Spartan cuisine: wholesome, progressive, respectful
Sparta, the land of king Menelaus and Leonidas, stretches between the two large mountainous areas of Taygetos and Parnonas. It is a rich plain with fragrant orchards, embraced by the river Eurotas.
Perhaps the most well-known dish of the area since antiquity is the infamous “melanas zomos” (μέλανας ζωμός in Greek), meaning black broth: a thick soup made with pork meat and pork blood, vinegar, and barley, which unfortunately—by try-outs and testimonies—is indeed as gross as it sounds! Thankfully, Spartan cuisine has come a long way since the time Leonida’s troops fed on said soup to keep fit and strong.
Nowadays, the city of Sparta features large squares, big streets and neoclassic houses, surrounded by the fertile plain, green with olive and citrus trees. These olive groves are home to the famous Koroneiki olive cultivar that gives off one of the best Greek olive oils. Sparta’s natural harbor, the town of Gytheio, stretches beside the Laconian gulf which provides fresh fish and scrumptious sea food, while the mountain slopes and their pastures facilitate the production of excellent fresh and cured meats like the famous “syglino”—a cured pork cooked in an aromatic liquid flavored with orange peel and then smoked with sage. Also, an array of unique dairy products like “sfela”, a brine cheese with a protected appellation of origin status that resembles feta but is denser and saltier. Trout and salmon grown in fresh water farms at mountain springs provide the local markets with exclusive products like smoked or marinated trout, tortellini pasta stuffed with trout or salmon, and plain or smoked salmon caviar.
Agricultural cooperatives make fresh and sourdough pasta—using whole grains, organic zea flour, organic eggs and milk, with spinach, nettle leaves, or paprika—an amazing array of citrus spoon sweets, sheep-milk yogurt, custards, and rice puddings. Some typical local dishes are stuffed zucchini blossoms, Coq au Vin simmered in a rich tomato sauce with “kefalograviera” cubes, several varieties of greens pies known as “pitaroudes”, fried dough crackers called “lalaggia”, and a traditional omelet called “kagianas”.
Meat lovers will be mesmerized by goat stews, mutton barbecue, juicy kebabs, fried pork tenderloin, pastirma/pastourma pies, tripe soups and “pichti” (jellied pork made with pork heads and trotters), while more vegetarian options include yellow pumpkin fritters, endive and herb pies, stuffed baked onions, and leek mashed potatoes.
From the unexpected seafood risotto to the delightful Caesar’s mushroom salad dressed with local wine and pure grape molasses, contemporary Spartan cuisine has evolved while keeping hand in hand with tradition, and successfully caters to a wide variety of dietary needs.