Monday, 18 November 2013

Dakos in a jar - and a giveaway (Ντάκος σε βαζάκι)

Giveaway! To be in the draw, leave a comment on this post. 

Dakos is the now famously healthy Cretan snack made of paximadi (hard barley rusks), topped with grated tomato, mizithra (Cretan soft white cheese) and olive oil. Extras include perhaps some oregano, olives and capers, but not much else. Dakos is eaten throughout the summer in Crete when there is an abundance of fresh tomatos. It has also become very well known among other Greeks, who can now buy Cretan rusks and extra virgin olive oil on the market throughout the country. Tomato is available all year round, but because the best tasting tomatos grow in the summer, Cretans don't usually make this snack in the winter. Mizithra is replaced by crumbled feta for those who don't have access to the fresh Cretan cheese, which does not enjoy a long shelf life. Mizithra is sold very fresh, but it freezes extremely well, and mainlanders have been known to cart dozens of kilos of mizithra from the island while they are on holiday to take it back home with them on the ferry boat, which of course offers refrigeration storage facilities. It's a very easy snack to prepare, and can act as a main meal.

In the market-oriented world that we are living in now, the widespread availability of fresh food to prepare your favorite meals is not enough - if we can have something frozen or bottled, so that we don't have to do any preparation whatsoever, but just defrost/open the packet/bottle, it is regarded as sometimes even more preferable than fast food. It's a fast-paced world, even in a crisis. But even in such a fast world, I was still surprised to see this new product on the supermarket shelf, the other day, as I turned to leave the deli section: sitting on a prominent position on the promotion shelf was a jar carrying the label Dako's (at a cost of €2.95 for a jar containing 300g).

Dakos in a jar?! That's a difficult one to imagine, but the label does specifically say: "Σάλτσα για παξιμάδι με ελαιόλαδο, φέτα και μυζήθρα)" (Sauce for hard rusks with olive oil, feta and mizithra). In the company's website, the product description states the contents as: "tomato concasse, feta cheese, water, mizithra cheese, extra virgin olive oil, sundried tomatoes, sugar, corn starch, oregano, citric acid, lactic acid", while serving suggestions include as a spread on rusks and bakery products, on canapes, as a pasta sauce, and a salad dressing. These methods of use are very sound, given the texture of the product, which looks rather liquid and dense.

It certainly won't give the real effect of grated tomato and mizithra cheese on rusks, but it might act as a good substitute for that very languished Greek abroad, who yearns for the taste of home. For the average Greek holidaymaker, it may also bring back memories of a holiday under the sun - Dako's may yet be the perfect substitute. These two points bring it home to us that this new product, despite being produced locally, from local/Greek ingredients of high international repute, may actually not be destined for the local market: it is probably suited to foreign tastes serving foreign interests.

Black Truffle Slices in Olive Oil  45grThere are in fact many new products now on the Greek market which often sound strange to the average Greek. Things like wild sea salt in fancy packaging, truffles preserved in olive oil, farmed cooked frozen snails, masticha capsules, seafood sausages, and olive oil in fancy bottles, among many others. Many of these products would interest the average Greek too, but they are, generally speaking, expensive products, not directly aimed towards Greek buyers. They are being produced for export to the international markets a premium prices. In  my presentation at the 2nd Symposium of Greek Gastronomy: Food, Memory and Identity in Greece and the Greek Diaspora, I spoke about the "Greek food craze" abroad:
"Despite the bad reputation of the Greek economy in global terms, we find that Greek cuisine enjoys a record high degree of popularity. Greek food is being recognised in Western countries in ways that it was not considered in the past. This is possibly due to the perceived health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, its high reliance on cooking with olive oil and fresh vegetables, and the taste quality of export-value Greek food products. The economic crisis has partly fuelled this foreign interest because the main export products in Greece are to do with food. 
 Greek extra virgin olive oil packaging   Terra Creta"In the scramble for market share, suddenly Greek food is being exported in all sorts of forms at all sorts of prices. Farmed snails, olive oil in decorative bottle designs, truffles found in Greece, mastich crystals and mastich-flavoured drinks, among others, including some of the more well-known products such as wine, honey, feta and olives, coupled with the 'organic' label, are being sold at the high end of the market. Some of these products are not being targeted towards the local market, eg farmed snails and olive oil in decorative bottles; they would be considered by most Greeks as over-priced as well as easily replaced by cheaper and more readily-available products.
In terms of the economic crisis, what is the degree to which these enterprises benefited from it? Did they originate in the economic crisis, or were they a natural progression of the Greek food export market? Has food marketing in Greece changed to accommodate a new kind of post-crisis food market or is this Greek food craze a purely foreign export issue? These food-based questions all provide some kind of insight into the Greek identity.
I have decided not to open my jar of Dako's, as it does feel a little squeamish to me, opening a jar to make dakos in Crete. Besides, winter is setting in slowly and there will no longer be any more fresh tomatoes to grate, so our dakos-eating season will be put on hold until the warmer season returns next year (yes, dakos is a seasonal dish). But I can't leave Dako's sitting around unused in my pantry (despite the August 2015 best-before date): I have decided to gift it through a giveaway, to any very languished Greek(-o-phile) that leaves a comment on this post, who may wish to recreate a taste of Crete before their next trip. I've also added a packet of paximathi (barley rusks) with olive pieces* added to them to accompany your Dako's.
GIVEAWAY! If you are the winner (to be announced this coming Sunday), hopefully, you will get it before Christmas (did you know that Greek post offices now open on Saturday?!), and you can let me know if it worked out for you! To be in the draw, leave a comment on this post.  

* Barley rusks with olive pieces are also a novelty, but these are made by a local company, and are destined for the local market: their packaging is flimsy, monolingually Greek and lacking appeal - but they are a welcome change for the local who is looking around to spend his/her money in a different way; it's a start to new ways of thinking.

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