The word tsikna (τσίκνα) means ‘pungent smoke from grilled meats’ – it’s what your clothes smell like when you return from a taverna or barbecue. Today is Tsiknopempti (Τσικνοπέμπτη) – literally the ‘Thursday of grilled meat smoke’, a Greek tradition beloved by all carnivores, since it entails an orgy of grilled meats.
We are now in the middle of the three weeks of Apokries (Απόκριες – Carnival) preceding Lent and a fast of 40 days before Easter. Little kids in fancy dress can be seen walking in the streets, on their way to various parties. Tonight people will either descend upon tavernas – better reserve, since even your local is bound to be overbooked – or congregate in homes around someone (usually a man) priding himself on his barbecuing skills.
Every full-blooded Greek considers the Tsiknopempti feast his unalienable right, not to be spoilt by any vegetarian, cardiologist or fish-eater.
The menu on offer usually comprises the following:
*Burgers, kebabs, sausages, lamb and pork cutlets, and steaks. Maybe chicken pieces.
The meat has to be top class and seasoned with salt, pepper and oregano. It will be accompanied by: Cut lemons to be squeezed over according to taste. Tzatziki – a yogurt and garlic sauce. Mustard, ketchup and mayo.
*Fries. They have to be home cut and cooked in olive oil.
*Salads. A xoriatiki (Greek salad) with tomato, cucumber, plenty of onions, and tons of feta cheese. A green salad for freshness. A shredded cabbage and carrot salad dressed with olive oil and lemon.
*Bread – pita and slices of country loaf, brushed with olive oil, grilled and sprinkled with oregano.
*Plenty to drink. Beer, of course; wine, red and white (some like retsina, a white whine flavored with pine resin – a strong, old-fashioned, acquired taste); ouzo, raki and other spirits.
*A selection of desserts, the sweeter the better. Baklava full of nuts and drenched in honey syrup, something chocolate.
All of this engenders a lot of discussion and theory:
-I see you didn’t go to the butcher I told you about.
-Do we have enough coal?
-Have you lit the coal? We don’t want to eat at midnight.
-If the meat is good enough, it doesn’t need marinating.
-No, no, pancetta should be marinated in beer.
-Don’t be stingy with the salt and pepper.
-Or with the garlic in the tzatziki.
-The sausages have to be eaten first.
-Someone has to be in charge of the fries.
-Someone has to keep the cook supplied with drink.
-Someone has to praise the cook.
Suggestion: Better lay in a supply of antacids for after dinner and/or plan a week’s detox.
But, meanwhile, Kali Orexi! (Καλή Όρεξη – Bon Appetit)
The images are from the oneman.gr blog which has a very amusing article on Tsiknopempti, for those who speak Greek.