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It's not Mediterranean--it's GREEK!

This has been tugging at me for a while now. The trend of calling foods "Mediterranean" is a worrisome trend for me since I've noticed that much Greek food is falling into this category, thus further pushing the "real" Greek cuisine even further into hiding.

Why are companies doing this? What prompted this exact post was a commercial I saw last night for the new McDonald's 'Mediterranean' salad. So, the commercial has greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, crumbled feta. This to me is a Greek salad, no? I've also seen this on salad dressings and frozen pizzas amongst other things when it very clearly is Greek, I've even seen 'Mediterranean souvlaki'!

So why not call it a Greek salad? What is keeping everyone from wanting to market things Greek? Is there a stigma out there about Greek food? Not well enough known to the general public? What's the story here? I guess this is in some cases the same as saying 'Southern' foods.

As a proud Greek, I am baffled and as stated above disappointed that our fantastic cuisine gets relegated to the Mediterranean basket every time. I'd like to hear fellow Chowhounds' thoughts on this.

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  1. In Canada, it seems, "Mediterranean" is a euphemism for Lebanese.

    2 Replies
    1. re: John Manzo

      Here in Cleveland, there are several "Mediterranean" stores that sell Middle Eastern food and nothing Greek.

      1. re: John Manzo

        Or the "Mister Greek Mediterranean Grill" :-(

      2. My theory is that most of the Mediterranean countries have similar dishes using the same (or similar) ingredients only in various amounts and utilizing different methods... so in the minds of some marketing agents it's all lumped togather. Shouldn't be, but that's what I think.

        1. Maybe the salad can be doused in Ranch dressing instead of just olive oil, so it's not really a Greek salad. I have no idea. Maybe the heads at McDonald's were hoping that if people saw Mediterranean salad they'd think "Mediterranean diet" and instantly assume it's a great healthy option.

          1. As a fellow proud Greek I am also disappointed that the only Greek food you can get anywhere are gyros and moussaka at the diner. I could never figure out why Greek restaurants aren't as prevalent as Italian-American ones.

            7 Replies
            1. re: edwinasam

              Ironically the best authentic Greek food (read the stuff yiayia made) that I ever had was in an upscale resto in San Francisco a few years ago now - Kokkari Estiatorio. Although similar dishes are found in Toronto, the quality is poor; not much choice beyond the standard, mediorcre, gyros and souvlaki. As for the Mediterranean reference, Greeks need to remember that their history has influenced their cuisine. Think Turkey, Italy, Africa, the Balkans, etc. Greek food can be considered Mediterranean, but Mediterranean is not necessarily Greek.

              1. re: edwinasam

                Here in Birmingham (Alabama, not England), we're blessed to have a large Greek population with lots of Greek restauranteurs. Sure, there are the diners you mentioned with the obligatory menu items, but several restaurants here boast traditional Greek fare. LOTS of lamb, pastitsio, dolmades, and loads of fish and keftedes are on the menu.

                1. re: sheilal

                  sheilal, I'm about an hour and half away from Birmingham.. some of my friends and I are on the lookout for really good locally owned places to try. Do you mind recommending a couple of the local Greek restaurants you've mentioned?

                  1. re: grnidkjun

                    If it's greek-style fish you crave, go to the Fish Market on the Southside of Birmingham. It's pretty casual, but they have wonderful fish options. The greek salad is great and they offer a West Indies salad which is impossible to find anywhere else in the city. They also have a market where you can buy greek food stuffs and a great wine selection.

                    If you're looking for a variety, I really like Nabeel's in Homewood. It's very, very casual, and they too have an attached market. http://www.nabeels.com/menu.html I've never had a bad meal there. Everything is very tasty - Youvetsaki, Pastitsio, Avgolemono. Be sure and try the baked feta.

                    For a fast-food kinda place, try Purple Onion (the original in Southside is the best). Best. Gyro. Period. The falafels are great as well.

                    For fine dining, really the only option is The Bright Star in nearby Bessemer, AL. It's been owned by the same Greek family for decades. It's quite the insitution. http://www.thebrightstar.com/

                    There aren't tons of Greek items on the menu, but what they do offer, they do it fabulously!!!!!!!!!

                    1. re: sheilal

                      Thank you.. I've saved this info and sent it to one of my friends as well for something different to do. :)

                2. re: edwinasam

                  We have a wonderful Greek restaurant-actually two but owned by the same guy. Its very good, very authentic tasting. ( I had a friend all throughout school several years ago who was Greek and even had her very own authentic ya ya and yaya was just like the one you see in My Big Fat Greek Wedding-seriously!!! LOL). Anyway, Id had a lot of her family's dishes and they were beautiful! I think everyplace should have more ethnic restaurants. All you pretty much see anymore is chinese and mexican-love them both a lot but thats pretty much it :( Thankful for the Greek restaurant we have here and they do offer a wide variety of just greek foods and their spanikopita and souvlaki is wonderful! Im not normally a big fan of baklava bc of it being so sweet but it was freakin fantastic! I am so glad the internet is available to find excellent dishes as well. My husband (a true irishman) loves ethnic foods as well and when we found the greek places here in NC Ohio, we found a treasure! Their gyros are even wonderful-in fact, thats what I made for dinnner tonight. Just have to finish off my tzatziki for them and have dinner with my hubby :) he loves them and they are wonderful-not as good as the real stuff but they are good!

                  1. re: angiemcgrane

                    "All you pretty much see anymore is chinese and mexican"

                    I guess that depends on where you are. I live in an urban area which, of course, has had some ethnic immigration over the years but nowhere near as diverse as the restaurant scene might imply. By way of "foreign" places, I can think of - Afghani, American, Argentinian, Armenian, Bangladeshi, Brazilian, Chinese, Cypriot, French, Greek, Indian, Iranian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Lebanese, Malaysian, Nepalese, Pakistani, Russian, Spanish, Syrian, Thai and Turkish.

                3. As far as McDonald's is concerned, I'm sure they're jumping on the "Mediterranean Diet" bandwagon. A McDonald's customer might well have heard that Mediterranean food is good for you so "Mediterranean Salad" has a positive connotation while "Greek Salad" might well have a neutral or negative one. Not saying that's right, but I am sure the Mickey D ad people get paid a whole potful of money to come up with the best words to push the most product.

                  1. Your post piqued my interest as did your description of "McDonald's 'Mediterranean' salad. So, the commercial has greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, crumbled feta. This to me is a Greek salad, no?".

                    I have never thought that greens belong in a Greek Salad; tomatoes, olives, feta cheese -- yes, lettuce, no. I turned to Greek food authority Diane Kochilas for confirmation. Her classic book "The Food and Wine of Greece" backed up my assertion. She lists the following ingredients for Greek Salad:
                    green peppers
                    salted anchovies (optional)
                    kalamata olives
                    red onion
                    feta cheese
                    olive oil

                    I began to do more research and have not found a single instance where lettuce is listed as an ingredient in a Greek cookbook for this classic salad. American cookbooks, yes and some of those are replete with recipes for "Mediterranean Salads" as well. These contain everything from roast beef (!) to California black olives and I discount their authenticity.

                    11 Replies
                    1. re: Sherri

                      Sherri, you bring up a good point. I should have explained further:

                      The traditional 'horiatiki' salad is in fact tomatoes, cucumber, onion, olives and feta with oregano. Yes.

                      However, there is also a very traditional Greek salad called 'maroulosalata' which is lettuce based. Usually very thinly sliced romaine, with lots of fresh dill, thinly sliced green onion, olive oil, and red wine vinegar. Feta is optional or served on the side for this salad.

                      My point wasn't really to disect the McDonald's salad however, even though I referenced it for my jumping off point example. I do hope I was able to state my *real* point in the fact that in my opinion, I feel that alot of food that's described or labelled as Mediterranean is in fact, specifically Greek. Even in the case of the McDonald's salad, I still believe that in the few dishes that I think many Americans/Canadians know to be Greek, the Greek salad is one of them. And, most often it is a combination of both the horiatiki and maroulosalata. Which is as I explained, not really authentic anyway.

                      Oh, and I'd be shocked if Diane doesn't have the green salad *somewhere* in any of her books. It's quite a popular salad in Greece, and sometimes Greek restaurants if you find the right one.

                      Here in Toronto, they've totally bastardized the Greek salad by serving it with iceburg lettuce and sub-standard everything from the feta to the olives. It's a shame. Especially when you know what the real thing should taste like!

                      1. re: Greekfood Koukla

                        You made me curious, as well, because i love greek food. So I looked at a local food review place to see the difference. What I found was pretty confusing. They have categories, and one for greek, another for mediterranean, yet the greek category lists some places that say Mediterranean, and the greek restaurants are also listed under the mediterranean category. So, after looking at some menus, I can only come to the conclusion that mediterranean is a catch all phrase, including different cuisines. I, myself, will stick to the ones that say Greek and nothing else!

                        1. re: Greekfood Koukla

                          Greekfood Koukla, Thank you for the "heads up" re: maroulosalata. It was new to me so I ran with your ingredients (romaine, scallions, dill. olive oil & red wine vinegar) as well as checking a couple of books. Our friend Diane (The Food and Wine of Greece) recommends the addition of finely chopped fennel and the resulting salad was absolutely dellicious. It tastes just like spring ought to taste.

                          1. re: Sherri

                            Excellent! I loved hearing this. And yes, it totally tastes like Spring/Summer to me.

                        2. re: Sherri

                          in the UK usually there is white cabbage in a Greek Salad. I like that because it gives it a crunch too.

                          1. re: smartie

                            Really? Can't say I've ever had a Greek salad with cabbage in it.

                            1. re: greedygirl

                              We had a couple of salads this past New Year's in Athens that had cabbage in them. There is a Greek all-cabbage salad as well, dressed with oil and vinegar. The lettuce and scallion salad with dill and the cabbage one are more common when the tomatoes are not so hot, or so we were told.

                              1. re: buttertart

                                I was referring to the classic "Greek salad" of feta, onions, tomatoes etc. I too have had salads in Greece with cabbage in them.

                                1. re: greedygirl

                                  I have no doubt you have. I've occasionally seen a bit of red cabbage in those as well here in the US, in lesser Greek resaturants. (Just looked at your avatar closely, what a sweet baby.)

                              2. re: greedygirl

                                Cabbage, with grated carrots, spring onions, olive oil and lemon is really common. It's called "laxanosalata". I have sometimes had a three-color salad with grated beetroot as well.

                          2. Greekfood Koukla... Love your handle! And please understand I am NOT out to hurt your feelings! That said, I do find your view rather "ethnocentric." I have lived in both Greece and Turkey, and I have dined on food from just about every country it's possible to visit and put a toe in the Mediterranean Sea. I am also a student of archaeology and antrhropology, plus history. So with that said, let me cover some information that is pretty accurate.

                            "Greek food," as we know it today, is in reality a version of Byzantine food, and that means Greek food is a version of dishes found strewn across the landscape from Eastern Europe through the Levant, and around the majority of the Mediterranean rim.

                            Souvlaki? That's the GREEK name for a dish that is common through the area, called shashlik in Russia and other countries, kebab (or kebap) in Turkey, and a whole bunch of Islamic countries. The only variation is that pork is often used in Greece, and other "Christian" countries while it is never used in Islamic countries, but ALL countries use lamb for skewered meats.

                            Is mousakka Greek? Not according to Turks, Slavs, and Arabs! It's native to ALL of those countries. So much for the Greek national dish.

                            What's the difference between feta cheese and beyaz penir? Absolutely nothing! And some Bulgarian feta is better than some Greek feta, it just depends on the milk and the weather. When I can't find Greek feta or Turkish beyaz penir, I go for Bulgarian feta, all of which I find preferable to American made feta.

                            So I don't have your problem with "Mediterranean salad." But I do have a serious problem with the vast majority of Greek (and Turkish, and Middle Eastern) restaurants I've eaten in in the United States, but especially the Greek restaurants. Why do they all seem to make such really lousy tzatziki? You CANNOT make tzatziki with sour cream, but I weep over the number of Greek restaurants in my neck of the woods that do. And WHY is it that Greeks make such great tyropita and spanakopita when they actually live in Greece, but once they get here it seems to always come out soggy?

                            This last paragraph covers my major problem with Greek food in the U.S. I have this theory: Any Greek living in America who makes Greek food that tastes like Greek food tastes in Greece MUST have little packets of Greek soil in their shoes, BECAUSE it is my experience that once a Greek boards a ship or plane and passes to American, their cooking skills will still be in the old country. So there has to be some sort of "Earth of Dracula" type of formula that requires Greeks to have physical contact with the soil of Greece for their cooking to remain authentic. '-)

                            Oh... And for me, NO "Greek" salad has lettuce in it! When I lived in Greece, the only way I could get lettuce was to drive thirty miles to Amaliades, and one of the green grocers would special order it for me once a week. "Horiatiki salata" is Greek salad! Hopa!

                            31 Replies
                            1. re: Caroline1

                              Wish I had said this so eloquently. Being a member of the Greek tribe, I have all too often had arguments with family as well as Greeks in Greece over the authenticity or origins of "Greek" cuisine. Now if you really want to open up a can of worms, refer to Greek Coffee as Turkish (which it is...;-)

                                1. re: tuttebene

                                  I never had a Turkish yaya read my cup, but the yaya at the Olympic Flame in Danbury,CT read my cup every day after lunch from 1980-1987,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
                                  That was Greek Coffee

                                2. re: Caroline1

                                  Thank you, Caroline. I'm glad you enjoy the Greek cuisine! In the end, that's all that matters.

                                  You've made a very reasoned case however, as you might have thought, I *must* disagree, if not for national pride, then for the simple reason that I'd like you to watch this again: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VL9whw... I think Mr. Portokalos summed it up perfectly because just as he believes that any word has a Greek root - *I* believe that any dish has a Greek root! There you go. :)

                                  1. re: Greekfood Koukla

                                    LOL! Mr. Orange is so cute! '-)

                                    My memory for ANY names is abominable. For Greek names, if they didn't live at least two thousand years ago, or are named after someone who did, there is little to no chance of me remembering a name. Regardless, about thirty or forty years ago (as the crow flies), a Greek prime minister addressed the U.S. Congress in English. After all, who could expect the U.S. Congress to understand Greek, right? He spent a couple of weeks carefully choosing his words. The speech was a resounding success. At the conclusion of it, he explained that his speech was primarily composed of English words derived directly from the Greek. Congress was amazed, and it DID help them feel closer to Greece. My only problem with Greek when I lived there is why in the hell did they have to replace perfectly acceptable letters to get a sound in modern Demotic that was already there and MUCH simpler in Koine! "Ntonalnt Ntak" (forgive the Romanization of Greek letters, but it's a foible of my software) is a pretty damned stupid way to spell Donald Duck!

                                    As for food, I must admit, I have had some lovely dishes from Greek roots. Greek carrots, Greek turnips, Greek potatoes.... '-)

                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                      HA! I'm partial to "vindeo clump". Saw many of those in Athens.

                                  2. re: Caroline1

                                    "And WHY is it that Greeks make such great tyropita and spanakopita when they actually live in Greece, but once they get here it seems to always come out soggy?"

                                    I think this is because they develop lazy American habits and buy phyllo instead of making it. My family balked in HORROR if anyone used "store-bought" phyllo; if the dish was worth making, you made your own phyllo. Nothing really compares to it. But it requires a lot of time and effort and people don't want to put that into cooking anymore unless they are serious traditionalists. In my own family, we save making the "pitas" for special occasions or holidays because it's a lot of work to make your own dough. I have used store-bought on occasion but am never that pleased with the results, and it's much more delicate and hard to work with than the homemade dough.

                                    1. re: rockandroller1

                                      I fully agree that making phyllo from scratch is becoming a dying art. I admit with guilt that I have not learned to make phyllo from my grandmother or parents (my dad is a master!). Much like my passion for making Thai food, I do not make my curry pastes from scratch either. It's the modern lifestyle at play. I think sometimes that terroir is also an issue in that foods produced in their country of origins always taste better (perhaps in part due to memories and fondness for a place?) Do restaurants in Greece continue to use traditional methods or are we comparing the home cooking in Greece of years past to what we do in North America?

                                      1. re: rockandroller1

                                        I might buy into that if I didn't make such damned delicious tyropita, spanakopita and baklava using store bought phyllo! I'm pretty well convinced the problem comes from two directions: First, they appear not to use enough drawn butter, and second, they seem to use too much liquid in the filling.

                                        For the record, store bought phyllo (strudel leaves) are almost always better than homemade simply because they are more uniformly thin. Oh, and it doesn't require that I clear everything off the dining room table, cover it with newspapers and a bed sheet, then cover the floor to contain the mess. YAY STORE BOUGHT PHYLLO!!! '-)

                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                          I agree- I've never run into any problems using store-bought filo. In fact, my pitas made with store-bought filo are far superisor to many of the made-from-scratch pies I've tried at other peoples' homes.

                                          I think the soggyness in some people's spanakopita comes from not drying/spinning the spinach before incorporating it into the mix. Also, use fresh spinach, not frozen!

                                          If your spanakopita is turning out soggy, you could also try this recipe, which adds rice which would absorb the water:

                                          1. re: Caroline1

                                            I agree with you, Store bought phyllo is fine! And, I also make delicious things with it. I think that a lot of Greek food in USA restaurants is because people do not take the time and effort to make it right. Shorctuts with preparation and ingredients. E.g. many recipes for spanikopita call for frozen spincach. Ugh! I use 3 lbs of fresh spinach, stems removed, washed and dried then chopped in the cuisinart. This takes a lot of time but is1,000% better than frozen. Making good Greek food is very time consuming.

                                        2. re: Caroline1

                                          Caroline, thank you for the archaeological history of Greek cuisine and its Byzantine roots, though I would argue that a lot of what is now popularly conceived of as Greek is actually Ottoman in origin (now trying telling THAT to a Greek!). Food names alone provide obvious hints of their Turkish roots (e.g. dolmades - dolma).

                                          This might be one reason marketers are reluctant to brand foods as Greek, when their Ottoman heritage means they are equally Turkish, Lebanese and Kosovar. But more likely, marketers choose not to brand their goods as specifically ethnic, something that might scare off skittish diners whose preconceived notions or uncertainty regarding a certain cuisine might make them hesitant to try a certain product. The word "Mediterranean," however, conveys something at once foreign and yet known and safe with its associations with warmth, beaches, la dolce vita and, of course, Italy (Americans foreign food of choice).

                                          1. re: JungMann

                                            Greek food was also influenced by French cuisine in the 19th C- that accounts for the bechamel on top of the pastitso and moussaka. And the tomato and potato would have arrived post-Columbus, and post Byzantine, so the cuisine has clearly continued to evolve since the Byzantine emperors ruled the roost.

                                            Greece is at a crossroads, so there are influences not just from the Ottoman empire, but also from the Slavic people in the North (Italian from the West (Makaronia me Kima, Mandaloto= Torrone), North Africa, etc.

                                            Pretty much every country that was under Ottoman rule has a version of the Dolma. Just because the word has a Turkish root, doesn't make the dish Turkish in origin. The herbs/spices/proportion of rice to meat, size, etc, varies between regions and countries, and that in my mind makes the dish more Greek, Armenian, Bulgarian, Turkish, whatever. Also, Greeks like to slather their dolmades in avgolemono (egg lemon- a completely Greek word!) ;-) I haven't avgolemono in Turkey or in Turkish restaurants. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolma

                                            Many ethnic Greeks were living in present-day Turkey,Albania or Bulgaria, or closer to the Black Sea, when they left to come to North America, so their cooking traditions may have had more in common with their neighbours than the food served in mainland Greece.

                                            1. re: phoenikia

                                              Your example of Makaronia me Kima also shows Ottoman influences; "kima" is yet another eastern import.

                                              You are right that Greek food has continued to evolve since the Ottoman invasion, though I think there is a difference between adopting a French sauce for a Greek application and taking a lamb dish, substituting pork and then calling it Greek. The Athenians and Spartans who dined on wine-soaked bread and fish sauce would eschew much of the modern Greek table with its obviously oriental origins (modern influences from the Balkans and Italy notwithstanding). Remember that the Greeks ridiculed the Persians for the extravagance of their cuisine. What would Odysseus say now to an Eastern pastry dough prized for being so thin and delicate as to be an incredible hassle to work with.

                                              1. re: JungMann

                                                Kima is the word for meat sauce in Greek- and according to this site http://www.argyrou.eclipse.co.uk/Gree..., the Turks borrowed the word from the Hellenes.

                                                I agree that the word Kima/Kheema and all sorts of other variations are used east of Greece.

                                                When you mention substituting pork for lamb and calling it Greek, which dish are you talking about? Many mainland Greeks (esp. the Peloponesian Greeks) and Greek immigrants from mainland cook with a lot of pork, but many regions in Greece eat more lamb and goat than pork.

                                                I don't even eat pork when I'm in Greece- I save that for trips to Germany, Austria and northern Italy ;-)

                                                1. re: phoenikia

                                                  I understand kima to have come from Indic sources and then traveled westward. It seems unlikely that so basic a Hellenic term would make it all the way to Punjabi without influencing languages that were otherwise more Hellenized The interaction between Indo-Iranian and Turkic groups, however, would facilitate the westward migration of such a term and explains why the use of the word more closely mirrors the Ottoman map than Alexander the Great's.

                                                  My comment about pork had nothing specific in mind but was based on someone else's comment about Greeks substituting pork for Muslim lamb.

                                                  1. re: phoenikia

                                                    That website is the lousiest etymological website I have ever seen. Just one of many biased sites on the Internet with not a shred of linguistic credibility.

                                                    Kıyma probably comes from gheimeh (Persian).
                                                    Dunya is actually from Arabic and not Greek.
                                                    Algebra is in fact Arabic - al-jabr.
                                                    Yogurt is from the Turkic root - yoğ.

                                                    Not to mention that sites methodology resembles nothing of what occurs in linguistics today.

                                                    1. re: radiopolitic

                                                      This is a Greek website which probably accounts for the bias. From my personal lifelong experiences (again let me reference my Greek roots), Greeks are passionate about their heritage and will often dismiss or overlook academic facts in favour of pride, be it linguistic, historic, or culinary.

                                                      1. re: radiopolitic

                                                        radiopolitic, I never said it was a good etymological website;)

                                                        1. re: phoenikia

                                                          Any particular reason?

                                                          I'll go potentially raise some hairs and add that baklava most likely isn't Greek either.

                                                  2. re: phoenikia

                                                    "Also, Greeks like to slather their dolmades in avgolemono (egg lemon- a completely Greek word!) ;-) I haven't avgolemono in Turkey or in Turkish restaurants. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolma&qu...

                                                    Next time you're in a Turkish restaurant or thumbing through a Turkish cook book, look for anything "terbiye." Terbiye and avgolemono are the same thing. But you are right; the word "avgolemono" *is* Greek. It's just that sauce isn't exclusively Greek. My guess is it's originally a Byzantine method of thickening broths using eggs. Don't boil it or it will curdle! And then you'll have the world's ugliest sauce, whether its avgolemono or terbiye. '-)

                                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                                      Good to know, Caroline1. It doesn't surprise me that the Turks would serve the same type of sauce.

                                                      I didn't mean to say that avgolemono was exclusively Greek, I just meant to say that avgolemono was a Greek word, and that the Greeks tend to use it a lot more than other Mediterranean cultures, in my experience.

                                                      I never noticed any Terbiye offered anywhere while I was in Turkey, but I was only there for a couple weeks, so my knowledge of Turkish food is quite limited. I haven't noticed Terbiye in any Turkish restaurants in Toronto, but then again, there are only a few restaurants, and they don't cover everything Turkish.

                                                      Sometimes that ugly sauce can end up resembling egg drop soup, if you boil your avgolemono (aka terbiye apparently)!

                                                      1. re: phoenikia

                                                        I assume the reason it's not seen in restaurants all that often is it's a dish that is difficult to keep warm, whether in soup or sauce form. The avgolemono I've had in Greek restaurants has always been so sad I've given up on it and only make it at home. And it is fairly rare in Turkish restaurants, but then, compared to Greek restaurants, in my corner of the globe, true Turkish restaurants aren't all that plentiful. I might try it in a small neighborhood restaurant with an elderly Greek or Turkish woman in the kitchen doing the cooking.

                                                    2. re: phoenikia

                                                      Avgolemono is found in Middle Eastern cuisine (Turkish inclusive) under a variety of names.

                                                      1. re: radiopolitic

                                                        Good to see that Greek avgolemono has spread to its neighbouring countries.....they must know a good thing when they taste it:)

                                                        Before anyone gets their knickers in a knot, that's an example of Greek humour, and not an example of Middle Eastern or Turkish humour.

                                                    3. re: JungMann

                                                      Problem is the Byzantine Empire preceded the Ottoman Empire by damn near a millenia, and by the time the Ottoman Empire came on the scene, they only brought along the cooking styles and recipes they had usurped from the Byzantines! So people can talk about Ottoman pilafs or kaparmas or burek, or even Greek pilaf or stews or tyropita, but what they're really talking about, whether they are aware of it or not, is Byzantine fare. Rice, pine nuts, currants, mint, dill, yogurt, eggplant, squashes, lamb, all sorts of delicious things put together and cooked in a certain way that, no matter what country claims it as their own, originated in the cooking pots of Byzantium. Hey, its all delicious!

                                                      Saying that you like a Greek or Turkish or Arabic mousakka best is like saying you like your aunt's or grandmother's or mother's pancakes best. It's all mousakka, and they're all pancakes. '-)

                                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                                        It is my understanding that Byzantine cuisine would be far more representative of ancient Roman and Greek cuisine than of Ottoman styles. The written record is bare, but we know they were predisposed to Roman seasonings like garum, fenugreek and coriander which are considerably rarer in modern Mediterranean cuisines. Boiled foods and salted meats took a central stage they didn't for the Ottomans. And the Byzantine affection for spices was restricted primarily to the upper classes whereas Ottoman cooking styles filtered from Topkapi on down. I can certainly see the Ottomans adopting aspects of Byzantine cuisine as they were adopters of culinarily influences throughout their vast empire, but I don't know how much of it is strictly Byzantine as opposed to the conglomeration of eastern influences that most accurately describes Ottoman cuisine.

                                                        1. re: JungMann

                                                          I didn't walk away.... I just had a 30+ hour power failure! Happiness, they name is ELECTRICITY! Amazing what you can't do without it. So....

                                                          Byzantine Empire vs Ottoman Empire: Don't know which history books you use, but my experience is that there is no truly clear "THAT is when it happened" line of demarcation between the two. I use the term "Byzantine" as the force that disseminated the "Turkish" cooking style throughout those lands simply because it's the one that was used by Turks, whether academics, professionals, chefs or kebab cart vendors, when I lived there. And it makes sense to me, because it is/was the parent cuisine of the Ottomans.

                                                          Now, does Ottoman cuisine differ from the Byzantines? Obviously. The Ottoman Turks at the elite level -- sultans, pashas, and such -- were the apex from which style, ostentation, and luxury filtered down to the masses. Not that the filter didn't take out a lot of the "good stuff." It just wasn't economically viable at lesser levels.

                                                          But the Ottomans had one thing going for them that the Byzantines could not have dreamed of. Christopher Columbus! The Ottomans benefited from and embraced the new foods from the new world faster than any other "Old World" cultural group or society. But that does not mean that the Byzantines were not there first when it comes to diseminatiing style and traditions when it comes to those parts of the world that have common dishes today, or that their food did not carry the message, "Hey, we cook GREAT stuff! Give it a try."

                                                          So it is in this sense that I say the Byzantines spread the seminal style and method for today's cooking throughout the Eastern Mediterranean and much of North Africa.... with a generous sprinkling that is found in French and other European cuisines.

                                                          The Crusades, while being carnage ridiculous for a purpose ridiculous, did, nevertheless, go far on disseminating food styles and traditions all across the world, from England to the Holy Land. All "national food styles" are an ongoing inventing process. But folks may differ on exactly where the thread of invention started. '-)

                                                    4. re: Caroline1

                                                      Caroline1 or anyone else, would you be willing to share your blend of tzatziki sauce?
                                                      There was a Greek woman out in Santa Clara, CA who had her own restaurant and even went home once a year to press her own olive oil. She made a good tzatziki and I love it for fries and sandwiches.
                                                      Thanks so much!

                                                      1. re: grnidkjun

                                                        Mine is pretty simple. First, pick up a LARGE tub of plain yogurt. Don't waste your money on Greek yogurt. Line the inside of a colander with paper towels. Dump the yogurt into the paper towels. Top with another paper towel, then put a weight on top of the yogurt and place the colander over a bowl to catch the drippings and set it in the refrigerator. Now, you have to decide just how thick you want your yogurt to be. You can get it as thick as cream cheese if you like. I usually shoot for just a bit softer than that. Give it a couple of hours or even over night. If you get it too thick, just stir some of the drippings back in to thin it.

                                                        Next, once your yogurt is drained to your liking, dump in into a bowl. It separates from the paper towels quite easily. Next grate/shred a cucumber, but peel and seed it first. Sometimes I use two cucumbers. Depends on how "chewy" I want the tzatziki to be. When the cucumber(s) is shredded. place it in a paper towel and squeeze all of the liquid out of it possible. Add it to the yogurt. Next comes the minced garlic. I use a garlic press simply because it doesn't leave any lumps. How much garlic you use will determine how much "bite" the sauce will have. i usually use a couple of cloves. Next a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Mix and season to taste. I use kosher salt or sea salt. Let it mellow in the fridge a bit and you're good to go! I usually use full fat plain yogurt, but when I can't find it, low fat yogurt works too. And if you're serving it in a bowl, you can top it with a sprinkle of chopped parsley. Enjoy!

                                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                                          Thank you! I can't wait to pick up a tub of yogurt and fresh cucumber to try this!

                                                    5. Personally, I think it's all to do with marketing gimmicks because Greek food doesn't seem to have as good a reputation as other 'Mediterranean' cuisines.

                                                      Here in the UK, where I live, Greek restaurants are generally considered sub-standard (and in order to find one you need to be in London or a big city anyway) and back home, in Argentina, Greek food is pretty much unkown. It's a crying shame, I agree but I had a similar feeling when I went to the only 'tapas' place in the area where I live and found out it was a mix of pseudo-Turkish mezze, pseudo-Spanish and a bit of British thrown in...Why call it tapas then???

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: Paula76

                                                        I think this is true in the US as well. Greek food is not seen as haute and trendy. Very few high end Greek restaurants. Greek food gets a bad rap. Is it deserved? As has been mentioned above, there are many Greek restaurants that serve less than excellent examples of Greek food. But there are more Italian restaurants that serve some pretty poor example of Italian American food but for whatever reason Italian is one of the most popular cuisines in the US. I'd go Greek any day.

                                                      2. There are a lot of very similar (great) foods from Tajikistan to Tunis.

                                                        1. That area of the world is a landmine. Far better for people to complain about the generic "Mediterranean" label than to have Greeks and Turks going at each other's throats over some stuffed grape leaves or something. :P

                                                          And the ethnic spread varies greatly by city. While Greeks may predominate in the Northeast, here in LA the 2 largest populations from that part of the world are Armenian and Persian. Makes sense to keep it as general as possible.

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: huaqiao

                                                            Persia is modern-day Iran, and both Iran and Armenia aren't even on the Mediterranean Sea.

                                                            I understand that marketing is important, but to call something Mediterranean when it clearly isn't? That's like calling German food Scandinavian because it sounds sexier and Germany shares a water border with Denmark.

                                                            1. re: Caralien

                                                              Persia is also where the word meze comes from.

                                                              Mediterranean food is a bit of a catch-call phrase for many foods that are common to cultures in the former Ottoman lands.

                                                              PS: Modern day Iran is not on the Mediterranean sea, but the Persian Empire owned the Eastern Med. The Greeks even got into a few fights with them over it...

                                                          2. I have the same issue with the term "Mediterranean", when the restaurant is clearly Greek, Turkish, Lebanese, or Israeli. Call it what it is! Spain, France, Italy, Egypt, Morocco, Libya, Algeria...and a host of other countries are also on the Mediterranean Sea.

                                                            As far as the midwest is concerned, at least until 5 years ago, Chicago actually got it right calling the restaurants what they were (the sweetbreads from Greek restuarants on the north side were the best I've ever had). I've had less luck on both coasts since then with correct naming of cuisine (SF, Manhattan & Brooklyn, NJ).

                                                            Then again, "European" food is apparently a euphemism for Polish, Roumanian, or Russian food.

                                                            13 Replies
                                                            1. re: Caralien

                                                              Isn't the whole thing really mostly just about what sounds nice and will bring in the crowd that will spend more money. No offense, but let's face the facts--"Mediterranean" just sounds nicer than "Greek" to most non-Greeks. It's the same reason we have calamari not squid, and arugula not rocket. And "Eastern European," not Polish. Maybe it's not fair, but that's the way people are, and business is business.

                                                              1. re: johnb

                                                                I'm not Greek, but grew up in a place where there was a large Greek population (as well as Polish, Irish, Italian, German, Roumanian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Mexican, Puerto Rican...) It's news to me that Mediterranean sounds better than Greek to a food lover who's not ethnically Greek. If people are dumb enough to think that Mediterranean sounds better than Greek (or any of the other Mediterranean or, apparently, non-Mediterranean countries for which the term has also been abused), so be it. I can still find it idiotic.

                                                                BTW: the "European" places mentioned earlier are *rarely* marketed as "Eastern European", only "European".

                                                                Europe encompasses a lot of countries, including many in the Mediterranean. There has been influence across borders and bodies of waters for as long as anyone can remember. I might be odd because I'd rather go to a place which is called what it is rather than what some marketer might believe sounds more appealing to the ignorant.

                                                                1. re: Caralien

                                                                  How many Americans have any idea what Croatian food is? Or Armenian? In both cases, the only things those names conjure up are wars and genocide. Lebanon? Isn't that where a bunch of US Marines were killed?

                                                                  If I were an Armenian opening a restaurant anywhere outside of LA, I would advertise myself as Mediterranean cuisine. People at least have an idea of what kind of food a Mediterranean restaurant is likely to serve.

                                                                  1. re: huaqiao

                                                                    Americans eat foods from restaurants which are German, Japanese, American, Southern, Hawaiian, Ethiopian, Vietnamese, etc. Wines from South Africa remain popular. Cuban sandwiches remain popular, as does Korean Barbeque. NYC remains a destination city.

                                                                    There are few places which war hasn't hit, including in our lifetimes. Many people don't mind turning the other cheek to politics and warfare when it comes to food and drink.

                                                                    1. re: huaqiao

                                                                      There have been several always popular Armenian restaurants in Fresno since the late 1940s. Home of William Saroyan. There is a higher proportion of Armenians in Fresno than in LA. Most people in the Central Valley know Armenian food as such. No need for such "LA centricsm".

                                                                    2. re: Caralien

                                                                      Who said anything about a "food lover." If restaurants had to rely on food lovers, such as you and me and others who are drawn to things like CH, they would be out of business in a day or two. The eating public has at best a dim awareness of all the technical background of the food they eat in restaurants. If you want to make a go of it in the restaurant biz, you use devices that ring bells with the larger public, not foodies. Call it idiotic, and perhaps it is, but as I said, business is business. Purity is nice, but unless the cash register is pleased it really doesn't matter all that much.

                                                                      1. re: johnb

                                                                        I don't believe people are as dim witted as so many on this board would like to believe. But I'm completely biased, having grown up exposed to a variety of things correctly (and incorrectly) termed.

                                                                        If you're putting it on McDonald's or some other fast food/chain's menu, by all means call it healthy even if it's not the case. Or, in this instance, Mediterranean if it's Greek (Persian/Iranian, Croation, Pagan, Chinese, or any term which might remotely have something to do with the area considering influence over the past few milennia). My offense is not from mass marketers as they're up there with spammers for legitimacy.

                                                                        When the restuarant reviewers who are supposedly catering to an educated (minimally literate) audience can't tell the difference between different cuisines, I take issue. Clearly, that's not a problem for many, food lovers or not. If it's called a bistro but it's a pub? What difference does it make? Apparently none unless you're expecting mussels, Ricard, and wine and end up with shepherd's pie and a pint. Hey, both are "European" (or Atlantic? is that a cuisine?), so it doesn't make a difference and all the food tastes the same anyway?

                                                                        If I want Greek food, it will be at a place that's Greek, where the owners are proud to be Greek and the food and service are good and friendly. Likewise, if I want other cuisines, I expect them to be what they are. From what I've seen, non-franchised places which are genuine with really good food and service have a tendency to build up a regular clientele; those single-proprietorships run by marketers who are constantly trying to fit in the latest fad or gimmick (to the public or foodies) tend to fail faster.

                                                                        1. re: Caralien

                                                                          "It I want Greek food, it will be at a place that's Greek, where the owners are proud to be Greek and the food and service are good and friendly. Likewise, if I want other cuisines, I expect them to be what they are."

                                                                          Caralien, I think you're fighting a losing battle here, and in part because your fight is based on what I at least view as a wrong assumption. I don't think there is any such thing as pure "Greek," or "Italian," or "Cuban," or anything any more, and there probably never was. It's a moving target. We are in an age of fusion, as we always have been, but in recent years it has not only greatly accelerated but has become fashionable. What you or anyone may view as the "authentic" Greek or any other cuisine may be nothing more than where it was in its evolution when you first became familiar with it. Moreover, some of the specific dishes you attribute to (insert name of country) may only be typical of some province, not the whole country anyway--certainly true of Italy and France. Every cuisine is borrowing from others, and it may simply no longer be accurate to refer to any specific ethnic group's dishes as _______ cuisine. In this light, maybe Mediterranean is a better term for the foods offered by many restaurants, that have evolved from the cuisines of those various countries than to call it by any specific national name and expect it will follow the pattern you happen to associate with that country.

                                                                          1. re: johnb

                                                                            From what I can tell, my "wrong assumption" is that a restaurant reviewer should know the difference between Greek and other Mediterranean restaurants. That there should not be false advertising, which legally is considered fraud. That not all Americans are stupid and should be marketed down to. By your definition, nothing is really anything because it has all evolved; by that definition, please bring me a can of "food" from Repo Man.

                                                                            I should appreciate the fusion aspect it when tortilla chips and salsa are served in Spanish restaurants too. Silly me, I should have known that Mexican and Spanish are the same too. Even the chorizo served is identical--how could I missed that? Likewise, gyros, souvlaki, and doner kebabs must be identical, and the olive oils from each country in the Mediterranean (or elsewhere, for that matter) are no different from "light tasting" olive oil in the supermarket.

                                                                            Saganaki, by the way, isn't Greek. It was invented in Greektown, Chicago. But I'll ask for it the next time I'm in a Lebanese, Macedonian or Turkish restaurant which calls itself Mediterranean. With a side of Troll House Cookies for good measure. Just because you don't care about the difference between different cuisines doesn't mean that my assumptions are wrong; just different from yours.

                                                                            1. re: Caralien

                                                                              Good!!!! Now you're beginning to show some understanding of reality. :-)

                                                                              1. re: johnb

                                                                                Do you even know the difference between souvlaki, gyros, and doner kebabs? Have you even had them in this country on different coasts and in the midwest, as well as in Greece (different parts of the mainland, islands)? Or in countries in addition to Greece and the US?

                                                                                A lot of people want things sanitized and easy, and if that is your preference, have a ball. It is unnecessary to be insulting simply because someone disagrees with your point of view, as uninformed as it may be.

                                                                                1. re: Caralien

                                                                                  Caralien, that is not my point of view, and if you actually half-way carefully read what I posted you might see that. You have not understood, and mis-characterized, what I have been saying. I never brought up the subject of gyros, saganaki, etc. you did. Don't tell me about how (un)informed I am--I was interested in, and was studying, food and food history and the evolution of cuisines before you were born (I believe somewhere you indicated you are in your 30's--if not, my apologies). My point was, and has consistently been, that restaurants cater to their clients (not foodies), and that ethnic cuisines are a changing thing that can't be pinned down in any case.

                                                                                  Greek cuisine is not as different from other nearby cuisines as you seem to think, and several other posters in this thread have made the same point, in various ways. The world is as it is, not an ideal version according to your, or anyone's, whims.

                                                                                  1. re: johnb

                                                                                    You're funny--considering that I am so far from an idealist, I'll take that as a compliment, albeit intended as yet another insult. That said, I'm certainly not a foodie.

                                                                                    Food does evolve, but it's different everywhere and far from homogenous given even a smaller region than an area surrounded by 2 continents and fought over for as long as history has been recorded. Terminology is misconstrued by marketers (one of my master's degrees was in international trade and marketing), and if that is what is acceptable to most, so be it. I can still find it idiotic.

                                                                                    Glad that you were studying food and it's history in the 60's and earlier. It's important that people be aware of the influences and origins of things, food or otherwise.

                                                                2. I get into arguments all the time with some of my Greek co-workers who feel the Greeks have the predominance in Mediterranean cuisine. Simply not true. Many aspects of turkish cuisine is nearly identitical to greek! The yogurt sauce, the kebabs, the baklava, the ouzo or raki and yes the "greek" salad- nearly identitical. You can get into debates over which you prefer or which cuisine influenced the other, but you can't tell me that there are not strong similarities.

                                                                  1. "Is there a stigma out there about Greek food?"

                                                                    I suppose it depends where you are.

                                                                    Here, in northern Europe, Greek is Greek. "Mediterranean" is something to steer well clear of - as it tends to mean a restaurant that can't make its mind up what it is, so serves a hotch-potch of food - almost invariably poorly.

                                                                    As for a salad of leaves, cucumber, tomato, feta, etc, this is what I eat when I holiday in Cyprus where, for obvious local reasons, it is invariably called a "village salad" rather than any more specific associations.

                                                                    1. It's not Mediterranean - It's Advertising!I

                                                                      Frankly, I think the marketing wheels are presenting a sexy "Mediterranean" image of sea side, coastal breezes, freshness-at-its-peak goods - real or not. Since when has any piece of advertising been founded in truth?

                                                                      1. After reading this thread, I wonder where the issue of the Ottoman Empire enters to have just created a lot of similar "variations on a theme" cooking. I currently live in Jerusalem and have traveled through the Balkans, and while there are definitely some regional variations - a lot of it is really similar. Lots of grilled meet, lots of olive oil, lots of lemon/vinegar use of acid, pretty similar spice/flavor profile. The chop salad in Serbia/Bulgaria sounds awfully similar to the Greek salad listed above.

                                                                        Croatian food I find to be more mild, Bosnian food - perhaps with religious connections - really similar to food in Jerusalem/Lebanon, Serbian food a little more pickling/vinegar, food in the actual Middle East uses zatar. I've never been to Greece, so I'm not going to pretend to know anything about the cuisine - but after a while there are definitely more similarities than differences.

                                                                        1. Maybe because the "Mediterranean diet" has been touted as healthy and that's what McD's (and others) is (are) trying to get across.

                                                                          1. Well, I used to work for a family restaurant that advertized "Macedonian Salad" as a blackboard special. They were irritated when people said, "So it's basically Greek salad, right?".

                                                                            So McDonald's and the like may think "Mediterranean" is the most PC way of putting it.

                                                                            I live in a Greek area, and while I haven't sampled anywhere near all the fetas available, my favourite so far is Bulgarian. In the summer I live on "Bulgarian" salad. I notice the Ethiopian restaurants serve something awfully close to feta too...

                                                                            8 Replies
                                                                            1. re: julesrules

                                                                              I take it they meant as in macédoine de...cubed mixed vegs?

                                                                              1. re: buttertart

                                                                                The people running the family restaurant probably identified as Macedonians (from the former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia aka FYROM) and did not want to their salad to be identified as a Greek salad because of their political views.

                                                                                The village salads from Macedonia (FYROM), and the Greek province of Makedonia (Greece's northernmost province which borders FYROM) are pretty much the same thing.

                                                                                Lots of Greek Canadians also choose to use the creamy Bulgarian feta they sell on the Danforth, julesrules ;-) It's a great product at a good pricepoint. But that doesn't mean they are going to consider the salads they make Bulgarian ;-) Esp. if the evoo is Greek, Italian or Spanish, and the tomatoes, cukes and peppers are from an Ontarian hothouse or from a field in Mexico!

                                                                                1. re: phoenikia

                                                                                  I'm aware of the Balkans and the history/nationalisms. TYou may well be right.
                                                                                  The first place I saw macédoine on a menu was in Lac St Jean, QC ca. 1966 and it was a macédoine de fruits a/k/a fruit cocktail!

                                                                                  1. re: buttertart

                                                                                    Macedoine is the term used for the French translation on the canned fruit cocktail labels in Canada (and in the Francophonie, I'd guess).

                                                                                    Macedonia also happens to be the word for fruit salad in Italian.

                                                                                    Here is the wiki blurb on the origin of the term: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macedoni...

                                                                                    While I realize macedoine de fruits/macedonia usually means fruit cocktail to Francophones and Italophones, if a family restaurant in TO (which tend to be either Greek-Canadian-owned or Macedonian/FYROM-Canadian-owned) calls a salad Macedonian, it's a political statement, even if the vegetables are diced and mixed!

                                                                                        1. re: phoenikia

                                                                                          One wonders if the ancient Macedonians were known for their knife skills...

                                                                                          1. re: buttertart

                                                                                            Who knows. I am thankful that Christopher Columbus (and the explorers who followed him), sailed the ocean blue, and returned with some tomatoes and bell peppers. For some reason, authentic ancient Macedonian cucumber and onion salads aren't that popular these days.

                                                                            2. The presence of "greens" makes it NOT a Greek salad.

                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                              1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                Sometimes my Bulgarian salad includes bacon :)

                                                                                1. re: julesrules

                                                                                  Bacon is allowed everywhere, in my book.