Monday, 15 February 2010

Clean Monday - Καθαρή Δευτέρα

Today in Greece, we celebrate what is called Καθαρή Δευτέρα (pronouned kathari deftera). Also known as Clean Monday and Ash Monday, it marks the first day of the Christian Orthodox lent. This traditional day is a bank holiday in Greece and so families are able to gather together and feast upon a great meat-free meal.
Only on this day of the year a special type of bread is baked and sold by the vast number of bakeries in Greece. It is called 'lagana', and is simply a large loaf of bread which contains no yeast and so is very thin and has sesame seeds sprinkled over the top. Every year my dad and I would go to the bakery early in the morning and get 10 of these. They would be piled up in large baskets, and you could ask for softer ones or ones which had been baked for longer and so were a lot crispier. They would then wrap them in paper and place them in a bag for you. Without fail, on the way home my dad and I would always break off a few chunks of the warm, crusty bread to nibble on till we got home.
Another tradition which children and adults of all ages engage in on this day is kite flying. People set out little stalls all along the streets and pavements and sell kites of all different colours and patterns. You begin to see kites in the sky from about miday and as it gets later you can count hundreds of them.

The food menu on this holy day is endless. My grandmother (and all other women of the family) spend days preparing for this glorious feast. The dishes you typically see served on this day include:
-taramosalata - a dip made from fish roe
-φάβα (fava) - a dip made from split peas
-γίγαντες - broad beans with a tomato sauce baked in the oven
- fish
- squid and octopus
all obviously accompanied by the lagana bread.

Then usually for desert there are a number of things to choose from, as in the Greek culuture if you are visiting someone you will always take something with you. So on this day all the guests tend to bring a desert they have bought from one of the hundreds of pastry shops (zaharoplastia-ζαχαροπλαστία) dotted around.
However the traditional desert for this day is χαλβά, halva. This is a sweet, dense confection. There are two types, the most common one is made from tahini (sesame paste) whereas as the other (χαλβά φαρσάλων) is slightly more gelatinous and is made from semolina and flour. Other ingredients are added such as pistachios or almonds. The most common type comes in different flavours as well, you can get plain, vanilla or chocolate or a mix. My personal favourite is the vanilla halva with almonds.
Over all this is a great day for everyone. Friends and families come together and celebrate the start of lent with a great meal along with a great atmosphere.

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