Thursday, 21 November 2013

Cheap 'n' Greek 'n' frugal cuisine (Και φτηνό, και Ελληνικό)

Most Greeks these days buy their food according to the way their pockets are feeling: we look around for bargains, but at the same time, we look for food that represents our Greek tastes and eating style. There is a greater insistence on buying Greek products on the part of Greek consumers: some chicken wings and legs. despite the crisis in their pocket, they actively seek out Greek products. I was at LIDL the other day where I came across what looked like cheap fresh chicken. I did my sums, and realised that this chicken was slightly more expensive (only slightly) than the frozen chicken legs that I had bought from another supermarket. "The other supermarket's were probably not Greek though," another shopper said to me when we were comparing prices together. She was right - they were packaged in Belgium, which doesn't necessarily mean that the chicken was Belgian. LIDL often comes under fire for selling sub-standard food, lacking taste and quality. But it's selling Greek food, and that's really important to Greek citizens at the moment.

Last night's dinner consisted of 10 chicken wings (800g for €2.17: about €0.55 per person among the four of us), which I fried buffalo-style, each cut into two pieces, with some of my summer-preserved tomato sauce. To simplify things, the antioxidant properties of olive oil are not lost when it is heated; the antioxidant properties of tomato (carotenoids) break down, unlike in olive oil which resists, but it has been verified that they too are still not lost (from some recent research from MAICh).

LIDL also sells a lot of pre-packaged food that does not require a long cooking period. Cheap convenience food is also being sought in discount supermarkets, not just as a way to keep the food budget of a household down, but also to help people to get a meal on their plate in quick time. Many of these products do not originate from Greece, but Greek people's food choices are no longer necessarily Greek in nature; they are more likely to necessarily be cheap. The consequences of unemployment have led to rapid detrimental effects in the home environment. Unemployment does not give people the luxury of preparing the slow-cooked traditional Greek meals that they may have been raised on. People are on the move in such a way that they do not necessarily spend so much time at home in this way, even if they are not employed. Suddenly, they find themselves in new situations that are constantly changing. And if they are one of the lucky ones to be still working, they are working longer hours than before - sometimes, there is little time available to cook.
While I was shopping at LIDL, I picked up this frozen paella (€3.29). I had no time to cook a meal for the next day, so I told my 11-year-old to follow the instructions on the back of the packet, and she cooked this for lunch yesterday for the family (they said they liked it - but  at €1.10 per person, it wasn't as cheap as I normally cook, from scratch).

Despite being a foreign supermarket chain, originating in the country that many Greeks blame for the country's woes, cannot be chided for its efforts to sell their Greek customers what they want: putting aside the gimmicky food (eg the festive desserts and posh-looking black sepia-flavoured pasta it is selling at the moment in the run-up to Christmas), it has a lot of Greek-flag labels on its food products. Under its own private label, it sells beans and rice grown in Greece, pasta made in Greece with Greek flour, Greek fruit and vegetables, Greek eggs, and Greek chicken. What's more, it sells all this food cheaply, the main consideration these days when people go shopping, which is obvious from the move to private label shopping in Greece in recent times, at unprecedented rates. It's a matter of finding the magic combination of cheap 'n' Greek 'n' frugal - and it is still possible to eat cheap 'n' Greek 'n' frugal, but you need to be well organised and well informed to take advantage of the offers available at the supermarkets, as I've mentioned before in previous posts.

Egg and potato omelette (30 eggs for €3.33 at LIDL, small potatoes for €0.38/kilo at INKA), bagged rocket for €1.19 at LIDL, some pomegranate from our tree, and for some indulgence, locally produced wine (Kudos, Dourakis) for €6.50 at INKA; our evening meal two nights ago.

Greeks eat like most Westerners these days, with a Greek twist. During the 2nd Symposium of Greek Gastronomy: Food, Memory and Identity in Greece and the Greek Diaspora, I spoke about Greek cuisine, Greek identity and the economic crisis. My conclusion was as follows:
"As Greeks, we all share a common concept of what constitutes Greek food, but we are Western Europeans at heart and our food and lifestyle choices reflect this. The economic crisis has westernised us even more. Despite having less money, we all still eat - we are not starving."
The economic crisis means our pockets are not so full of money these days, but there is still cheap locally produced food to be found in Greece, and non-Greeks know this - they like our food too.

If you would like to be in for the 100% Greek food giveaway I am organising through my blog just leave a comment on the Dakos in a jar post. 

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