelled across borders, and were well-received, adapted and adopted in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and still farther east, with Alexander the Great.