History of Greek Food



Behind this fish -soup there is a long history of fear and courage.
Because, in the ancient thought the sea was a hostile, lonely world with sea monsters and fishes which were  frightening to humans….  the only animal eaten in eastern Mediterranean that could eat people. Dolphins were an exception of course.


Scylla. Apulian vase. 4th cent. BC

Such negative feeling had a profound effect on visual arts and literature.
“Lie there among the fishes” says Achilles, having thrown the body of his fallen enemy into the river, ” who will lick the blood from your wound and gloat over it; your mother shall not lay you on any bier to mourn you, but the eddies of Scamander shall bear you into the broad bosom of the sea. There shall the fishes feed on the fat of Lycaon as they dart under the dark ripple of the waters…” (Homer Iliad 21.122-7. trans. Butler S. )

“Under the dark ripple of the waters” was a place of death, where drowned mariners were devoured by fish. Moreover, fish was considered a threat not only  to humans but also to weaker sea-creatures, including fishes …. the  only animal that eat each other. “Among fishes neither justice is of any account nor is there any mercy or love, for all the fish that swim are bitter enemies to each other. The stronger ever devours the weaker; this against that swims fraught with doom and one for another furnishes food. Some overpower the weaker by force of jaws and strength; others have venemous mouths; others have spines wherewith to defend them with deadly blows.” ( 177-180 AD, Oppian, On fishing, 2.43-50, trans. Mair)

Behind this soup there is a long history of poverty.


 Fishermen. Phylakopi III, 16th ca. BC. Milos Island.  

Being fisherman implied that  land was so poor that could not feed its inhabitants.  In Greek literature  fishermen suffer from poverty, hard life  and very low social status. Dedications and epigrams bring before us their hambler life  in their thatched huts  or out at the sea.

Hard is the life the weary fisher finds
Who trusts his floating mansion to the winds ;
Whose daily food the fickle sea maintains.
Unchanging labour and uncertain gains.

Moschus 169 (2nd cent. BC. Collections from the Greek anthology. Robert Bland, 1813)

However, it seems that  fishermen who  supplied the market and rich people with quality  sea-food  had the opportunities for enrichment.


Flatfish Painter, Apulian red-figured fish plate ca. 350–325 BC. (commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fish_plate_Louvre_K590.jpg)

 Because, quality fish was very expensive,  a luxurious delicacy, a symbol of wealth. During all periods of antiquity, the  great value of fish  as a wealth symbol was equally opposed to the stereotype of fisherman’s poverty. 

Behind this soup there is a long history of  technology and commerce.
The ancient fishermen might had an abundant catch only few times a year, however imagine that the Aegean fishermen of 10,000 years ago were  able to catch 50-200 kg tuna in open water.  But  the fish is perishable. Hence, as fishing technology became more and more efficient,  technologies of preservation of fish and commerce  were developed too.   

Fishermen did provide not only a staple element but also a significant factor in the ancient economy.

The thick fish soup (Pichti Psarosoupa, Πηχτή Ψαρόσουπα)

1 kg fresh cod

1 large onion, peeled

2 tomatoes

6 carrots, peeled

1 cup of celery, chopped

3/4 cup of celery root, peeled and halved

1/2 kg. potatoes, peeled and halved

6 small zucchinis

1/3 cup of Arborio rice or Greek Karolina

2 tbs virgin olive oil + some more 

lemon juice

4 lemon halves

salt, to taste

freshly ground black pepper

Put fish, onions and tomatoes in a pot with enough water to cover them and bring to boil. Add salt to taste. When the fish is ready strain it through a strainer, debone it and set it aside.  Add zucchinis, carrots  celery, root, potatoes and olive oil and cook until tender. When they are ready strain them. In a blender puree a third of the vegetables and  a third of fish meat. Set aside. Pur the rice into the broth and cook. When it is almost done add the puree and cook for 1-2 minutes. Serve the soup in bowls, season with pepper and sprinkle with lemon juice.

Serve fish and vegetables on a platter, drizzle them with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve with lemon halves on the side.

Or put some fish and vegetables in individuals bowls and laddle over the soup. 

Fish Soup on Foodista

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19 thoughts on “FISH SOUP FOR THOUGHT

  1. admin Post author

    A Japanese living in Nisyros? Wow, Yetiherder!! I visited your blog but the online translation of Japanese language gives crazy results. I love your photos though!
    It is ok to copy paste a short snippet of text of no more than about 5 lines at a time, of course linking to the full text. And it is free to use the images of art pieces. 🙂

  2. yetiherder

    I absolutely loved this article! Informative,and very, very interesting.

    I am a Japanese (female) living on a small island in Dodekanese. I blog about the life in xwrio, Greek food etc (in Japanese) and thought it would be great if I could use some of the materials (including images) on my blog… obviously I will link to this article…

  3. admin Post author

    It’s amazing considering that the North Atlantic is one of the world’s richest fishing resources. But did Ireland have history of fishing? Was seafood popular? Did Anglo-Irish arictocracy stop force people to focus on working on the land?

  4. Suzy Oakes

    I am so glad to have found this fascinating article. I was always interested by the fact that, during the Irish potato famine, people mainly did not turn to the sea to obtain the protein they so much needed. This association between fishing and poverty, and the land being unable to sustain them, had never occurred to me. It is, of course, all part of the same thing. Thanks so much!

  5. admin Post author

    Thanks a million for those wonderful words and I look forward to reading your blog!:)

  6. my little expat kitchen

    Hello Mariana. I just discovered your very interesting and educating blog. I’m impressed by the quality and amount of information you provide about each dish or foodstuff.
    I’ll be visiting you again.



  7. Ozlem

    each article of yours is another enlightenment Mariana. Reading you is a unique taste, defintely an ambitious journey in time, along with amazing delicacies. Thank you!

  8. admin Post author

    Joumana, the annual income of the Greek small-scale coastal fishermen is very low too. So, their number show a decreasing trend in the last decade, as the younger prefer more prestigious activities.

  9. admin Post author

    Dee, we all have been watching with a broken heart the tragedy in Haiti. Unfortunatelly poverty, malnutrition and starvation are very common throughout history and in Haiti poverty has its own very long history.

  10. admin Post author

    Cynthia, there is a strong Minoan influence in the art of Phylakopi which is reflected in depictions of nature, animals and humans. The artists seem to follow standard conventions in the carving of each anatomical part of the body, so the painter of the Phylacopi vase does portray fishing, not malnourishment.But in a sad way his painting brings to mind severely malnourished people.

  11. Ivy

    Wonderful post Marianna. I always learn something new reading your posts. I’d love a bowl of that psarosoupa right now.

  12. tasteofbeirut

    I love reading your article but it brought some feeling of sadness because in Lebanon fishermen are still at the bottom of society, poor as can be, and helpless.
    Soup sounds very delicious and nourishing and love the pics of the vases.

  13. Dee

    The history you provide here with the ancient artwork is just splendid. How nurishing & theraputic this dish seems. I too thought of the very emaciated Haitian people I have seen on our news reports. I love the way you provide sucha beautiful background on your foods. Bravo!

  14. Cynthia Bertelsen

    What a wonderful post! I also love the ancient illustrations — the one of the emaciated fisherman is very evocative of severely malnourished people I’ve seen in Haiti and Africa. Interesting that an artist of the times would portray that.

  15. admin Post author

    Oh, I forgot! I did put 3/4 cup of celery root! Thanks Giorgo, I’ll correct the recipe accordingly.
    I think there is no need for saffron because the color of the soup is green-orange but i love the Jerusalem artichoke idea!

  16. George (Athens)

    I just love the ancient paintings, Mariana! Furthermore, some pieces of celery root would enhance the thickening result and of course the whole taste!!! Also some saffron threads for color, or, instead of potatoes, Jerusalem artichoke cubes!

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