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How can I integrate into a country lacking a discernable dessert culture?

March 14, 2007

As spring approaches, this (not so) young girl’s mind turns to France and dessert.

I think that most people, upon immigrating to a new country intend to integrate as best they can. I did. I really thought I’d integrate with the Greeks. But I’ve failed nearly entirely. Putting aside very serious issues where my core values diverge from the average Greek’s, today I’m going to take up the cause of dessert.

Creme Brulee

I hear the anonymous blog reading hordes shouting, “baklava!”; I’m not ignoring this delightful but entirely one-dimensional pastry. To those who offer this syrup-soaked sweet I say, “What else you got?”

Before the Greek dessert defenders gather up their tiny forks and come hunting, I would like to point out that while Baklava is likely the best known Greek/Turkish sweet, there are others. There’s kadaifi. What’s this? That’s easy. Kadaifi is like baklava, except the sheets of phyllo are replaced by…shredded phyllo.

There’s also a cake called revani which is made with wheat meal (like semolina for pasta) and soaked with syrup. Occasionally I’ve been offered a fried ball of dough coated in – surprise, surprise – syrup. When I’ve tired of all things syrup-soaked, I turn my attention to cookies. The thing I really love about cookies is that there’s such an endless variety. One particular branch of the cookie tree is dedicated to dry cookies which taste like lightly sweetened sand. That’s the branch that grows in Greece.

This is not to say there’s nothing good and sweet to eat after a meal here. There’s Greek yogurt with honey or fruit preserved in syrup (are you sensing the syrup theme?) I love Greek yogurt; it’s better than ice cream, but it’s not on the same plane as chocolate apricot torte, creme brulee, nectarine tart or a strawberry-brioche donut. I’m talking about serious desserts, which are utterly absent here.

With a zaharoplasteo on every corner displaying 15 kinds of cakes and sweets it’s difficult to believe that a good dessert is simply unavailable, but it’s true. I’ve eaten some of these and they are foul. Brown wax instead of chocolate, sweetened vegetable oil instead of cream…well, you get the picture.

I should have know there would be a problem when my fudge frosted chocolate cake with apricot filling leftovers sat untouched for days in our local taverna. The cake had rightfully recieved rave reviews when served the international guests. Finally, I asked the proprietor why no one was eating the remains. She said she couldn’t be sure, but she suspected it was the apricot filling. They, apparently, don’t like too much flavor in their sweets.

And so my heart swells with hope that I shall soon relocate to a place where desserts are given the respect and honor they are due. My mouth is watering.

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One comment

  1. This entry cracked me up! I’m an American and am looking to come spend 2 months in Greece this summer with my 3 year old daughter. In our search for where to stay, I came across your blog. Would you like me to mail you some cookies?? 🙂

    Interestingly though, I found the same problem in Germany. Their yogurt is superb, but restaurant desserts are always apfel strudel with a scoop of ice cream (and their ice cream is so delectable!!) However, the bakeries left a lot to be desired in the way of desserts! You could be guaranteed it’d be some form of puffed pastry with some form of syruped fruit and a blob of some form of cream (which was barely sweetened!) If you were at a place that was more of a buffet style then you could find a selection of more desserts of assorted textures and creams, but they were almost never sweet. I learned to stop trying them after the first year.
    One time my neighbors made “brownies.” I suspect it was a very huge gesture of goodwill since brownies are an American delight. They were like dry cardboard. So, the next time I offered to make “real” American brownies (from an American box mix!!) They were BLOWN away! They could not believe how delicious they were. When I left the country, I gifted them with 10 boxes 🙂



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