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The miracle of Greek cuisine

Nestled comfortably on a high mountain range in the Greek province of Peloponessos<.> lies Drymos, a typical Greek village. Movement is minimal.
Around mid morning, Alekos, a slender and rather short young man of 99, leads his donkey to pasture.
On his daily walk along the single-lane road that leads in and out of this serene village, Alekos stubbornly looks high up to his left and waves to the 78-year-old coffee shop owner who feeds his chickens on a patch of land that slopes upward.
As he reaches the village outskirts, Alekos glances to the right and down the sloping mountain to see the 90-year-old widow, Angeliki, as she vigorously hoes her three-tiered garden just below her stone-built home.
These are average Greek villagers at home within a typical Greek mountain village.
If a passer-by stopped to ask any of these villagers their secret of healthy longevity, the most likely answer would be hard work and fresh mountain air. The secret, however, lies in Greek cuisine.
Out of necessity, the typical Greek of yesteryear ate more greens than anything else, both wild and cultivated. In the beginning, these simple dishes were garnered with lemon juice and olive oil, and washed down with homemade wine. During the centuries that followed, little changed in the basic diet but feminine ingenuity added ingredients to improve and enrich taste.
When village youth moved to the cities several decades ago, they took their culinary habits with them. But instead of daily trips to the garden for fresh produce and popular green plants, they visit their neighborhood outdoor market. Once a week, an entire main artery of each Athenian neighborhood is blocked off with make-shift stands where fresh garden product is sold. And every week each is packed.
But while this produce is no doubt ideal for good health, the miracle ingredient of the Greek diet is said to be the country`s virgin olive oil, which is used profusely in every Greek kitchen.
A long-term comparative study among seven developed countries substantiates the claim. According to the results, the Greek diet, heavy in olive oil, stifles heart attacks and various forms of cancer.
The study included some 700 Cretan men on the Greek side. Each was monitered regularly from l960 to l991. The bottom line: Half were alive and healthy after 31 years, while not a single member of the group observed in Finland survived.
That was yesterday. Today, Greece, l998, much of the country`s traditional cuisine has been replaced by quick meals of meat and pasta.
Even young affluent families, where both husband and wife work, now tend to fix a `fast` meal so they can keep up with their social obligations.
A group of Greek gourmets, however, realized that something very precious was about to be lost. So, a few years back, they created the Center for the Preservation and Promotion of Traditional Greek Gastronomy.
One of the center`s most successful projects created is the Archestratos program, named after an ancient Greek poet who scribed Greek dishes he had tasted while traveling throughout the country.
Through this program, the wealth of traditional Greek gastronomy is taught, experienced and promoted within the marketplace.
And to make sure Greeks and visitors to Greece have the opportunity to experience exquisite dishes that go back to ancient times, government got involved.
The Hellenic Tourism Organization has approved the creation of a classification system for Greek restaurants and tavernas. The system is a compulsory one that`s based on structural, sanitary and functional specifications. This is an attempt — in cooperation with other government and private entities involved — to introduce a star system classification that would be enforced as of next year and promote Greek dishes.
Added to this is a voluntary classification system based on functional specifications such as internal environment, interior decoration and atmosphere, quality and originality of cuisine — mainly Greek cuisine based on traditional Greek gastronomy as it developed through the ages — and its promotion as a tourist attraction. The tourism organization will supply all voluntarily classified units with a special identification sign, thereby indicating that good quality original Greek cuisine is guaranteed.

Nestled comfortably on a high mountain range in the Greek province of Peloponessos<.> lies Drymos, a typical Greek village. Movement is minimal.

Around mid morning, Alekos, a slender and rather short young man of 99, leads his donkey to pasture.

On his daily walk along the single-lane road that leads in and out of this serene village, Alekos stubbornly looks high up to his left and waves to the 78-year-old coffee shop owner who feeds his chickens on a patch of land that slopes upward.

As he reaches the village outskirts, Alekos glances to the right and down the sloping mountain to see the 90-year-old widow, Angeliki, as she vigorously hoes her three-tiered garden just below her stone-built home.

These are average Greek villagers at home within a typical Greek mountain village.

If a passer-by stopped to ask any of these villagers their secret of healthy longevity, the most likely answer would be hard work and fresh mountain air. The secret, however, lies in Greek cuisine.

Out of necessity, the typical Greek of yesteryear ate more greens than anything else, both wild and cultivated. In the beginning, these simple dishes were garnered with lemon juice and olive oil, and washed down with homemade wine. During the centuries that followed, little changed in the basic diet but feminine ingenuity added ingredients to improve and enrich taste.

When village youth moved to the cities several decades ago, they took their culinary habits with them. But instead of daily trips to the garden for fresh produce and popular green plants, they visit their neighborhood outdoor market. Once a week, an entire main artery of each Athenian neighborhood is blocked off with make-shift stands where fresh garden product is sold. And every week each is packed.

But while this produce is no doubt ideal for good health, the miracle ingredient of the Greek diet is said to be the country`s virgin olive oil, which is used profusely in every Greek kitchen.

A long-term comparative study among seven developed countries substantiates the claim. According to the results, the Greek diet, heavy in olive oil, stifles heart attacks and various forms of cancer.

The study included some 700 Cretan men on the Greek side. Each was monitered regularly from l960 to l991. The bottom line: Half were alive and healthy after 31 years, while not a single member of the group observed in Finland survived.

That was yesterday. Today, Greece, l998, much of the country`s traditional cuisine has been replaced by quick meals of meat and pasta.

Even young affluent families, where both husband and wife work, now tend to fix a `fast` meal so they can keep up with their social obligations.

A group of Greek gourmets, however, realized that something very precious was about to be lost. So, a few years back, they created the Center for the Preservation and Promotion of Traditional Greek Gastronomy.

One of the center`s most successful projects created is the Archestratos program, named after an ancient Greek poet who scribed Greek dishes he had tasted while traveling throughout the country.

Through this program, the wealth of traditional Greek gastronomy is taught, experienced and promoted within the marketplace.

And to make sure Greeks and visitors to Greece have the opportunity to experience exquisite dishes that go back to ancient times, government got involved.

The Hellenic Tourism Organization has approved the creation of a classification system for Greek restaurants and tavernas. The system is a compulsory one that`s based on structural, sanitary and functional specifications. This is an attempt — in cooperation with other government and private entities involved — to introduce a star system classification that would be enforced as of next year and promote Greek dishes.

Added to this is a voluntary classification system based on functional specifications such as internal environment, interior decoration and atmosphere, quality and originality of cuisine — mainly Greek cuisine based on traditional Greek gastronomy as it developed through the ages — and its promotion as a tourist attraction. The tourism organization will supply all voluntarily classified units with a special identification sign, thereby indicating that good quality original Greek cuisine is guaranteed.

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