Clean Monday indicates the start of the 40 day Lent period of the Orthodox Church. In Greece, that period is called ‘Sarakosti’ and actually means ’40 days’, and it ends at the beginning of Easter. Clean Monday also signifies the end of the meat eating period that is the ‘Apokries’ – the equivalent of our Greek Halloween. It’s a day of spiritual and body cleansing and a public holiday for all in Greece.
Today, Greek families get together and eat bread, seafood and pulses. The bread is a sesame coated, un-knead bread called ‘lagana’, which is enjoyed with as much taramasalata as you can find – our famous fish roe salad. Tables are spread with a meze of octopus, calamari, squid, shellfish, pickled and fried vegetables, olives, beans, and houmous. For dessert, we tend to go for our delicious traditional halva made out of sesame paste (tahini).
Traditionally, kites are flown on the day but you also find that every Greek region has it’s own unique customs, such as dancing around maypoles.
But how did we acquire these customs? Kites symbolise the need for a spiritual uplift and they were a great part of Eastern civilization faith. People adorn these kites with wishes and send them flying as ‘close to God’ as possible. The maypole was brought to Greece by Asia Minor immigrants. This possibly symbolizes the circle of life, the transition from winter to spring, from life to death, and vice versa.
The roots of each custom do go back thousands of years and the customs might have changed little through the ages, but one thing remains the same: people eating together, families and friends united around tables, celebrating their heritage through food.
Here at The Real Greek, we will be honouring the Clean Monday custom with loads of our creamy taramasalata, melitzanosalata (smoked aubergine dip), our dolmades (stuffed vine leaves), our giant beans in tomato sauce (gigandes in our place), our tender grilled octopus and kalamari of course!
So, as we Greeks say: ‘Kali Sarakosti’, or have a happy Clean Monday!
Get the full lagana recipe at My Little Expat Kitchen.