A History of Greek Street Food

History of Greek Food
  • Street food provides an important income and is a source of cheap and tasty food. In Greece, it made its appearance in the 6th century BC with the development of cities. Lentil soup was available in the Greek ‘agora’, however eating it while wandering around the market was not appropriate.
  • Ιn Byzantium street food trade became very large. Big cities, specifically Constantinoupolis (modern Istanbul) offered street food to a huge influx of workmen, merchants, immigrants, foreign soldiers and pilgrims. Among the goods the street food sellers offered, were roasted chicken, sausages, baked carrots, roasted chickpeas, dried raisins, fresh fruits, small cakes, pasteli and other sesame sweets etc.
  • Much of Ottoman Istanbul’s cultural and culinary heritage is result of its being a capital of Byzantine Empire. Street food was still there for those not very lucky to be able to get lunch at home. Cappadocians, Albanians, Romioi, Armenians and immigrants from Epirus sold tasty fast foods. Among them a type of sandwich called arnaout-tzieri, which was consisted of a piece of bread, stuffed with fried liver (tzieri), parsley, onion and beans ala piaz, became very popular.
  • The fried liver was a familiar street snack in Crete until 1930.
  • Today, despite the changing of eating habits and places, street food remains very popular in both countries. The crucial factors for the selection of street foods seem to be the taste, quality and freshness. Boiled or roasted corn, ice cream, chestnuts, pies, Greek gyros and its Turkish equivalent doner kebab, souvlaki etc. are among the favorite street delicacies.
  • Throughout Greece and Turkey, a ring of bread covered with sesame seeds is sold at street corners and in most bakeries. Children eat it in school breaks, people on their way to work, or after work on their way home. This ring of bread that is called simit in Turkey and koulouri or simiti in Greece is probably both countries’ most popular snack.
  • Greek word σιμίτι simiti derives from turkish simit which comes from the arabic semiz, a loan from the greek word σεμίδαλις semidalis = semolina, hard/durum wheat.    Kουλούριkoulouri derives from the medieval word  koulouri(o)n, diminutive of kouloura < ancient Greek kollyra = the circular bread which was eaten by the slaves.
  • According to Evliya Celebi, an Ottoman traveller and writer of 17th century, in mid-16th century  70 simit bakeries, employing about 300 bakers, existed in Istanbul.
  • The Minor Asian Greek refugees brought with them their dialects, their cultural tradition and an extraordinarily rich culinary tradition that was an amalgamation of Byzantine, Ottoman and urban French cuisine. When they moved to Thessaloniki they brought, among others, the recipe of simiti. That’s why the simiti is also called koulouri Thessalonikis.
  • However in Ottoman occupied Grete simiti was already a street food.




all-purpose flour, as much needed

50g melted butter

50ml olive oil

200ml water

2 tsp baking powder

pinch of sugar

1 beaten egg

1/2 tsp salt

2 tbs petimezi (grape syrup)

2 – 3 cups sesame seeds

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, salt and baking powder. Beat the egg and add the sugar, milk, water, olive oil and melted butter. Add and fold in the flour. Knead at least 15 minutes by hand until the dough is soft. Divide dough into small balls and roll them into 20-centimeter long ropes. Form the ropes into circles and place them on a greased cooking sheet. Let rest 1 hour. Dissolve the petimezi in 1 cup water. Put the sesame seeds in another bowl. Dip each simiti in petimezi water first, then in the sesame seeds. Put it back on the baking sheet and let rest for 30 minutes. Cook them for approximately 30 minutes at about 175 degree Celsius, until the simiti have a rich golden brown color.

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