Monday, 26 August 2013

Crete in one dakos (Όλη η Κρήτη ένα ντάκο)

Last night, an attempt was made to assemble the biggest dakos ever at 1.80m x 8m for the Guinness Book of World records. Dakos is a favorite Cretan snack which is often turned into a vegetarian meal when accompanied by a salad. It often forms our own evening snack throughout the summer when we have an abundance of fresh tomatoes growing in the garden. The base of the dakos is made of double-baked bread, usually wholewheat, that becomes hard and can last for a long long time in storage, to be used when needed. The rusk has been eaten in Greece since ancient times and it was one of the foods that soldiers often carried with them, as they were easily transportable.

The giant dakos was presented at the small forested park near the beach at Ayious Apostolous in Hania. Whereas a decade ago, the dakos was known as a Cretan specialty, it is now widely known all over Greece, having entered the mainland restaurant menus. The wholewheat rusk is now made to suit a multitude of different tastes, with white flour, brown flour, multigrain, etc, and most bakeries produce their own version. Dry bread doesn't sound exciting, but once you try the dakos, you will probably be hooked. Dakos can be made vegan or vegetarian, depending on whether you use the cheese - but generally speaking, Cretans associate dakos with the cheese.

The giant dakos event is not going to be remembered just for the dakos that was shaped in the form of the island of Crete (it was baked in smaller parts that fitted together like a puzzle). I preferred to see it as a celebration of the Mediterranean diet. The event was not characterised just by a food presentation. It started with a group of people who had an idea, which was taken up at the community level. The choice of the bakery, the cooking of the rusk, its transportation to the site, the setting out of the tables and chairs, the makeshift kitchen for the assembly of the dakos, the grating of the tomato (by hand, of course!), the choice of olive oil and mizithra (soft white cheese), the designation of the kitchen assistants and how each one would take part, the assembly of the dakos (layer by layer), the congregation that came to the event, and finally, the sharing out of the giant dakos to the audience (children were treated first) all formed a significant part of the event.

The dakos base was baked in a commercial baker's oven, but the grating of the tomato and the  spreading of the cheese was all conducted at the park. In about half an hour, the dakos was assembled; there was a bit of a scramble for photographs (I got a 6 1/2 foot man to take my shot from the dais set up for musical component of the event) after which the dakos was immediately distributed to the public.

Any food celebration in the Mediterranean area does not start and stop with food, so this was not the end of the event - music and dance followed, completing and marking the event as a whole and complete one. The Mediterranean diet cannot be divorced from the lifestyle component:
Our piece came from the Rethimno part of the dakos.
Without a community base and a musical accompaniment, there would be no Mediterranean diet; it would simply be called 'Mediterranean food'. The food of the Mediterranean can be found in other parts of the world, but not the lifestyle - it is actually the lifestyle that UNESCO wants to protect as Intangible Heritage under the general title of the Mediterranean Diet.

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  1. Each day that goes by I'm more and more interested in the Mediterranean Diet. It's a lifestyle that suits our home perfectly. I've been reading a few scientific papers about it :)

    1. that;s how i feel about the mediterranean diet - sometimes i find it extrmely tiring to cook all our meals, but i can imagine what food we would eat if i didnt do this - it would be packaged, it would cost more, and it would become a lifestyle choice with no basis except to catch up with the modern world (if we distance ourselves form our roots, the meaning of life in the mediterranean will be lost on us)

    2. it will be like living on a summer resort island and in the winter, we'd be crying for summer to come back!

  2. What a coincidence! Yesterday I made "dakos" at home using slices of bread of the day before, olive oil, italian tomato and feta because mizithra is not available in Italy.
    The most difficult part of dakos for me has been to learn to wait long enough to let the bread to become soft.

  3. So tell us how to make it! I can wet the rusk with olive oil, wait for it to soften, then grate the tomato over all and add the cheese? Any herbs? Kind of sounds like bruschetta, no?
    Grilled Italian bread rubbed with a garlic clove, then tomato and basil, then drizzle with olive oil.

    1. that is pretty much it - we wet the rusk with water, then spread the tomato and oil, then the soft white cheese - you can add some olives, capers and oregano to it, and not much else - then the rusk is broken up and eaten