No table is complete in the Greek household without bread being served. And that goes for breakfast, lunch and dinner – even in between as a snack. A staple in the Greek diet, bread is a constant in every meal served. It doubles as a utensil, to dunk into the salad dressing, used to spread dips, and as something to fill you up. If it’s a carb-free lifestyle you are looking to enter into, then stay away from the Greek diet as it’s all about the crunchy loaf.
Historically, Greeks lived on a large diet of bread in the villages, especially in frugal times. A meal of home-made bread, olives and cheese was what people lived off during tough times. And that lunch is still served today.
Because of its high carb content, bread is often used to ensure you are filled up and have the energy to take on the day’s tasks. A villager’s life is one that exerts a lot of energy – whether tending to the animals or gardening – so a diet high in carbohydrates was needed to ensure a villager had enough energy to fulfil their daily tasks.
In the village, a baker is one of the most important people and a Greek’s relationship with a baker is almost sacred, even here in Australia. Bakers create bread purely for sustenance.
In the early days, women in the village would make their own dough at home and take it to the bakery to bake. The bakery itself becoming a communal hub.
To be perfectly frank, the most amazing bread you will ever taste will be made in a tiny bakery in the village. And the loaf purchased gets eaten in its entirety; nothing is left to waste. Anything leftover from the day is used for toast for breakfast or toasted bread for dinner. Even in Australia, you can almost guarantee people who have grown up with a certain-tasting village loaf are always on the look out for the same style of bread. Many Greek bakers have been sent over to re-create the humbleness of this style of bread.
Greek people tend to look for good quality crusty loafs and will purchase one nearly every morning if they have to for their family. And the way Greeks consume bread is more as a loaf cut up when needed than white sliced bread that is available in Australia. This bread can be purchased in Greece but is predominately used only for toasted sandwiches.
Bread is one of the most common pantry staples. At breakfast time, bread can be toasted or drizzled with honey and eaten with morning coffee. Babies and toddlers also eat bread soaked in milk. For lunch and dinner, bread is the accompaniment to all meals. A big basket of sliced or ripped apart bread is always seen at the kitchen table just waiting to be eaten.
Bread steeped in traditions in Greek culture too. As Easter is the most relevant time in Greek tradition, so is the Easter bread tsoureki.
Tsoureki is a brioche-style bread that is either plaited or baked in a circle that has the symbolic red dyed eggs of Easter. It’s commonly plaited before it’s baked for two reasons. One so that you can see the golden glaze of the eggwash on the top of the plaits and two, so that the bread can easily be torn apart to be eaten. Tsoureki is given to friends and family as a sign of good will and a blessing for the festive season.
Christopsomo – which literally translates to Christ’s bread – is the bread that is baked at Christmas time. The Christmas bread draws on other European Christmas breads such as German stollen and Italian panettone. It’s a spicy bread that is used to celebrate Christ’s birth and also the family unit. The bread is decorated to represent the family and their way of life.
Bread also has a strong significance in the Greek Orthodox religion. Bread is used in a religious service as the body of Christ in communion, with wine being the blood of Christ. The sacramental bread is eaten after you have taken communion.