Who doesn’t want an excuse to stuff their face with delicious treats? And what could possibly be a better excuse than Christmas? Greece is known for its magnificent food and the festive season presents itself as another opportunity to explore the Greek cuisine that is guaranteed to -once again- impress you.
Kourabiedes: The "Snow-Covered" Cuffs
Kourabiedes are sweet biscuits made from toast, butter, almonds all sprinkled with powdered sugar. These sweets that characterize the Christmas holiday season in Greece are said to have originated from Persia (first appearing in the 7th century when sugar was brought to the region) and are widespread in Greece, Turkey and the rest of the Balkan countries. Analyzing the Turkish word kurubiye, its roots can be found in the words kuru which means dry, and biye which is a loan from the Latin word for biscuit. Biscuits are produced through a method of double baking, which has been in practice since ancient times. This allows for excess moisture to be expelled and therefore making the biscuit last even longer. The Greek kourabies is quite similar to the Scottish shortbread in taste and is comprised of one part sugar, two parts butter and three parts flour. The oriental origin of kourabiedes, however, requires sheep and goat butter along with almonds, which makes it particularly distinct from the European cookies of the same family. Although kourabiedes may not be the healthiest of the options, they are loved by many due to their rich taste and unique, crumbly texture.
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The sticky goodness of melomakarona
This sticky goodness was, is and always will be our favourite Christmas treat. In Greece, the taste of melomakarona is directly connected to the joy of Christmas holidays; however, their past is quite unexpectedly morbid. A Greek pastry made mainly from flour, semolina, olive oil, orange juice and honey, it is one of the healthier options as it is the lowest in calories. Melomakarona along with kourabiedes are the traditional, national treats that are considered indispensable in every Greek home mainly during the Christmas period and in English, this sweet treat can be found under the name of the small honey cake.
Although the first thought that comes to mind is the Italian word macaroni, the name of melomakarona actually comes from ancient Greece! Specifically, macaroni comes from the ancient Greek word macarias, that was a piece of bread in the shape of the modern melomakarona which was offered after funerals. Later, the bread was dipped in honey syrup, got renamed as melomakarono and was established as a 12-day confection. The Latins and later the Italians used the word macarone as maccarone, which eventually ended up meaning spaghetti. Finally, in France and England, a kind of almond biscuit was called macaroon (the well-known macaron). Putting their morbid past aside, the modern melomakarona are healthy and unique treats that everyone should try!
Healthy and tasty melomakarona
Diples: Tradition doused in honey
Diples (which can be translated as folds) is a Greek dessert, believed to come from the Peloponnese, in which the main ingredient is thin dough. Not impressive, is it? Well, the thin dough may not be the most impressive of ingredients; diples, however, is arguably one of the most delicious and traditional desserts Greece has to offer. The dough is folded into various shapes, fried in hot oil, doused in syrup or, more traditionally, honey, and finally sprinkled with cinnamon and chopped nuts. The folds can have various shapes, but they are most commonly shaped as spirals, bowls and flowers. Diples are usually served on New Year's Eve, but sometimes they are offered at weddings as well! The folds of diples are said to symbolize the infancy of Christ, while honey symbolizes the welfare and creativity that we want the New Year to bring us.
Christmas in a basket, drizzled with honey syrup and topped with chopped walnuts
The New Year’s first taste: Vasilopita
Vasilopita is the pie made in some, mostly Christian, countries on New Year’s Eve and is cut shortly after the year changes. As it is the first thing we taste, it is very important to be as good as we want the whole of the following year to be. In Athens, it is made mainly of flour, eggs, sugar and milk. It can come in various sizes and types but is usually fluffy and sweet. In Western Macedonia, vasilopita is often made with cheese or even parsley. Also, on the vasilopita, the New Year's number is often written with either some type of marmalade, rows of peeled almonds or powdered sugar. Regardless, of whether they are sweet or savoury, they all have one thing in common: an unusual custom according to which, inside the pie one should place a gold or silver coin. With the coming of the New Year, the mother of the family cuts the pie into triangles, a slice is then offered to each person except for three pieces which are dedicated to the Christ, the Virgin & the home. These slices are then eaten on the following days. The one who finds the hidden coin in their piece is believed to be rewarded with good luck for the rest of the New Year!
Enjoying vasilopita right next to the fireplace
Image Credit: Pressroom
You would be lying if you claimed that all this talk about Christmas treats has not left you craving all the Christmas goodies you can find. We apologize in advance for having wreaked your diet. However, we do not apologize for the opportunity that we gave you to get to know the Christmas treats of Greece because the Greek Christmas experience cannot be considered complete without them. Are you interested in tasting all these traditional delicacies while discovering unique places with convivial Christmas atmosphere in the city of Athens? If the answer is YES, then click here to join us for a warm-hearted Greek food experience!