Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Roses (Τριαντάφυλλα)

Dear Maria,

While searching for an obscure Greek cooking term, I came across your blog and marvelled at how much you know about Greek cuisine, so I thought to take the liberty and ask if you can tell me anything about how roses are used in Greek cuisine.

Your loyal reader

Rising early to enjoy the morning breeze, before the sun stifles the air and bakes the earth, I sat outdoors on the balcony admiring my mother-in-law's roses, old bushes which she had originally planted in a rented property in the town, before the family home was built, after which she had transplanted them into her new garden. This is the best time to read my e-mail on my laptop, before the children get up and begin to make their demands on my time, before the Athenian vacationing neighbours wake up and switch on the radio full blast in their new Mercedes, so they can listen to it from indoors as they sit in their air-conditioned holiday home, before the cicada choirs starts singing in orchestrated unison, creating an incessant buzz amidst the village foliage.

rose bushes
My mother-in-law's 25-year-old rose bushes

I pondered over my reader's question: do Greeks use roses in their cuisine? Nothing specific came to my mind. I have seen rose jam available in some supermarkets, but it seemed to be sitting on the shelf for ages; it's probably not a commonly used product here in Hania, I thought knowingly. After all, if it were, surely I would know about it, what with all my worldly knowledge of Greek cuisine, as my reader noticed.

anthonero flower petal water
Flower water (ανθόνερο - anthonero) produced in Hania, made with orange blossom; when the petals used come from roses, the flower water is called rodonero (rose-water).

I set about my morning routine. First, I got out some cotton buds and a bottle of rodonero (ροδόνερο - rose-water), which I use instead of those chemically produced bottled lotions as a facial tonic to freshen up and keep my youthly look, the same rodonero my mother used to sprinkle on a freshly baked batch of koulourakia.

coffee varieties
Of the many different scented Greek coffee varieties now readily available in Greece, the rose and ouzo scented ones seem to be the most popular.

Then I made myself a cup of Greek coffee, using a new packet I'd bought during one of my consumeristic moments, coffee scented with a relatively novel aroma (rose), a flavour that has surprisingly made a successful launch on a staunchly traditional Greek market.

loukoumi turkish delight made in hania chania loukoumi turkish delight made in hania chania
Loukoumi (λουκούμι), an old Greek favorite, before the chocolate bar ousted it in popularity; also known as Turkish Delight, this one's made in Hania by the same company that makes vanila. They are usually flavoured with vanilla, rose essence, almond essence and creme de menthe. They may also have various kinds of nuts added to them.

Since I like my coffee without sugar, I find that a small piece of loukoumi in my favorite flavour (rose-scented, of course) pairs well with the strong taste of granular Greek coffee, taking away the bitter after-taste of the grounds.

I thought about the Roses chocolates stacked away in the refrigerator, and thought about having one, but after that loukoumaki, I decided it wasn't necessary. As I drank my coffee in my rose-scented environment, I re-read the email and promptly hit the reply button:

Dear reader,

Thanks for visiting my blog.
As for the culinary use of roses in Greek cuisine, I can't think of anything in particular. Hope that helps.

Your correspondent on the Big Island

P.S.: I finally picked up that legal document I was having prepared by the notary public, and she had a bowl full of my favourite Greek candies on the table close to the magazines:

rose-flavoured loukoumi candies

rose-flavoured loukoumakia. It turns out that roses are all over the place in my life!

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