Honey, Olives, Octopus: Adventures at the Greek Table Hardcover – 4 Aug 2015
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The title of this enjoyable book is somewhat modest in its claims as it does not hint at the breadth of knowledge and understanding of Greek culture, past and present, that Christopher Bakken brings to bear on his exploration of Greek food there is much to commend in this engaging and enthusiastic discourse on all things Greek. --Jane Stewart"Pleiades Reviews" (06/30/2015)"
From the Inside Flap
Christopher Bakken celebrates Greek food in the Greek style, sharing it with those he loves at joyous tables filled with overflowing trays of "mezedes," carafes of wine, and cloudy glasses of ouzo. But he doesn t just look at the way the food is prepared or harvestedor eatenhe also immerses himself in the process and introduces us to the friends he makes along the way. This is food writing that goes beyond the simple pleasure of eating"Honey, Olives, Octopus" illuminates something about what it means to be alive. Natalie Bakopoulos, author of "The Green Shore"
"I have never been to Greece, or at least I hadn't until I read Christopher Bakken's poetic story of food and life on its islands. The book sings with Aegean beauty: the cobalt blue water, stoic olive groves, pine sap, and chicory I'd always dreamed I would find there. It is an absolute pleasure to take the journey with him in these pages." Tamar Adler, author of "An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace""
Top Customer Reviews
Eight key elements of Greek cuisine, namely olives, bread, fish, cheese, beans, wine, meat and honey are investigated, examined and reported in the book's 18 chapters, wrapped and mixed up together. This book is a journey or experience, if one pardons the travel metaphor, akin to a long, intense high-end restaurant tasting menu. It is not a quick "grab and go" snack or takeaway hamburger. To get the most out of the information you need to immerse yourself within the book, rather than quickly look up a specific ingredient or take out a recipe.
That said, there are a few recipes within the book, but they are more for example rather than being a collection of recipes with a bit of writing tacked on at the side. Books of this nature are horrendously difficult to review because it relies so much on the perceived requirements, interests and prejudices of the reader. You may either love it, hate it or remain stony-faced neutral. Personally this reviewer prefers books of this kind to be more on the factual side of things than prosaic, novel-like. More of a travel guide with cold hard facts than an illuminated travelogue. However, the book manages to be engaging, charming and interesting without being burdened down by the author's character taking over. The author, whilst central to the story, remains still in the shadows and the subject is allowed to shine.
This book won't be for everyone. This is a book you need to focus on as it is mostly textual in nature.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Writers are urged to name the world. You saw a flower. Readers will be more interested if you name the flower. Christopher Bakken too immerses himself in Greek food to the extent that he travels enough to know the cross pollination of food terms between Italians and Greeks. He goes for not just olives but Throumbes.
If you have been to The Old Sphagetti Factory restaurant, then you will know Mizithra cheese which is a star in this book next only to Tsipouro.
With the recipes after each chapter, the author also explains the meaning of the name of the recipe and other related recipes. By switching that different ingredient with one recipe, you can make couple of different dishes.
Using local words, the author captures the place in the book. Dont be surprised at the end of your reading to find yourself with a smattering of Greek food terms.
In the Chapter about making Cherisia Makaronia, I read the procedure again to visualise how it is made and one of these days will try it myself.
Mountain tea, Thyme honey.
Though his chapters are not rhetorically driven, Bakken's claim is that the history of Greece "is written in the elements of its cuisine: olives, bread, fish, and cheese. Meat, beans, wine, and honey." And to this end, each of his chapters explores one particular foundational food. These chapters pack an immense amount of information, from the chemistry of wild bread yeast, to the caramelization of onions in an island chickpea dish called revithia (because who doesn't love a chickpea!), to the viscosity of thyme honey. Interspersed between the main chapters are little recipe vignettes that are more narrative than how-to-guides offering glimpses into the ways traditional recipes reflect the agricultural values he sketches in each chapter
In one moment, on the island of Thasos, Bakken finds himself "wiping the flavor of the island from [his] chin, savoring the combination of tsipouro anise, squid juice, charcoal, and olive oil that triggers on [his] tongue the idea of Thasos." One of the ways that such food writing accesses the territory regularly navigated by ecological thinkers is through the concept of terroir. Usually considered a wine connoisseur term, in Bakken's book it is used to embody the particular characteristic qualities of a place discerned through the food he eats. Bakken searches for the ways that a local environment comes alive in each bite of local cuisine, and in each elements of the Greek table. For Bakken, both history and ecology are components of terroir, and it seems that one cannot appreciate a Naxian cheese, or a pasta dish on the island of Chios, without a full consciousness of what went into that food item's preparation and tradition.
In A Sand Country Almanac, Aldo Leopold says: "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise." Bakken seems to subscribe to this idea in his book and he works to create a rich sense of place, thanks to his vivid explorations of landscape and local history. For Bakken, Greece's layered history, with its ancient roots, offer lessons in the complicated interactions between the human and natural worlds; beyond the food, he uncovers layers of human history, cultural history, geographical history, and geological history. This layering, he implies, must be understood. Such local knowledge encourages sustainability, because to truly communicate the connection between the people and the natural world is the only way to protect the place, its culture, and the future. One example of such inscription is developed in the niche specialization of Maria Mavrianou and the pasta of Chios. When questioning Maria about the name of the makaronia he helps to shape, Bakken receives an explanation for why the four pastas made on Chios, are village specific: "the only one that actually bears the imprint of one's hand...[is] `hand pasta.'" Another moment that speaks to the connection between place and people appears in the chapter on honey, where Bakken recounts a dinner of locally grown zucchini, potatoes, and bread in Kythira with some local farmers, Michalis and Katarina. He finds himself awed by the simple, subversive simplicity of "a meal consisting almost entirely of plants dressed in olive oil, with just a garnish of dairy protein and some bread" and invokes Michal Pollan's ideas of culinary balance as a "key to human longevity, not to mention environmental sustainability."
Aligning his memoir with the slow food movement and with sustainable approaches to food in Greece, Bakken's message, though ultimately political, is subtle in its approach. It is a book that like any good meal allows the flavors to show themselves without needless commentary from the chef. The result is an experience that is bigger than food preparation or the individual dishes he describes. It is also clearly bigger than the author himself, not to mention the rather larger-than-life Greek characters he introduces to us. The book ultimately portrays eating in Greece as an intimate experience, one which emphasizes the connection between humans, animals, and plants. The singular pleasure of eating consciously, with an awareness of local terroir, offers a gently subversive counterpoint to the American food system.