My mother used to give me some lira and would ask to bring home two loaves of bread. 1 1/2 would make it back. Why? The bread had just been baked at a local oven and it was steaming hot. It had a golden crust and tasted something between a baguette and San Fran sour dough. Slicing some fresh feta or yellow cheese, adding some olives and tomatoes, and with the fresh bread you had breakfast, lunch or dinner or a snack. Drizzling honey on the steaming bread or swathing it with a homemade fruit spread made it heavenly...
Having had a Greek mother qualifies me somewhat to speak about this subject. (Which has nothing to do with architecture except the builders of the Parthenon no doubt thanked their patron goddess Athena for giving them wisdom and the olive tree.)
But even more important is that I lived in Turkey and Greece until graduation from high school. So I've LIVED the Mediterranean EVERYTHING.
My mother and father had these arguments: 'Fish is better for you than meat' -- Dad didn't like that, being from Texas. He would tease her with this: "Take oregano, olive oil and lemon away from Greek cooking and you have nothing". Very true.
So this is the first clue: Olive oil and lemon juice especially (Endre are you listening) are consumed in nearly every meal.
Med peeps DO NOT USE BUTTER except in sweets. We will get into that later...
Olive oil is used in frying eggs, lamb roasts, on all salads always, frying thin cut lamb chops, beef, etc. Not used for sweets.
Lemon juice is sprinkled on all salads and soups. Oregano goes on just about everything: Salads, soups, meats, boiled vegetables, etc. Not used on sweets. I am not sure about the regenerative power of oregano, but use it anyway for good luck.
Olive oil has GOOD cholesterol. After going off to college and cooking a bit at home I realized that more olive oil on everything is NOT a good idea. I slowly gained weight as this oil DOES have fat in it. But it is good for the heart, etc. And amazingly: It is chock full of antioxidants as well! Read here about the benefits of this wonder oil.
Lemon juice is a great source of antioxidants. Great for the blood and body. To this day I squeeze lemon juice in every cup of water and tea I drink. This is the easiest way to keep up with a constant influx of antioxidant.
Mom and Dad would take a drive at 6 am on Sundays and go out to the villages. They would bring back fresh vegetables, black organic bread and eggs. We would devour 5-6 eggs fried (in bacon grease -- ahem.. Dad did the cooking) for breakfast.
The meats: mostly lamb and young lamb. Very little beef. Fried in olive oil the most yummy. Rarely ate pork, once in a while in roasts.
The better white meat: FISH. My uncle ate a fish every single day of his life. He bought fish fresh on the waterfront. He lived to about 93. He swam as much as possible, walked everywhere and was a lean fellow of slight build. Kept him going. And of course all the olive oil, lemon, etc.
The medical community insists on eating fish for all of its benefits. Bake it, fry it, boil it. Whatever. Add olive oil and lemon and oregano!! maybe some basil and onions too...
Notice that red meat beef was not something we ate on a routine basis.
As kids we ate the FRESHEST FRUITS AND VEGETABLES. There was a greengrocer on the ground floor of our apartment building. The most AMAZING tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, onions, green peppers, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, just about everything.
The seasonal fruits were incredible: apricots, plums, tangerines, oranges, watermelon, melon, pomegranate. WOW. We od'd on fruit.
We preferred fruit I think to just about any other sweet tasting food.
Do you remember when fruit roll-ups were introduced in the U.S.? We had the original in Turkey. Apricots were dried and then pressed into sheets. We devoured that stuff. (see below left)
Produce was trucked and carted in from surrounding towns, farms and villages. There was no gassed food from long distance hauls. Totally organic with cow manure fertilizer.
NUTS and LEGUMES: The Mediterranean is famous for pistachio, sunflower seeds, cashews, walnuts, garbanzo/ chick peas, melon seeds even. They tasted amazing slightly seasoned with sea salt. You could buy seeds and other fresh vegetables from street vendors.
There was a bit of wine, beer and ouzo imbibing but people would get tipsy, not plastered. It was considered bad taste and a social no-no to get wiped out. Red and white local table wines was typical in most restaurants. Very very little hard liquor. The ouzo was mixed with water into a milky concoction. It tasted like licorice. I hated it. ha.
People in the Middle East and the Mediterranean WALK a LOT. They walk everywhere. They don't typically jog or go to gyms. They bike ride, they hike, they swim. The older cities especially are conducive to walking. Many parks and shady streets. We lived on a street with mulberry trees!!
The kids played all day OUTSIDE. We ran, we jumped, we rode bicycles, etc. Do you know how much energy is used in keeping a ball in rotation for hours? Soccer is the regional sport. Soccer players never stand still for long. They are always on their feet. It is one of the most aerobic activities you can do. Many years later I was studying ancient Greek vases with soldiers and athletes depicted. Here is one. Check out the thighs of these guys (this photo is for Barbara):
We had little or no TV. Three channels I think into the early 70s. So we rarely stayed indoors. We were always on the move it seemed. I had a paper route in Izmir, Turkey!!
Most people also had no air conditioning! So the thing to do was to take a promenade enjoying the cool ocean breezes on the waterfront in the early evening. The cafes would serve sweets, coffee and TEA. Turks loved tea, or cai. Guess what tea has in it? Yes, antioxidants. People would leave the cities on the weekends and go out of town enjoying village life, even fresher prepared foods at restaurants, the sea, etc.
Actually being outside a lot means you are getting vitamin D from the sun. The dry Med climate must have also had a bearing on longevity.
I have painted a bucolic lifestyle because that is the essence of the Mediterranean way of life. It is everything else PLUS the food types.
So, if you've managed to make it this far, you are an official Greek and Zorba salutes you:
I loved living in Turkey and Greece. It seemed those years were the best of my life. Like the two happy guys above, life was simple, family was great, food was awesome. It seemed like it could go on forever...
Oh, yes, I forgot about something. It is a sweet made with filo dough, honey, sugar and pistachios. (It is not Armenian, ha ha - see Barbara's comment below) It is the regional sweet of the Middle East called baklava. The Greeks and Turks love the stuff with coffee after a nice meal. But they routinely eat fruits nearly after every meal! So, have a baklava on me:
Did Mom keep sweets and cookies in the pantry? Well yes... but we preferred the oranges, tangerines and other fruit in season. She did not stock soft drinks at all. Oh, we had a little Tang. ha. And Dad could eat a half gallon of vanilla ice cream!! LOVE YOU and miss you, DAD!! ... and MOM.