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Monday, May 19, 2008

Of Macedonian Hospitality and Sausages

Macedonian Sausage on the BBQ

Ask mainland Greeks where they are from and you will likely get responses like: “Arcadia” or “Thessalia” or “Laconia” or “Messenia" or “Macedonia” and so on. Greece has thirteen geographic regions of which nine are on the mainland and four are insular. Each region has its own set of customs, traditions, folk songs and dances, costumes, food specialties, wines and spirits. Their inhabitants also have reputations for specific peculiarities of character (or custom) which differentiates them from other Greeks. The Cretans and the Maniotes, for example, are famous for their feuding and vendettas. To this day, the Cretan country roads and highways are interspersed with bullet-ridden traffic signs.

When it comes to the Macedonians, they are renowned for their generous and open-handed hospitality to strangers, a reputation which in my estimation is well deserved. This reputation for hospitality is not a new development; it has survived the test of time. Of course, this is not to say that Greeks from other regions of Greece are not hospitable, they most certainly are; however, in a country where hospitality to strangers is an ancient and ubiquitous social precept, the Macedonians enjoy the reputation of being the most hospitable.

The ancient Greeks had a word which embodied a code of conduct that pertained to the guest-host relationship between strangers, the word was “xenia” (ξενία) [pronounced ‘kse-NEE-ah’]. The concept of xenia was based on the principles of generosity and consideration shown to travelers who were far from their homes; the word itself was derived from the word xénos which means ‘foreigner’. The principle of xenia was of such significance to the ancients that the king of the Olympian gods, Zeus himself, was the patron and protector of foreigners; a role which found expression in the epithet Zeus Xenios. Anyone, host or guest, who violated the sacred prescription of xenia, was open to the retribution of Heaven.

Baroque painting (circa 1625) of the myth of Baucis and Philemon by an unknown artist

In Greek Mythology, we have the story of Baucis and Philemon as testament to the interest Zeus took in assuring the sanctity of the act of welcoming a stranger and showing them every courtesy. The myth tells us that one day, Zeus, accompanied by his son Hermes (the god of travelers) resolved to do a quality control spot check of the practice of xenia amongst mortals in a region known as Tyana in Phrygia. Together, the two Olympians disguised themselves as a couple of ordinary traveling peasants. They called at the gates of the great and small homes of the area seeking food and shelter for the night and were rudely rebuffed at every door save one, that of Baucis and Philemon: a dirt poor, elderly couple who lived in an old cottage with their only companion a precocious goose.

Baucis and her husband readily made their meager table and modest home available to the two strangers. They served the pair of dusty wayfarers what little food and wine they had. As they looked to the needs of their visitors, the old man and woman noticed something strange: no matter how much wine they poured or food they fetched, the wine pitcher and the larder never emptied. So they grew fearful as they realized that their guests were not mere mortals.

Worried that they had somehow offended their visitors with the scantiness of the spread they had set for them, the old couple apologized to their guests and resolved to butcher their goose to feed them a proper meal. The perceptive gander caught wind of their intent and bolted for the lap of Zeus in an effort to save itself (animals, you see, have no problem recognizing the gods for what they are). The old goose was successful too! For, at this point, the king of gods and men thanked the generous-hearted agéd couple for sharing with him and his companion what the wealthiest households in the land had refused. He bade them to leave their home immediately and ascend with himself and his companion to the higher ground of a nearby mountain, as he intended to destroy by flood the homes and lives of those who had refused food and lodging to a pair of traveling strangers. Baucis and Philemon, along with their goose, followed the two immortals and then watched from a safe elevation as a flood swept away the homes of their neighbours. Their own cottage was spared and transformed into a beautiful marble temple right before their eyes.

As the floodwaters receded, Zeus wishing to reward Baucis and Philemon for their generosity asked what boon he could bestow upon the twain. The elderly pair replied that when the time came, they wished to pass away together in order to spare themselves the pain of bereavement should one die before the other. As well, they asked to remain as the warders of the temple which used to be their home for the rest of their lives. Zeus granted both wishes and so the old couple passed their remaining days together in the beautiful temple. When their allotted time came, instead of dying they were transformed into two trees, an oak and a linden, and rooted side by side with limbs intertwining by the entrance to the temple that was once their home.

The notion of xenia is alive and well among Greeks even today, though the word has been modified somewhat into philoxénia, which literally translates as ‘stranger-friendship’. The day before yesterday, I had the chance to sample some classic Macedonian hospitality (philoxenia) right here in Toronto, courtesy of Peter Minakis and his family. I have mentioned Peter and his food blogging activities in a past posting as our acquaintance stems from a mutual penchant for sharing our passion for Greek food with others on the World Wide Web. On Saturday, I actually had the pleasure of meeting Peter and his mother in person at their home. Not only was I (a complete stranger) welcomed into their house, but I was fed a delicious fresh cinnamon roll, served an ice coffee (frappé), offered some fresh baked and still warm Greek almond cookies, and even left their company with a package of homemade frozen Macedonian sausages in hand! May Zeus Xenios and Hermes bless and watch over Peter and his family and their household!

Peter (right) and I (left) enjoying a beautiful Spring afternoon together

Peter's mother Chrissanthi with a tray of warm almond cookies

Today, my wife and I enjoyed those sausages for our lunch. I grilled them on the barbecue and they were fantastic! The meat was laced with leeks and had a hint of spice from the Macedonian Boukovo (red chili) used in the recipe; they were very flavourful with a characteristic aftertaste that left the scent of the leek on the breath long after they were consumed. In the south of Greece, particularly in Arcadia and Laconia, sausages are often flavoured with orange or lemon rind, whereas the use of leek as part of the sausage stuffing is a Macedonian regional specialty. The recipe for these sausages can be obtained from Peter’s blog: Kalofagas.


Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand™
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.


Peter G said...

What a wonderful and informative post Sam. I had never heard of that myth till today. And so true, whenever I visit Greece I am welcomed into every home (even if I've only just met them!). It was great that you got a chance to finally meet Peter and share in that lovely hospitality.

Greek sausages are so unique. My parents hailing from Sparti, have always made sausages with orange peel and as you're aare the taste is quite addictive. Those Macedonian sausages look terrific and the flavour of leeks and chillies sound really interesting. Thanks for all the info!

Peter M said...

Sam, thanks for capturing the essence of Greek hospiltality and the nuances we have from region to region.

It's important to remember our commonalities and that we are tolerant, hospitable people with a zest for life.

Thanks again for dropping by our home. You're were a gracious guest, now a new friend and welcome to join us again.

MrOrph said...

Sam, great story; you and Peter getting together. I am actually very familiar with that mythological story. When I was a kid in Philly, I stayed on restriction; always doing something that got me punished. So all I had was books. No Playstations, Wii's, TVs, nothing like that in MY room back in the 70s. All I had were my albums, my encyclopedias, and my books. The Bard, Tennesee Williams, Poe, and Greek Mythology became my playmates. If I am not mistaken, Hermes (Mercury: my ruling planet) was the product of Zeus (Jupiter) and Pleade Maia? She was Atlas's daughter, yes?

Wow, what a flashback. My wife did not get much Greek Mythology in her formative years here in Georgia. I've tried to talk to her about a lot of the stories, as they can be in allegory to real life experiences. Prometheus was, IMHO, a bad-ass. A true Robin Hood, yes?

Another great post!

David Hall said...

Great post Sam, really interesting. Greece seems so fab and I love the place. As for them sausages - drooollll!!!!


Mariana Kavroulakis said...

Wonderful post, Sam!
Thank you.

farida said...

Sam, your posts are so informative! I am learning a lot from them! That part of the world is unbeatable with its hospitality, that's for sure!

Lulu said...

Once again a post that's actually a lovely and informative essay. Stop raising the bar, Sam! :-)

Very cute picture of Peter's mom!

vonsachsen said...

What a good read! As a kid I always loved Greek mythology but there is no chance I remember them all...thanks for a very informative post and it´s fun to see how friendships form in the cyberspace:)

Kristina said...

Sam: I've been lurking for a while. Your blog is fabulous, and I like your take and your information on the greek culture. Now off to find me some greek or macedonian sausages... :-)

Laurie Constantino said...

you are a wonderful historian sam, and i learn something interesting every time you post a new article, thank you!!!