History of Greek Food



When Macedonian Caranous gave his wedding banquet, early in the third century,  only 20 men attended as his guests. As soon as they had sat down, a silver bowl was given to each of them as a present.

When they had drunk the contents of the  bowls, then there was given to each of the guests a loaf  of bread on a bronze platter of Corinthian workmanship, of the same size; and chickens, ducks, pigeons, and a goose and lots of other items. Each guest took the food and gave it, platter and all,  to the slave who waited behind him. Many other elaborate dishes  were also served. And after them, another platter came, this one was made of silver, on which  was placed a large loaf, and on that geese and hares and kids, bread curiously made, and doves, and turtledoves, and partridges, and a great  abudance of many other kinds of birds.

After  some flute-playing women and musicians had played a prelude, other girls came in, each one carrying  two  bottles of perfume bound with a gold cord and they gave a pair to each of the guests.

Then a great treasure was brought in: a silver platter with a golden edge, and large enough to receive a roast piglet of huge size, lying on its back, showing his belly, stuffed with many delicious things: roasted thrushes, and paunches, and a most countless number of fig-peckers, and the yolks of eggs spread on the top, and oysters, and scallops.  And to every one of the guests were given these items, nice and hot, together with the platters.

But this was not the end of the banquet.

Many more items were brought until the serving time of the after- dinner tables: hot kid, roast  fishes,  Cappadocian bread, real Erymanthian boars  and rivers of wine.

Finally, the after-dinner tables: flat cakes – Samian types and Attic types-  Cretan gastrin, along with the special cake- boxes for each of the guests.

What a feast, indeed!  And what a plethora of ingredients and combinations for those who demanded (and could afford) the best, most extravagant,  most fashionable and ultimately most expensive foods.

You see, after Alexander’s conquest Hellenistic civilization was spread through the E. Mediterranean and Near East.  Long-distance trade between West and East expanded; crop varieties were exchanged;  new fruits were introduced and spices were imported from the East;  new foodways were imported  as well.

Therefore, that wedding dinner  manifestates -among other things-  the dramatic changes of eating during  the end of fourth and the early part of  third century.

As  the Greek cities were dominated or governed by the Macedonias and  the successors of Alexander competed with each other in manifestation of magnificence and power,  those different foods and foodways became widely adopted by the elite. The wealthy had a large and gastronomically elaborate menu in a style influenced by  Macedonians, Persians and the polished Magna Grecia that had reached a high degree of refinement.

Of course, such dinners also contributed to the display of wealth.  Silver and golden platters, dancers, singers, gifts to the guests etc. emphasize the manifestation of wealth rather than concern the food itself.

Of course, the local cuisines of the Greek cities were considered old fashioned or old or simply poor .

However, it is worth pointing out that  two centuries later the availability of a great selection of herbs and spices and the wide range of their combinations  imply that Greeks didn’t consider them extravagant anymore.  Obviously, they had become familiar with them.

A good example of the abundance and combinations of condiments is myma, a meat dish of the 1st century B.C.  Stirred into the meat and giblets were  13 herbs and spices-cheese was among them- and blood.

All these details show how far the Hellenistic people had developed the art of cooking.


Today, can we recreate the Hellenistic recipes?

Hmm…  For the first dinner of the  Edible history project which took place at Evmaros (Cultural Association) I made goat cheese and hydromeli; I made loaves of bread with ancient wheat and I made plakountes. I baked them in a sort of  klivanos and in the wood-fired oven of the bakery in my neighborhood;  I pickled radishes with homemade vinegar and homemade wine and 20 days later I minced and mixed them with minced raisins and mustard seeds (many varieties of vegetables and greens have disappeared; never thought that it was so difficult to find radish with long root); and I stuffed a piglet….

But… the truth is that if we cannot cook over an open fire using replicas of ancient cooking pots, and if we don’t raise the same animal races  or cultivate the same varieties of  vegetables in the same ways as the ancient Greeks did, the recreation of ancient dishes is not reliable. Moreover, even if we do know that the Hellenistic cuisines had a sweet and sour taste – probably, less sweet and sour than the Roman one-   since we ignore quantities and cooking times, the whole thing is getting very tricky.

Hors d’ oeuvres


Boiled pork tripe

Clockwise from top left:
cabbage, cucumbers, apples, pomegranate seeds;
black olives;
arugula sprinkled with Vietanmese nuoc mam, as a substitute for garos (the ancient fish sauce);
mushrooms with oxymeli ( a boiled  mixture of honey, vinegar and water);
pickled radishes;
pork belly stuffed with liver, bulgur and blood;
boiled tripe  served in sharp vinegar, cumin and asafoetida. Originally it was served sprinkled with the famous silphion (latin: silphium), a plant that marked rich dinners. After its disappearance, it has been replaced by asafoetida which was brought by Alexander the Great to the West.


(Photo by Ivy of Kopiaste.org)
Wholemeal emmer oven-baked bread. Grape must was used in the place of yeast.
During Hellenistic years new kinds of bread became popular; Cappadocios artos- a bread apparently native to Cappadocia- is one of them.  It was also called  “apalos” (soft). It was  made with flour, a little milk, olive oil and sufficient  salt.  I mixed 1 cup of wheat flour with salt and warm milk and set it in a warm place. Five hours later the mass had become porous. I added a little olive oil and flour and  mix them to form a quite soft dough. Then I poured it into a bread mold and  set it in a warm place.  Cappadocios is a very fine, white bread with a slightly sour taste.
Main course
Epainetos says in his Art of Cookery  that “A myma of any sacrificial animal, or chicken, is to be made like this: chop the lean meat finely, chop liver and offal finely, mince with blood and flavor with vinegar, baked cheese, silphium, cumin, fresh and dried thyme, Roman hyssop*, coriander leaf, coriander seed, Welsh onion**, fried onion or poppy seed, raisins or honey and the seeds of sour pomegranate. You may also serve it as a relish.” (1st.cent.BC, apud Athen. 662d)


In ancient Greece, fresh meat required to be slaughtered and prepared by a mageiros, a butcher, sacrificer and cook) with appropriate religious ritual. Oven roasting became popular during Hellenistic years. It was also introduced from the East allowing the development of extravagant stuffed meat dishes, which later became popular in ancient Rome.

Our piglet was stuffed with chicken breasts, roast thrushes,  fig-peckers, paunches and egg yolks.


  “Defterai trapezai” (second tables) corresponded to our dessert. They were called so because clean tables were brought into the room. Dessert consisted of different kinds of fresh and dried fruits, nuts, cheese, cakes, sweetmeats etc.


 Cheese-plakountes (bread-cakes)  have their ingredients (fine flour, honey***, fresh goat chees, water)  mashed into a pulp or they were made in a form of stuffed bread.

* Satureja thymbra,  za’atar rumi.

** Welsh onion has nothing to do with Wales. According to Wikipedia ‘Welsh preserves the original meaning of the Old English word “welisc”, or Old German “welsche”, meaning “foreign”. The species originated in Asia, possibly Siberia or China’.
***Best honey was still agreed to be the thyme honey from mount Hymettus.

****Black pepper was imported from the East and presumably was more expensive than silphium.


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10 thoughts on “GOING HELLENISTIC

  1. tasteofbeirut

    Fascinating! Eating becomes such an interesting experience with someone like you to guide through these historically prominent dishes!
    I wish I could have been there (with a translator!) 🙂

  2. admin Post author

    @ Gay, the combination of toasted nuts, thyme honey and black pepper gave excellent results.

    @ Γιώργο μου, ορισμένες από τις πρώτες ύλες ήθελαν ψάξιμο, γιατί σήμερα πια βρίσκουμε πολύ δύσκολα κάποιες ποικιλίες λαχανικών και δημητριακών (αν και ήταν διαδεδομένες στο παρελθόν).

    @Υes James… The history of Greek food is a great subject.

    @ Indeed, Alex. Who can imagine a world without tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, chocolate, coffee…? However, ancient people used many other ingredients which are not around in our times.

  3. Alex

    Seems a great idea to me to reconstruct old and original recipes. Might be a little bit strange sometimes, as we got used to so many ingredients which haven’t been around at those times. And I just refer to really simple things such as tomatoes. Who can imagine a good salad without them today? 🙂

  4. James Stathis

    I’ve been reading some of the comments and looking around the website/Facebook page. Great subject the history of Greek food. We at CelebrateGreece.com commend you for your efforts. CelebrateGreece.com makes documentaries about Greek history, some on food from ancient times to modern day. We have many coming up early next year, but you might be interested in our #1 New York Times’ about.com culinary-travel DVD called, “A Greek Islands Destination Cooking Class,” filmed in Santorini. It follows the history of the islands cuisine from the ancient times to today. Thanks again.

  5. Γιώργος

    ΠΟΛΛΑ Συγχαρητήρια Μαριάνα!
    Φαντάζομαι τι προσπάθειες να βρείτε τις πρώτες ύλες μόνο…Αχ να μην είμαι στην Αθήνα να το ζήσω κι εγώ!

  6. Ivy

    Congratulations Marianna. I am looking forward to many more similar posts where we have learned so much from you. I am also looking forward to the second Symposium regarding Byzantine Cooking.

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