We met with our host Mariana for this interview. She was born and bred on the West Coast of Crete – one of the most beautiful Greek Islands where she still lives today in the city of Chania. She now makes a life out of her Cretan heritage.
Welcome Mariana! Tell us a little bit about yourself: Where are you from and where do you live now?
Hi, it’s great to be here! I am from Chania, Crete. After living in Amsterdam, Rethymnon (also in Crete) and Athens for 25 years, I moved back to Chania where I have been living for the last 3 years.
So, you are a historian specializing in food? What exactly is it that you do?
I am an experimental archaeologist specializing in Greek food history and gastronomy. Experimental archaeology means replicating and interpreting the material fingerprints of ancient humans. In the context of food, experimentation includes food acquisition and plant domestication all the way to food preparation itself. Personally, I try to reconstruct the food and tastes of the ancient Greeks, Byzantines and Greeks of the early Ottoman period using archaeological data, literary sources and authentic cooking methods.
Wow, that sounds amazing! What is your favorite ancient recipe?
Myma, a meat dish from the 1st century B.C. It is a delicious dish that has 13 herbs and spices stirred into the meat and giblets.
Are there any unconventional techniques with ancient Greek cooking? What would be the most unknown process for us?
Greek cooking methods were usually pretty simple, however, the sauces were sometimes very elaborate! An example of this would be garum, a salty condiment, made by fermenting small fish or blood and intestines of fish.
You also wrote an award-winning book! Could you give us a quick summary?
The Language of Taste is a dictionary of the history and culture of Greek food. It covers the many aspects of Greek gastronomy such as ingredients, regional dishes, historical recipes and cooking methods.
So, other than research, teaching cooking classes and writing books, what else do you get up to?
I am a consultant to museums on historic dining and I’m also the founder and co-organizer of the Symposia of Greek Gastronomy; this is a biannual conference devoted to all aspects of Greek food and drink.
That sounds very busy! What has been your most memorable moment when sharing your knowledge with others?
I will never forget a series of 6 dinners titled ‘My life on a plate’. The dinners explored the immigrant experience and its influence on Greek cuisine through historical tales, personal stories, food and recipes they shared together. It’s dinners like these that warm me up from the inside!
“People often roll their eyes when they hear the stories about using blood and garum in food. They expect it to taste horrible, but they are pleasantly surprised!”
We couldn’t agree more! What has been your funniest moment when sharing your knowledge with others?
People often roll their eyes when they hear the stories about using blood and garum in Greek food. It’s funny to witness their facial expressions as every culture is so different; they expect it to taste horrible, but they are pleasantly surprised! I love that I can share this with people and help them experience new food.
Tell us a little bit about the city you live in. Are there any ancient myths about the area?
Chania is the second biggest city in Crete and has been continuously inhabited since 4000 B.C.! According to the legend, it was one of the three cities that were founded on Crete by King Minos.
Do you have insider tips for traveling in Greece? What are your favorite places?
My biggest traveling tip is that there are a lot of Greek islands that you can still visit when it’s winter! Obviously, Greece has some of the best beaches in the world, but they also have some amazing little villages. Almost every village has at least one “kafeneion” as well, which means coffee house, that serves cheap and wonderful food! Also, don’t miss Athens and the Epidaurus Festival!
I love Ithaka, a small island in the Ionian Sea, as well as the islands of Koufonisia and the beaches of Milos in the Aegean Sea. Regarding Greek mythology, I love Mount Olympus (it was the home of the ancient gods), and Delphi in the heart of Mount Parnassus (it was believed to be the navel of the world!). Meteora (literally “suspended in the air”) is a unique destination as well because of its unbelievable geological formations which hold monasteries.
Wow, so many amazing places! To sum up: How do you feel about the Eatwith experience? What does social dining mean to you?
I believe that Eatwith contributes to understanding foreign cultures by eating their food, so I am really looking forward to being a part of the Eatwith community! Social dining is a way to discover the world, exchange knowledge and share experience, I can’t think of anything better.
Thank you, Mariana, for chatting with us and sharing your life on this beautiful little island. If you want to know more about ancient Greek recipes, make sure to drop by her place next time you visit Crete and sign up for one of her cooking-classes!