Friday, 16 October 2009

Bouyiourdi (Μπουγιουρντί)

It is very rare for the children to choose what they are going to eat when we go out for a meal (Dad's tastes are more refined than junk food). On this night, I let them choose where they wanted to go. Hamburger meals (the Greek version of McDonalds is Goody's) have never really caught on in Crete, except in urban areas, so I could guess what the children were going to choose among: souvlaki, pasta or pizza; they chose the latter.

There was brisk trade in the establishment when we arrived, but we were still able to choose where we wanted to sit. The weather was still quite warm, as autumn usually is in Crete; all the tables were outdoors, under the shade of a grapevine. The children decided on a rather large table (there were only 3 of us) that was situated in front of a huge LCD screen. There were three menu cards on the table. I let the children read through the whole menu (they like doing that); we were alone, it was a warm Friday night in mid-September and we did not have to return home early, so nothing was rushing us.

After we had decided what to order (ham cheese and tomato pizza, lettuce salad, and something written as 'baked feta cheese' on the menu card), our attention was turned to the basketball match being broadcast on the state television channel.

"Ellada and... who's the team in the red and white, Mum?"


"Why are they wearing red and white?"

"For the same reason that Greece is wearing blue and white."

"It's their flag colours?"

"Good, that's right. So, who's winning?"

My son looked at the little box on the bottom left-hand corner of the screen showing the initials of the countries in English. "Turkey. 58-56. It's almost the same."

This kind of opportunity is a good one to make children more observant. We live in a visual world full of signs and symbols; most people in Greece don't catch the meaning of these symbols quickly enough mainly because they haven't been taught to (it's not just a language barrier), and this, in turn, slows down productivity and the country as a whole, by not allowing progress to take place at the pace demanded by global trends. But this is slowly being corrected: the Ministry of Education has uploaded school lessons (to be used in the case where swine flu closes down classes/schools if there is a serious outbreak in one area) and this year, first-year junior high school students were all issued with a 450-euro voucher which can be used in the purchase of a laptop for the child.

A waitress came to take our order. The children continued to watch the game. Basketball always seems so exciting, because it is so fast-paced. It seemed to them that the game was changing every minute; it doesn't take long to get the ball from the middle of the court into the basket. Whenever someone scored, they would check the score card on the TV screen. They also realised that not all shoots were equal: some got more points than others. Every time the Greek side scored, the children would get excited: they would cheer, laugh, clap, and say 'YES' quite loudly.

"Why are you so happy?" I asked them.

"Because we just scored!"

"Do you think Greece will win?"

"Ahh.. yes.. maybe?"

"Do you want Greece to win?"

"Yes, of course!"


They were wondering how seriously they should take my question. "Because we're Greek. It's our team!"

First came the drinks, then the salad, then the baked feta cheese.

"Be careful," warned the waitress,"it's very hot." She was talking about the boukovo (chili pepper flakes), not the dish.

baked feta bouyiourdi hania chania
Bouyiourdi served in Hania; we had this with a lettuce salad, a medium-sized pizza and two sodas - 25 euro for three people.

"But what if Turkey wins?"

"Oh... that's OK, too."


"The Turks will be happy."

"So it doesn't matter who wins?"

"No... yes!... maybe not... who cares, let's watch the match! Don't interrupt us!"

The waitress was holding our pizza as she standing in the kitchen area looking up at a screen. The teams were taking some time out. She bought the pizza over to our table, and the children tucked into it, in a way that they do not tuck into their food at home. They get very bulimic when they eat any kind of junk food, even if it's at a sit-down knife-and-fork taverna instead of a fast food restaurant.

The game was continuing: 2 points to the Greeks, 1 point to the Turks, 1 to the Greeks, 3 to the Turks, 2 to the Greeks. At one point, the Greeks were scoring consecutively.

"We're winning!" the children shouted, in between eating their pizza.

"But the score could easily change," I said in an attempt to give them a more objective perspective on the game. "Look! The Turks have just scored!"

"But our score is still higher than theirs!"

"I think they're going to win!"

"Hmm... maybe." They were beginning to see my point of view "It doesn't matter anyway, does it, Mum? It's just a game."

Of course, I agreed with them on that issue. "And anyway," I said, "they're our neighbours, aren't they, so it doesn't matter who wins, does it?"

And they agreed with me on that one, too.

*** *** ***

When we were travelling round Northern Greece, we often came across the appetiser bouyiourdi (μπουγιουρντί) listed on the menu, feta cheese baked with tomato and peppers, sprinkled with hot spices (boukovo: hot red chili flakes) and olive oil. It is the kind of dish that can replace the all-time favorite tzatziki in the wintertime: the cheese melts so that it becomes a kind of dip, and it served hot.

bouyiourdi dion mt olympus bouyiourdi kalamaRIA thessaloniki
Bouyiourdi served in Pieria and Thessaloniki; my own version is pictured below.

This Northern Greek dish is now also being served in other parts of the country, appearing on menu cards under different names. This is in line with the appearance of many Greek regional specialties which are now popular all over the country, even though they used to be known only in their local origins; bouyiourdi is now found on most taverna menus in Greece (it may simply be called "baked feta cheese"), as is dakos (which is often simply called "Cretan salad"). Many other kinds of meals with origins in Northern Greece are also being served in Cretan diners, especially in tourist areas.

I could say that the bouyiourdi we had at the taverna wasn't as good as other versions that I've tried, pointing to the quality of the feta and the fact that it did not contain any peppers (tut, tut). This dish can easily be made at home: the ingredients are easy to get in most places, and the preparation and cooking procedure is straightforward. My own version is based on Laurie's and Peter's recipes.

Lest we forget - we choose not to; this monument, in remembrance of the upheavals of the forced population exchange between Greece and Turkey after the 1922 events in Smyrna, was unveiled last month close to the town centre.

The taverna probably didn't call their baked feta dish ' bouyiourdi' because the dish is quite new to the taverna menus of Hania, and it would sound decidedly 'foreign', despite being used all over Northern Greece. It is derived from the Turkish language, which gives it an intriguing ring, hinting at the Ottoman influence in Greek cuisine. Life is a game in many respects: we choose what we want to remember, as well as what we want to forget, which may be one of the reasons why we refer to bouyiourdi in Hania in more simple Greek terms. Despite the vast differences between the Turkish and Greek languages, when it comes to cuisines, the Turkish and Greek are usually grouped together.

Greece hung on for a 76-74 overtime win against Turkey, eventually taking the bronze medal in this year's European basketball championships in Poland.

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