I am quite sure that enough has been written about Greek food to fill countless libraries around the world. And, while I definitely do not consider myself to be a conniseur of Greek food, I would like to address one particularly important component of the Greek diet: bread – homemade Greek bread to be more exact. When Alexander the Great was marching his armies across the vast regions of the world, conquering distant countries and staking out new claims for the Greek Empire, the most staple food with which he fed his armies was bread. Yes...lowly bread. It was said that his bakers fashioned bread into round loaves with holes in the center of them – almost making them appear like very large donuts. Then wooden poles would be inserted through the holes in the bread, and hoisted onto the shoulders of slaves and carried to the next camp, or on to the next campaign. Two men could carry perhaps close to one hundred loaves of bread or more in this manner. So, while Greek bread may have had lowly and simple origins, it also helped to fashion the ancient Greek Empire.
When talking about Greek bread, I cannot escape comparing it to American bread. American bread is prepared, pre-sliced, pre-packaged, sometimes pre-cinnamonized, sometimes pre-raisinized, sometimes pre-butterized, and then weighed, battered, whipped, and baked, along with millions of other loafs of bread so that when they emerge from the ovens, they all look like millions of little clones. Each loaf looking exactly like the next loaf...no holes, no lumps, all weighing the same, same conformed size, textured the same, same color, and then placed by machines into the same type of plastic wrapping...same everything, and, all the while, untouched by human hands. The only thing that we Americans don’t have “pre-done” to our bread before we eat it...is to have it pre-eaten. But, who knows, perhaps that will be next step in the evolution of American bread!
Greek bread, on the other hand, is different. It isn’t “pre-anything”. Each loaf is different – each has its own character - its own personality – its own distinction. Some may be a little larger, some a little smaller. Some have more flour added that is evident by the white residue on the bottom-side of the loaf after baking. Some are a little more browned than others. Some are a little longer, some a little shorter. They might range in size from twelve or thirteen inches to fifteen inches or more in length. And, they have all been handled by people – but not your ordinary people like the ones who work in American bakeries. These are people who hand-mix the batter, hand-knead the dough, and hand-bake the bread in large stone ovens, just like they have been doing for thousands of years – ever since the time of Alexander the Great, and before! And, when you go into the market, the bread is stacked up like cord wood...all in the open air – no wrapping and no packaging. And, when you pay the market owner, he takes the bare bread out of your bare hands and with his bare hands places it in a little bag – and you don’t have any idea where his bare hands have been in the last thirty minutes! But, the one factor this bread all has in common is...it is all good. Now, I am not a big bread eater...never have been. But, since I have been here on Crete, I have probably averaged eating close to a loaf of Greek bread every day and a half or less. I eat it with my Greek salads that I fix every day in my little apartment. And, when I reach the bottom of my salad bowl, I use the bread to sop up the remaining olive oil and vinegar.
But, the best thing that I like about Greek bread is that it is a man’s bread. Yes, that’s what I said...a man’s bread! Greek bread wasn’t made for wimps or guys who wear $300 designer jeans, pointy shoes, or pink embroidered shirts! It was made for men who work hard, who come home with dirty hands, and who are not faint of heart! Even the way that Greek bread is eaten requires a man to handle it! In order to enjoy Greek bread, one first has to grasp the loaf with firmness in the left hand, then tuck it tightly between the left forearm and the left side of the body. Then, one has to reach around with the right hand, grasp the end of the loaf of bread and rip off a chunk of bread. Notice, I didn’t say “tear” and I didn’t say “piece”. You don’t slice it, cut it or treat it nice. You “RIP” off a “CHUNK” of the bread. And, when you eat it, you don’t bite into it with your front teeth. If you do, when you pull the bread away from your mouth, you may discover a couple of your teeth still clinging to the bread. No - you have to bite into the bread with those teeth at the side of your mouth, and then twist the bread from side to side until a part of it comes off in your mouth. Next, you chew – the crust may be a little tough, but once you have pierced the crust, and the flavor and the soft texture of the bread come through, you know that it has all been well worth the effort! Remember: The prize is not in the race – it is at the finish line!
If you’ll excuse me now, I’m getting a little hungry. I think I’ll go have a snack of feta cheese, a glass of wine and...a chunk of Greek bread. Bon appetite!
Take care, stay well, and let me hear from you.
Your Friend and Fellow “Silent Warrior”,
Bob (Midget) Armistead