Theran gastronomy

The dietary habits of a society are part of its culture. Certainly, the diet depends, primarily, on the potential of the immediate surroundings, on the natural environment, in which people live. Thus, shepherds living on mountainous areas, lowland farmers, communities by rivers or lakes, island communities, and so on have different dietary habits. And if, as I believe, culture is the sum total of man’s responses in his dialogue with the environment, the dietary habits constitute one of these responses.

Santorini, with its fertile but waterless soil and its dry climate has a relatively limited range of specific crops and domestic livestock. The situation is improved somewhat by the sea and the island’s location on the route followed by migrating birds, which supplemented the diet of the Therans. In other words, the environment dictated the frugal character of traditional Theran society. However, the Santorinian housewife has invented ways of preparing different dishes from the same product (e.g. capers in salad or in red tomato sauce), thus enriching the ordinary daily fare with a variety of tastes. Thus, food preparation has been upgraded to art, cooking has been enhanced to gastronomy, marking another cultural level.

Perhaps it is not accidental that the Greek word γαστρονομία has been adopted by many foreign languages (gastronomia, gastronomie, gastronomy) always keeping the same meaning: “the art of high cuisine targeting to tasty and visual enjoyment”. With gastronomy, man has transformed a vital necessity (food) into a pleasurable experience. The food remains from the Late Bronze Age city at Akrotiri and vessels, such as this ritual ewer, suggest that the Therans had achieved this several thousand years ago.

Professor Emeritus Christos Doumas, Archaelogist, Director of the Akrotiri Excavations