Traditional foods of Greece: hyacinth bulbs.

Yes, I am a bulb eater.
And yes, wild blue hyacinth is my favorite bulb.
Not feeling the enthousiasm?

File:Wild Hyacinth (Hyacinthoides non-scriptus) - - 801268.jpg

The bitter taste of  bulbs (muscari comosum, Gr. volvoi) is much appreciated in Greece ever since classical times. They also had a good reputation as an aphrodisiac amongst ancient Greeks and Byzantines.

If you come across them in the farmer’s market, please buy them! It is really worth it to try them out. Clean them and if they are big cut a cross in the root base of each of them. Leave them for 2 seconds- 2 minutes in boiling water (the boiling time depends on their size). Then put them in a large bowl of water. Change the water every 3 hours for one day and one night.   Drain the bulbs in a colander,  put them in a jar, add some peppercorns and cover with good quality wine vinegar.
Serve them with virgin olive oil and garnish with chopped spring onions and dill or with chopped fresh garlic and mint. Their mildly bitter taste makes a truly wonderful combination with those flavorings.

In Crete, where you find a plethora of dishes based on foraged wild plants and roots, volvoi are cooked together with lamb, pork, snails octopus or cuttlefish.

But of all bulb recipes I have ever made, there is one really favourite that was worth my effort to set up its proportions. Philemon, the comic poet, suggests this preparation of bulbs in Deipnosophistae of Athenaeus: “Look, if you please, at the bulb, and see what lavish expense it requires to have its reputation — cheese, honey, sesame-seed, oil, onion, vinegar, silphium. Taken by itself alone it is poor and bitter.” Homemade goat cheese, thyme honey and a pinch of asafoetida powder, virgin olive oil, homemade wine vinegar, onion, sesame seeds and slightly bitter bulbs make something truly memorable.



I like to see the salepi vendors in their white shirts, early in the morning. And I like the bronze samovars that they have on their small carriages.

“Salepi original~Charcoal fire ~ Constantinopolitan Kostas”
Photo credits: Anastasia Yannopoulou.
 In older days they carried large copper jugs or samovars on their backs.

Once they were fanatically patronized by early morning laborers and late – night revellers.

they were plentiful…

coffee occupies the most significant niche in the consumption of hot beverages.

salepi vendors are getting fewer and fewer….

Salepi has a long history in Greece though.
Before coffee spread, salep was extremely popular in Ottoman Empire. So, it was also available in the streets of the Ottoman occupied Greek cities. After the Asia Minor catastrophe (1922)  many Greek refugees found work as salepi peddlers as well.
  This wondeful antidote to the cold days and nights  was mostly obtained from the pulverized tubers of Orchis mascula and Orchis militaris (among others).
The term ‘Orchid’ has its origin from the Greek word ‘Orchis’ for testicle, referring to the paired root tubers of some species.  It doesn’t take much imagination to wonder why ancient Greeks and Romans ascribed medicinal and aphrodisiac properties to the tubers of orchid.

Today, Greek orchids are  threatened with extinction  due to overharvesting and destroyed habitats. They are protected by law, making it illegal to pick them or dig up their roots. Thus, most street vendors sell salep made from cornstarch, sugar, water and artificial flavor.

Of course, you can make it yourself at home. Buy salepi powder of cultivated orchids. Expensive but worth it!


1 tsp – 1 tbsp salepi powder ( it is said the thicker, the better)
1 cup of milk
1/2 -1  tsp sugar
ground cinnamon
ground ginger

Pour the milk and sugar into a pot. Heat the mixture and add the salepi slowly. Simmer for 6-7 minutes, stirring, until it becomes thick. Sprinkle with cinnamon and ginger and serve.

More beverages:
Raisin syrup
Zacharonero (sugar-vinegar water)
Frappe coffee
Canelada (cinammon beverage)