Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Similarities in Greek & Persian-Iranian Cuisine

There are many similarities in Greek and Persian-Iranian cuisine. Indeed, Greece shares more in common with Persian cuisine than it does with Western European cuisine. Basil, mint, cumin, cloves, saffron and coriander were traded along with olive along the ancient Aryan trade routes connecting Greece and Iran (Persia). Later Parthian and the Sassanian (100 BCE-600 CE) records mention walnut, pistachio, pomegranate, cucumber, broad bean, pea and sesame in their trade records.

Historically, a sour sauce called abyrtake (also aburtake, abyrtake, aburtakh) demonstrates the Persian influence on Greek cuisine during the fourth century BCE. Polyaenus states that abyrtake was prepared for the Persian king's table and playwright Theopompus (born c. 380 BCE) in Theseus writes, "He will reach the land of the Medes, where aburtake is made mostly of cress and leeks." Theopompus notes that abyrtake was the foreign ('barbarian' sic) fashion in Athens. Abyrtake is described by Photius as a luxury Medic (i.e. Persian) sauce (with a laxative effect) made from sour ingredients: salted capers, cress, garlic, cardamom, mustard, raisins, pomegranate seeds, leeks and even vinegar. (cf. Food in the Ancient World from A to Z by Andrew Dalby)

Persian Dolma and Greek Dolmades

Dolma is a edible leaf wrap stuffed with a variety of mixtures that may or may not contain meat. Dolmas that contain meat are usually served hot, while vegetarian dolmas are often served cold as a finger food. The leaf used to wrap the stuffing is often a parboiled grape leaf, though cabbage leaves are also used. The stuffing may consist of ground meat, rice, chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, split peas, and seasoning. Fruit stuffings are distinctly Persian. While the name dolma is said to have Turkish roots, the concept of using grape leaves and a rice-based stuffing lends itself to Iranian roots. Dolmas are popular throughout what was once the Persian Empire.

Persian Chelo-Kebab and Greek Rice-Souvlaki
Chelo (or chelow) mean parboiled rice. Kebab (or kabob) is grilled meat. When the kebab is grilled on a skewer, a seekh, it is called seekh-kebab or shish-kebab. One of the more common chelo-kebab dishes use ground meat shish-kebabs. Variants are chicken and sea-food kebabs. Souvlaki is the Greek version of a shish-kebab. The traditional meat for both is lamb. When served with rice, souvlaki is similar in concept to the chelo-kebab. Both the rice and the souvlaki have more in common with the east and Persia-Iran than they have with Europe.

Kebabs or Souvlaki and Pita Bread
Kebabs and souvlaki are often eaten with naan and pita bread respectively rather than rice. Once again Greek pita bread has more in common with the east and naan than it has with Western Europe.

The examples of Iranian-Persian and Greek cuisine above serve to demonstrate historical cultural links and ties between the two nations. These links are more overt than are even linguistic comparisons. They also give us clues to the direction of cultural movement. Persian history, culture and customs preoccupied classical Greek writers in their investigations and form a sizeable portion of their texts. Greater Iran (which includes Persia) itself serves as an interesting bridge culture between India to the south-east and Greece to the west - and the cuisine of these areas gives us a fascinating insight into these links.

We should also not forget that ancient Greece was substantially Asian with 'Ionian' Greece occupying the west-coast of what is Turkey today and with Greek settlements extending along the northern Turkish coast up to the Caucasus mountain range - all areas that bordered either the extended Persian-Iranian empire or the core empire of Iran-shahr.

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