Monday, 12 August 2013

It's all Greek to them (Είναι όλα Κινέζικα γι' αυτούς)

Understandably, Greeks don't say "It's all Greek to me'; they say it sounds Chinese, which of course also carries the figurative meaning these days of 'fake'.

One of the themes I explored in my presentation on Greek Cuisine, Greek Identity and the Economic Crisis at the 2nd Symposium of Greek Gastronomy: Food, Memory and Identity was the significance of Greek food in international trade, and just what kind of Greek identity these foods actually carried. One of the most controversial topics concerning the identity of a Greek food product is - of course - no surprise! - the infamous Greek(-style) yoghurt, the yoghurt that Greeks never call 'Greek'; we call it strained yoghurt. Around the world's supermarkets, mainly where the Greek diaspora lives, but not confined to the main cities of the Greek diaspora, we see labels on plastic pots proclaiming that their yoghurt is Greek. But there are now court rulings in both the UK and the US against the use of the phrase 'Greek yoghurt' if the product is not found to be appropriately 'Greek' enough; the use of the phrase 'Greek style' is acceptable, but even then, how Greek(-style) is that stuff that being sold in the plastic tub?
My NZ aunt carried some home-made sweets in this tub when she visited Crete recently. Greek yoghurt, as the term is used abroad, is supposedly what Greeks call strained yoghurt. Strained yoghurt is NEVER easy-pour, and you certainly wouldn't place it ON muesli (you would place MUESLI ON strained yoghurt).  
Well, that dairy product in the plastic tub is probably about as Greek as the buyer wants it to be: we eat what we think we want to be eating, and when we buy that pottle of 'Greek-(style) yoghurt', we think we're eating Greek yoghurt. And if I happened to be coming along, and someone showed me the pot of 'Greek-(style) yoghurt' that they were eating from, and they told me "I'm eating Greek yoghurt", I'd say "Glad you like it."
I don't eat much strained yoghurt, because it's a little too thick; once little bowl feels like a full meal. I like to have yoghurt as an evening meal with some honey drizzled over it (which adds calories to it) and/or some fruit (more calories, no matter how good it is for you). But I much prefer the non-strained yoghurt sold in clay pots made from sheep's milk - now, that stuff is to die for, seriously. It's less fattening (so I can have it with some honey drizzled over it without feeling guilty), and as you take some yoghurt out of the clay pot, the remaining yoghurt in the pot strains itself slowly over time, so that you can see a build-up of whey waters in the clay pot as the yoghurt ages. So it eventually becomes a little strained, although it starts off its life much creamier than strained yoghurt. So my favorite Greek yoghurt is not actually of the kind labelled 'Greek-(style) yoghurt' abroad, but a locally made yoghurt. But when visitors come to Greece, and they try this yoghurt, they think "That's not the Greek yoghurt I'm used to eating."

Well, it's not the 'Greek' yoghurt they know, for sure. Their Greek yoghurt comes in different packaging; it may be sporting the Olympic crown of olive branches,

or the well-known lettering of ancient Greek writing,

or maybe a bit of a Doric column,

or maybe none of the above, simply bearing the word 'Greek', with a hint of 'organic' for good measure.

But whatever it is, it's got to be 'Greek' because 'Greek' sells well these days. So whether it's Turkish or American, it's still Greek to most people, even though it isn't made in Greece, nor is it made from Greek milk* or by Greek people.

Τι τσομπάνης, τι βοσκός - it's all γρεεκ to them.

Greek yoghurt sells, even if the syrupy fruit-filled sugar-laden easy-pour contents of the tub bear no resemblance whatsoever to the yoghurt sold in Greece...
Tzatziki, made with Greek yoghurt, sporting the famous Greek maiandros (where you guys get your 'meander' from...)
... because it's all Greek to them, whatever.

*neither is all made-in-Greece strained yoghurt made from Greek milk 

All the photos come from a supermarket somewhere in an American state. Thank you, you-know-who.

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