Street food, the type of food served on the streets, is the threshold to Mediterranean diet and local culture
The essentials of Greek street food are none other than souvlaki, Greek salad, tzatziki, veggie chips and traditional, original Greek yoghurt with honey. Although the full experience of authentic Greek Mediterranean diet is mostly associated with eating traditional dishes and drinking wine or tsipouro at a local sea-side tavern, Greek street food can be seen as the appetizer before the main meal of the magical, authentic Greek nutrition.
Greek street food reflects a cultural effort to incorporate the principles of Greek Mediterranean diet into the demands of grab-and-go food. Accordingly, olive oil, tzatziki, feta cheese, tomato, beets, Greek yoghurt constitute the basic elements for souvlaki, salads and burgers. All these ingredients provide a Mediterranean scent and enhance the nutritional value of street food that resembles, by appearance only, second-rate food.
The magic of Greek Mediterranean diet which fully unfolds in restaurants, is widely accepted as the only natural weapon of modern man against diseases. This viewpoint has been supported by extensive research which concluded in improvement of longevity. This association with increased lifespan has been essential in increasing the popularity of Greek street food and has contributed tremendously to the current, wide reputation of Mediterranean diet foods. Of note, Mediterranean diet has been acknowledged by UNESCO as a cultural heritage for humanity. Mediterranean diet represents a lifestyle where good taste meets good health and this is the key aspect that sets Mediterranean diet apart from other kinds of diets. Antioxidants, vitamins, monounsaturated fatty acids, dietary fibers, frame the “magic filter” of longevity. Also, numerous studies have shown its beneficial effect on cancer prevention, weight management and mental ability.
“Greek street food can be seen as the appetizer to authentic Greek nutrition”.
However, Mediterranean diet is not only limited to specific food consumption. As already mentioned, it extends to include a lifestyle in which certain behavioral attributes, such as avoiding eating alone and increased physical activity, are key elements. These elements are strongly reflected in how one experiences Greek street food, i.e. in the company of new friends one makes while waiting in line or sitting on a bench and eating side by side, etc.
Where it all started
The first reference to street food in Greece, takes us back to antiquity, when small fried fish were sold by vendors on the streets. Fish was considered food of great value at the time.
As a matter of fact, the diet of famous Greek Philosopher and Mathematician, Pythagoras, was based on plants and fish; with the latter being the staple food in his diet.
This is the reason why, until very recently, vegetarians around the world were called “Pythagoreans”.
There is quite an interesting story about Pythagoras and fish. It is said that he did not allow his students to ask questions until they had completed their study, because he firmly believed that they needed to be aware of all the information, before they could ask informed questions. This period of silence, before questions were asked, was known as “fish silence”.
Anastasios Papalazarou, PhD, MSc
Dietitian – Nutritionist
Scientific Director of Nutrimed Ltd