Tomato, the Cornerstone of Greek Cuisine

tomatoes-01The tomato is the worldwide grown fruit giving us about 10.000 of its varieties. Many of tomato types are grown in Greece, including some of the typical, only Greek sorts such as Athenian Batala of Vravrona and “tomatakia” (or tomatines), the baby -tomatoes from Santorini. Often, you can hear people talking about Greek summer as “a tomato season”.

Different Types of Tomatoes in Greece

In addition to exclusively Greek tomatoes, many other common varieties are available here. For example, one of them is “Beefsteaks tomatoes”, very big round tomatoes that combine a little bit of acidic and sweet taste, very juicy when fully ripen. Then, there are so-called “plum” (or “roma”) tomatoes, probably the longest lived of all tomatoes given their thick and firm shell. Due to their mixed taste, they are good both fresh and cooked. “” in general are welcomed everywhere given their sweetness and bite size.

Santorini’s tomatakia, also known as water barren tomatoes, are even smaller than most cherry tomatoes and thus even sweeter. Many Greeks will eat them without any salt but also combine in refreshing salads. These tiny tomatoes are also very common ingredient in Greek sauces. People in Santorini say that seeds for this tomato were brought here in the 19th century from Suez. What is not known is how this whole deal with tomatakia in Santorini have worked out and why this particular sort of tomatoes can’t grow anywhere else anymore. Common belief is that specific climate factors of this volcanic island made their imprint on newly brought seeds.

tomatoes-02There are also colorful tomatoes – yellow (many varieties, but generally all have mild flavor), green (bitterish, spicy taste) or orange in color (sweeter than other colored varieties), as well as well as “rainbow” tomatoes that combine one or more colors and flavors. They are great addition to salads and appetizers because of their appearance and taste.

Tomatoes are an anchor of the Greek cuisine, firstly fresh but cooked or dried as well. From juicy, refreshing summery salads to all-season tomato paste and sun dried tomatoes Greeks enjoy this fruit of nature that grows in abundance bathed under the Greek sun all year long.

Tomato in Greek Cuisine

Probably the most usual way of eating tomatoes in Greece, is to sprinkle a little bit of salt, oregano and olive oil over the tomatoes. Combining tomatoes with feta and again a little bit of oregano and/or basil leaves and olive oil, is another traditional plate. Not to mention Greek salad and all its variations. The truth is that many regions and islands in Greece have their own little “specialties” based on tomatoes. Cretans’ famous dakos, for example, is a combination of chopped tomatoes, little bit of feta or xinomyzithra cheese on a rusk.

Stuffed tomatoes are another favorite Greek dish. Tomatoes are stuffed with couscous and pine nuts, rice and walnuts, or meat, and lot, lot of herbs and spices. When in Santorini you will find very refreshing and filling “domatokeftedes” (patties made of tomatoes) in all restaurants.
Greeks also love, and eat a lot, scrambled eggs with tomatoes but called that tasty combination differently depending on where are you in Greece – strapatsada, kayianas, menemeni, or simply avga me domates (eggs and tomatoes).

Historical Facts about Tomato – Exporting Tomatoes

strapatsada, eggs with tomatoes

strapatsada, scrambled eggs with tomatoes

Based on the history books, Jews brought tomatoes into the Mediterranean region and the Balkans in the 16th and 17th century. Strapadatsada is actually recorded in Corfu during the Venetian period, being – and still is – considered traditional food for Greek Jews. But tomatoes didn’t really amazed Greeks until the 19th century. Although, once they really entered the Greek cuisine, they simply stayed and became one of its staples. Soon, Greeks tried to find ways to preserve tomatoes so to have them during the cold months as well.

Well, Greeks started making tomato paste and preserving tomatoes. In 1911, the first Greek company for canning tomatoes was found (Kyknos). People from Santorini started exporting their homemade paste made of tomatakia to Egypt and Turkey a decade earlier. Soon after that, tomatoes were sun dried and used for a snack all year long. Although the big industry of canned and differently preserved tomatoes exploded in Greece, traditionally made tomato paste is still very common in Greece.

One Response to Tomato, the Cornerstone of Greek Cuisine

  1. tobias cooks June 13, 2010 at 11:51 #

    Informative post. Nice that I found your blog with salad recipes. I never new there was a blog so specialized.

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