How the Greeks Invented Sushi (in Europe)

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For generations, the inhabitants of the Greek island of Skopelos have been smoking and rolling fish in a “sushi style” preparation that goes back to ancient times.

The experienced cook and local from Skopelos, Nikos Stamatakis, recently spoke to the BBC.

Agnanti Restaurant Skopelos Greek Sushi

Agnanti restaurant
Hollywood stars Goldie Hawn and husband Kurt Russel went to Agnanti Restaurant last week to take in the majestic view and enjoy delicious Greek cuisine. Photo: @agnanti_restaurant Instagram page

Nikos Stamatakis is the owner and managing director of Agnanti restaurant, a traditional island restaurant in the quaint amphitheater village of Glossa, which offers majestic views of the sporadic archipelago on enchanting Skopelos. From the high veranda of ‘Agnanti’ (means view) the view extends under the cool vine arbor to Euboea and Skiathos.

The restaurant’s gastronomic journey began in 1953 for the Stamatakis family, who have remained loyal to authentic Greek cuisine ever since, offering carefully prepared dishes based on their own family recipes that have been passed down through generations for decades.

Greek sushi Agnanti Reek food
Photo: @agnanti_restaurant Instagram page
dolmades
The dolmades in the Agnanti restaurant. Photo: @agnanti_restaurant Instagram page
How the Greeks invented sushi (in Europe) 1
Photo: @agnanti_restaurant Instagram page
Greek sushi smoked swordfish Agnanti
Smoked swordfish is another popular dish at Agnanti Restaurant on Skopelos Island. Photo: @agnanti_restaurant Instagram page

Eating on the moray eel can be traced back to the days of ancient Greece and may even be Europe’s first “sushi,” says culinary connoisseur Stamatakis, who comes from a long line of tavern owners in Skopelos.

He explains that the people of Skopelos have been curing and rolling fish in the “sushi style” for a long time. While some fill the fish with rice, others prefer to use plums and vegetables, especially on special occasions.

“You fillet the fish, roll it up and stuff it with plums and vegetables. You can then salt or smoke it in the wood stove or in the oven, ”said Stamatakis.

“The expectant mother-in-law, with this version of the dish in hand, knocked on the future groom’s door before the wedding.”

Agnanti Restaurant Greek sushi
At Agnanti. Photo: @agnanti_restaurant Instagram page

The earliest form of sushi is called Narezushi and comes from the rice fields of ancient southern China. While sushi is synonymous with raw fish to many people these days, narezushi was made by fermenting fish with salt and rice to control putrefaction during the monsoon season and in high heat.

Similarly, the people of Skopelos would heal the morning eel with salt.

This sushi-style preparation, in which the eel is matured before rolling and stuffing, is unique on the island and cannot be found anywhere else in the Mediterranean.

The preparation of eel in this way has been passed down from generation to generation and was originally taught to the people of Skopelos by the monks of Mont Athos (Holy Mountain).

This is how Stamatakis’ Pappous learned how to prepare sushi the Greek way.

“He, and basically everyone who came into contact with the monks, was impressed by their Byzantine culinary traditions, especially the way they healed moray eels [by salting or smoking it]“Says Stamatakis.

“It’s an old recipe. It is even mentioned that the ancient Greeks kept moray eels in aquariums Deipnosophistae (a multi-volume Greek tome from the early 3rd century AD, which is considered to be the oldest surviving cookbook).

“The Scopelites loved the dish and brought it back to their wives on the island.”

Greek sushi Skopelos
As the backdrop for the Hollywood blockbuster “Mamma Mia”, Skopelos is known for its majestic views. Photo: @agnanti_restaurant Instagram page

This account by Stamatakis is written by the historian and author of. supported Siren Festivals: A History of Food and Gastronomy in Greece, Andrew Dalby.

According to Dalby, this cooking technique for salting was first brought to the Mediterranean by Arabs in the Middle Ages, before it finally reached Skopelos.

“If sikbaj [a popular meat dish that was cured by marinating the meat in vinegar and sour fruit juice] When it came to the Mediterranean via the Arabs, it gradually developed into a form of fish cuisine, as its preparation for fish worked well, ”says Dalby.

Mediterranean residents then began experimenting with salting or smoking the fish instead of using a sour marinade.

Dalby says that this healing method was most likely passed down from the Arabs to the Byzantine Greeks, then to the monastery on Mount Athos and finally to the Scopelites, thus explaining how Skopelos ended up having its own “sushi”.

“It was the Greeks – the first of all known people – who developed the gastronomy around fresh fish and saw the moray eel as a high-quality gastronomic choice,” says Dalby. “It is almost certain that the Greeks first thought of using this ‘sushi’ style of cooking with the moray eel.”

So, with the ancient Skopelos sushi tradition still alive today to prove this, the Greeks can rightly conclude that they were the inventors of “sushi” in Europe.

Greek sushi

Agnanti Restaurant, Skopelos Island:

Website: www.agnanti.com.gr

Facebook: @AgnatiRestaurant

Instagram: @agnanti_restaurant

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Keywords:
Agnanti, Ancient China, Andrew Dalby, Angnati Restaurant, BBC, Deipnosophistae, Eel Sushi, Evia, Goldie Hawn, Greece, Greek, Greek Diet, Greek History, Greek News, Greek Sushi, Kurt Russel, Mamma Mia !, Mediterranean Diet, Morning, Eel, Mornay Eel Sushi, Mount Athos, Narezushi, Nikos Stamatakis, Sashimi, Sikbaj, Skiathos, Skopelos, Skopelos Island, Sushi





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