Geographical location, climate, the lay of the land, crops, the natural resources of every area (i.e. geographical factors) as well as various forms of economic development, contacts with other cultures – either due to trade or conquest and occupation (historical factors) – provide the parameters which will the financial, social and cultural identity of each place.
A classic example is that of the islands of the Northeast Aegean – Lesvos, Chios, Samos and Ikaria – which developed completely disparate cultures and had a totally different fate, although they happen to be neighbours.
Ikaria, a wild, mountainous island, was used from antiquity as a place of exile, cut off from its neighbours. But now it is making headlines as a place where “people forget to die” and an ideal choice for those seeking an alternative lifestyle away from urban pressures and worries. Samos and Lesvos, the former rich in timber and vineyards, the latter known for its olive groves and fisheries, both developed closely tied with the coastal towns of Asia Minor just across the narrow straits. Chios, on the other hand, thanks to its monopoly over the prized mastiha trade, developed a worldwide commercial network which led to the development of the most powerful merchant navy in the country.
In this section you’ll find brief introductions to the geographic and historical factors that helped shape the economic and cultural identities of each place.
Various civilizations have flourished in the Greek world since ancient times, remnants of which are encountered throughout the country, constituting a tangible proof of continuity of cultures, cultivations, tastes and of life itself. Food and dishes born in ancient times were passed on to the Roman Empire and from there to Byzantium, the Ottoman Empire and our own days. Recipes, techniques and tastes were loaned to neighbouring civilizations and then, borrowed back. At the same time, dishes brought in from the East, the New Lands in the Americas revitalized Greece’s local cuisines.
In spite of the earth-shaking changes in the course of the past 25 centuries, the introduction of dozens of new crops into Greece, the homogenization – in the past century – of cultural characteristics and the predominance of international models, Greeks continue to enjoy the same foods as their ancestors did: tripe soup, souvlaki (skewered meats), innards, lentil and bean soups, fish, shellfish and seafood, pies of all kinds, meatballs, raisins, honey, almonds and, as far as fruit is concerned, figs, pomegranates and quince, just to mention a few perennial favourites.
Geographical location, geophysical characteristics, weather conditions, soil morphology, cultivations, natural resources as well as contacts with other cultures (as a result of conquest or occupation, trade activities, migration flows), all play a part in forming the gastronomic identity of any given place. The coexistence of populations with people with different eating habits, such as the Jews, the Armenians, Slavs, Albanians, and travels of nomadic populations, like the Sarakatsans and Vlachs, the conquest by Arabs, Venetians, Genoese, Franks and Ottomans and, finally, the mass migrations of Greeks from Asia Minor, the Pontos and Constantinople had a decisive impact on the evolution of local gastronomic habits.