Soup in Greece
Soups have been popular in Greece since ancient times--in fact, there is great continuity in those soups over all those thousands of years, though mercifully Spartan "Black Broth" didn't last. This conglomeration of pork, blood, and vinegar clearly separated the men from the boys. Plutarch, in his Ancient Customs of the Spartans [Moralia 236F], noted:
"A thing that met with especial approval among them was their so-called black broth [zomos], so much that the older men did not require a bit of meat, but gave up all of it to the young men. It is said that Dionysius, the tyrant of Sicily, for the sake of this bought a slave who had been a Spartan cook, and ordered him to prepare the broth for him, sparing no expense. But when the king tasted it, he spat it out in disgust, whereupon the cook said, 'O King, it is necessary to have exercised in the Spartan manner, and to have bathed in the Eurotas, in order to relish this broth." Another ancient comment: "No wonder the Spartans prefer to die, ten-thousand times."
Ancient tragos, however, is clearly today's trahana--the sour dried pellets of crushed wheat/yoghurt that are used in the winter for soups. And Pea Soup--Aromatikí Soúpa? Herakles obsesses over it with Dionysus in Aristophanes The Frogs (405 BCE). Lentil Soup--Fakés? Cario in Aristophanes' Plutus (388 BCE) talks about it as one of the greatest things in life. To this day Fakés is served on Holy Friday, with the lentils signifying the tears of the Virgin Mary.
In general, Greek soups are substantial--the main course of the meal, though amply backed up with salads, mezze, bread, olives, and cheese. The concept of "first course soup" doesn't, as a rule, resonate. Although cuisine varies significantly from region to region in Greece, bean soups--favas, chickpeas, lentils, and new world white beans--are common everywhere. Thus the old saying: "Fasothátha pou trefi tin Ellada", "the whole of Greece is brought up on bean soup." Today, bean soup continues to be the mainstay of villagers, who generally eat it on Fridays.
Besides bean/pea soups, traditional Greek soups include:
- Avgolémono soups, including Mayirítsa, the innards of the Pascal lamb flavored with dill and egg/lemon and served at the midnight breakfast of Easter morning.
- Fish soups from the coasts, including kakaviá.
- Wheat soups, all the khoriátiki variations.