Greece is a meeting place between East and West, its cuisine mixing classical Mediterranean cooking with "oriental" influences from the Middle East. Greek food remains true to its roots, like ancient philosopher Epicurus' dictum to "live well and enjoy the simple things in life."
Greece is a country approximately the same size as the state of New York. It is located in southeastern Europe, protruding into the Mediterranean Sea east of Italy. About one fifth of the land that makes up Greece are islands. Almost the total population is ethnic Greek.
Like the people, the cuisine of Greece is unique. It is a strong, vibrant cuisine. Regional gastronomic differences do exist in this country; but experts do not draw culinary delineations throughout the Greek countryside as they do in other Western European countries. The Greeks are proud of their national cuisine as a whole.
The Greeks are credited with laying the foundation for the culinary arts. The first Greek chefs were highly regarded, developing original cooking techniques and initiating the dining experience. They are also credited with the introduction of the toque—the chef's hat.
Since recorded time, Greece has been a country that not only has conquered, but also has been conquered, thus creating a barrage of cultural influences on its native foods. During what is referred to as the Hellenistic Period of Greek history, Alexander the Great helped spread Greek culture, which included its culinary arts, during his reign in 334-323 BC After the rise of the Roman Empire, the Romans developed their own cuisine, but under Greek tutelage. Roman cuisine, which became highly developed, in turn influenced the Greeks.
The Byzantine Empire, which began in 330 BC, added Balkan and Turkish influences. Following were constant, successive upheavals from invaders including the Ottomans, Slavs, Franks, Serbs, and Venetians, who introduced their own culinary delights during their reigns of tyranny against Greece. Some of these foods are potatoes, lemons, spinach, tomatoes, and eggplants.
From the 16th century to WW1, Greece was occupied by the Ottoman Empire, a state that later became the Republic of Turkey. During this time period, Greek foods had to have Turkish names. Greek chefs fought to keep their food separate, but there was some gastronomic intermingling. As a result, many classic Greek dishes still have Turkish names today.
Although there are cross connections between the food of Greece and other Middle Eastern countries, Greek cuisine has stubbornly survived. It stands alone today as a strong, vibrant cuisine—a testament to endurance.