BAAA HUMBUG – A LAMB ISN’T JUST FOR CHRISTMAS
We Cretans don’t keep Christmas in the same way you do in the UK. Not that we’re like Scrooge – we don’t approach it in a Bah Humbug sort of way. We’re always up for a good meal and a bit of a party with friends. But we don’t do the big turkey dinner – there are very few turkey’s (if any) on the island, and we still have a few bad vibes about the real Turkey from the occupation by the Ottomans.
Indeed, on a historical note, Crete was just about the last part of Greece to get it’s independence back from the Ottoman Empire. The Greek War of independence was fought in 1821, but the Ottomans stayed in power in Crete until 1898. Cretans have long memories, and we still celebrate our liberation every November.
Anyway, back to Christmas where the main focus on food revolves around the Cretan ‘sweet tooth’ when cakes and cookies, frequently soaked with honey, are prominent on the menu. We also have Christopsomo or Christmas Bread and to see in the New Year a special cake called Vasilopita.
Mostly for the family Christmas ‘feast’ we’ll eat a pork or lamb dish. If Cretans were ever asked to vote for a ‘National Dish’ it would probably be lamb, which we cook in an amazing number of ways, generally involving a big slosh of our wonderful olive oil (you can read a blog about our olive oil here).
The other thing you need to know about Cretans is that we love to cook over an open fire. At Hotel Mistral we have a spit roast for special occasions such as Easter. But the real spectacle is when we cook lamb Antikristos – on a scaffold of metal skewers surrounding a big log fire. The aromas are incredible, and the taste is out of this world.
An Antikristos event is reserved for a big crowd – much like a pig roast in the UK. Mostly we share them at weddings, where a huge number of guests can be invited, certainly into the high hundreds and even thousands. You’re probably familiar with the film ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ (and it’s two sequels)? The fact is that Greek’s have big extended families. But Cretans have super-huge, big, massivo extended families. After all, Crete is an island, and it seems like everyone is related to everybody else. You need a lot of lamb to go round!
There are even special Antikristos wedding venues in Crete – there is one quite close to Hotel Mistral so, if you’re lucky enough to be here when a big wedding is being catered for we can normally pop along and see the preparations. Keeping the fire at the right temperature, turning all the spits and sensing when the meat is cooked to perfection is a specialist job (and a rather hot one in mid-summer!).
It might all look a little mad to the rest of the world. But it’s all part of what is so special about Crete.