Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Salami (Σαλάμι)

There are some very strange gaps in the Greek food system. Greek food constitutes a complete cuisine with its plethora of ingredients and home-grown techniques, so it rarely needs to be supplemented by cuisines from outside its own borders in order to provide a range of varied and interesting dishes. But what happens when you've come from the 'outside', with your own ideas about what constitutes good food?

cheese lettuce marmite sandwich kiwiana
Marmite sandwich with cheese and lettuce
Take marmite or vegemite, for example. It's a completely unknown quantity in Greece. So if you come from Australia or New Zealand, where you've grown up with the stuff, you might be surprised to learn that no one knowns what you're talking about here. Of course, there are many other good foods to take the place of marmite/vegemite (depending on which 'camp' you're from) on your toast or in your sandwich, eg tahini, but if you've come to think of things like marmite/vegemite as staples in every home in the world, then you'll be quite disappointed.

Salami as I remember it in NZ
Salami is also one of those things that you won't easily find here in Hania. Many things labeled 'salami' are actually more like luncheon meats, and they are often sold pre-sliced. Although they are made by various companies around the country, they are recognised as an imported technique rather than a home-grown one. So they rarely come up to the standard of a good Italian salami like the kind that my parents used to buy in New Zealand (imported products excluded). Although my parents had probably never eaten any kind of salami before they migrated to New Zealand, they acquired a taste for it in the melting pot culture of their adopted homeland and it was considered a staple product of our weekly diet. We usually ate it with beans as a side, and my mother would put it in our sandwiches every now and then.

Dillon is an accomplished cook, and he loves Mediterranean food. I'm often inspired by his food photography (above) which pays due respect to the setting and the environment.

Even though I had grown up with some salami regularly kept in our fridge, it wasn't something I missed having once I moved to Greece. There were many other strong tastes and dense meat textures that easily compensated for the lack of good salami in this country. But when I saw a friend's photo of home-made salami, it immediately conjured up an image in my mind of the Italian salami I ate in my younger years. (I can even see it in its white paper, the way the delicatessen used to wrap it, tucked away in one of the shelves on the fridge door.)

Greek producers from islands very proudly use the map of their part of Greece to identify it.
These salami sausages cost about €3-4 each. The one with the map seemed to be missing something from the taste of salami that I had grown up with. My memory was revived when I cut the second salami - whole pepper spice (it is visible above, left, under the skin)! Pepperoni!

On my next shopping trip, I found some Greek salami being sold at a top-end supermarket: it's made on the island of Lefkada, which is noted for its salami making and the supermarket also packages its own choice with its own brand. Lefkada is in the Ionian islands, sharing the same waters that separate Greece from Italy. These islands were not conquered by the Ottoman regime, but remained heavily influenced by Venetian rule. It's no surprise that pork salami is made in this part of Greece.

The sign above read: "Traditional soutzouk:made form a mixture of beef and goat meat, in natural intestine wrapping. €10/kg - lean, Greek." The butcher told me that his father (also a butcher) passed on the recipe to him. In the past, the beef used was from a breed of local cow.

This kind of product is not produced in Crete. In Hania, we have a moist equivalent. Since it isn't dried, it can't be eaten as is, like a salami (it must be cooked). A local butcher in the central town market makes a thick fat beef (not pork) sausage, called 'soutzouk', from the Turkish language, which hints at its origins. Where there was more Ottoman influence, there was more soutzouk. 

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