Callum explores his personal connection to Greek food in the next instalment of our longest-running series.
At this time of year when meeting new people, whether it be in seminars, sports teams or societies, we are often faced with those awkward ice breakers. The dreaded “tell us something interesting about you”, which seems to have the ability to inhibit all recollection. One of the less stressful ones that I’ve been asked is, the slightly morbid, what would your last meal be. It’s based on the premise that you may learn something interesting about someone from their choices or be able to show off with pretentious knowledge of food.
In reality, many people’s responses are similar; a Sunday roast at my grans, my family recipe tiramisu or my mum's chicken curry. Even Gordon Ramsay said that he’d want roast beef, and Jamie Oliver would finish off with rice pudding. These are all familiar, nostalgic, feel-good foods, in a time we all want to feel comforted.
I have always found this stereotypical idea of comfort food being related to hearty family cooking, reminiscent of childhood, difficult to relate with. I grew up in a busy household. During my teens, my dad was often working out of town. My mum juggled her own work and commitments with ferrying my brother between his multiple football training sessions and matches. Family meals were a rarity almost exclusively reserved for weekends and holidays when we would normally eat out.
I became accustomed to cooking for myself long before coming to university, although this didn’t bother me because I enjoyed it. It also allowed me to experiment in the kitchen without the watchful eyes of my mum. Then, when I started working as a chef during the school holidays, I began missing out on those few precious family meals. Instead, swapping them for a plate of sustenance to get me through the long shifts.
To me, comfort food, especially when at university, is all about bringing back memories of happier carefree times. For me, those memories lie in the small city of Chania in the west of Crete, Greece. It’s a place I spent a lot of time in, originally with my dad accompanying my mum on work trips and then many subsequent joyful family holidays.
I often think back to leisurely meals we had sat outdoors in cobbled lanes off the Venetian harbour. The perfect reward after a long day of doing nothing in the sun, the opposite of our busy life back home. All four of us sat around a table crammed with Greek salads, locally caught grilled fish, and my favourite, lamb kleftiko, which is a slow-cooked lamb with lemon, herbs and garlic.
Although the setting may be difficult to recreate in Glasgow, I often find myself going to Greek recipes when I’m in need of a pick me up. I’m an adventurous cook and like to test my pretty basic Greek language skills by reading recipes in Greek. Normally I cook things like, souvlaki (skewers of grilled meat or fish), soutzoukakia (meatballs) or moussaka. I am yet to try making my own phyllo for pastries, although, I’m not sure that I’d be willing to trade my sanity for some homemade tiropita or spanakopita (cheese or spinach pies). However, I must confess that more often than not, when I’m most in need of my Greek fix, I can be found at MacTassos on Kelvin Way.
I have recently found my cravings for Greek food, my comfort food, intensify. Maybe because I wasn’t able to visit this summer or maybe because I’m yearning for pre-Covid times. There may be stereotypes or common ideas surrounding comfort food, however, it is an entirely personal thing. During times like these it’s important that as well as looking after each other we look after ourselves, so don’t feel guilty if you find yourself going back to your own comfort foods.
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