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Honey, Olives, Octopus: Adventures at the Greek Table Hardcover – 4 Aug 2015

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (4 Aug. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520275098
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520275096
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.5 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,078,249 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


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""

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Not knowing what to expect, I started reading with caution but soon I was gobbling up Christopher Bakken's prose, stories and wishing I was sitting at all his tables feasting with him. I live in Greece now and the book brought home once more how wonderful the Greek people are, how simple but delicious and healthful the food is and how living simply can be hard, yes, but also bring much happiness in life. Now I am hunting for locations in Athens that sell the foods, honey, olives and wines he highlights in the book. I highly recommend this book and hope for more by him.
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By Autamme_dot_com TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 15 Feb. 2013
Format: Hardcover
A difficult book to categorise, with it being a mixture of food writing, travelogue, memoir and general humorous reading, here the author takes a light-hearted, yet serious look at Greek cuisine and what goes on at table.

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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x8bafee74) out of 5 stars 12 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8b893c48) out of 5 stars Mouth-Watering and Thought-Provoking 12 Mar. 2013
By Serious Reader - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Only a person who combines the wisdom of the body and the mind together could have written this book. It is a sensual treat and a feast for the spirit. Bakken--a poet newly at home in modern Greek as well as his native tongue--explores the pleasures of hunting, cooking, and eating; the humanity of sharing food with loved ones; and the way submerging yourself in a different culture brings out the best in you and develops new aspects you might never have known you had. What others have done for Provence and Tuscany, he has now done for Greece.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8b904900) out of 5 stars A trip to Greece 29 May 2013
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Mr. Bakken's poetic writing makes you feel like you are there, smelling the wild thyme, munching on grilled octopus . . .
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8b958e1c) out of 5 stars About Greek food from a literature professor 31 Jan. 2014
By Himri - Published on
Format: Hardcover
So there you go, a promise of good Greek food, travel, history and many other writer's thoughts about all these.

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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8ba56018) out of 5 stars Poetic and Beautifully Written. 26 Nov. 2013
By - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Greek food and travel writing at it's best. I think Bakken's prose should be read aloud as his words are full of poetic fullness. It's made me hungry for simple, authentic Greek food and travel.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8bafd2c0) out of 5 stars Subversive Sustainability 14 Mar. 2013
By Allison Wilkins - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Christopher Bakken's hybrid memoir, Honey, Olives, Octopus: Adventures At the Greek Table, which combines travel writing and food writing, closely inspects one of the last remaining European pastoral cultures under threat by the industrial food machine. An outsider to Greek culture, Bakken's chapters "trac[e] the circuitous route of the goat path" in order to discover not only the inherent (and subversive) values embedded in the Greek culinary tradition, but also in the very pleasures of the Greek table, in which the author revels indulgently. Bakken's cast of characters, who were instrumental in his education into Greek culture and Greek food ways, not only teach him about the traditions of the table, but also unveil the essence of life in Greece.

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.
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