|Koulourakia, a wonderful dessert served here with a cup of coffee (photo by Sweet Almond Tree).|
|Koulouria for sale. Grab them while they are still fresh!!!|
1. Koulouria (koulouria is the plural tense and koulouri is the singular tense)
These are somewhat large, bread-like wreaths or rings, smothered in sesame seeds and traditionally served as street food. They are crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, sesame- doughy tasting, and a great treat to eat. They are carbohydrate-rich and low in fat and make a very satisfying snack. Greeks eat a very light breakfast, so a crunchy late morning snack of koulouri holds them over until the mid-day meal. Koulouria are generally mass produced by specialized bakeries, but there are recipes available for home cooks. (Find my recipe for koulouria here). Bakeries make koulouria at night so that their product can be ready early in the morning for the waiting vendors who will then sell them as a snack food.
|One of my homemade versions ... (photo by Sweet Almond Tree)|
|Sesame is used liberally, therefore there are always leftover sesame seeds at the bottom of a tray. This vendor's koulouria are perfection itself and precisely what a commercially made variety should look like! Food heaven in a basket!!!|
Koulouria were a popular street food in Thessaloniki and Constantinople both during the Byzantine and Ottoman periods. Waves of Greek refugees from Constantinople and Asia Minor reintroduced the koulouri to the Greek mainland during the early part of the 20th century. A large number of these refugees settled in and around the city of Thessaloniki which is located in northern Greece. Soon, koulouria made and sold by refugees could be found all over the city, a reason these delicacies, no matter which city they are sold in, are known as "koulouria Thessalonikis." Their popularity continues to this day.
|This mural, dating to the Byzantine era can found in Thessaloniki. It shows three comrades selling koulouria outside a bakery!|
I can't not mention that although this is a beloved and celebrated snack, the life of a koulouri vendor (he is referred to as a koulouras) is a difficult one. Selling anything on the street was and is very hard work. As recently as the early 1950s it was usual practice to employ children as vendors. I'd like to share some photographs:
|I can't decide if this is a customer or a vendor ...|
These are small, buttery, desert type cookies. Today they can be eaten at any time, but historically they were made during holidays and times of celebration. Koulourakia can have various shapes such as twists, circles, serpentines, you name it. This depends on the region where they are made and the preference/stamina of the person making them. The basic recipe has flour, some sugar, and lots of butter. The texture is crumbly, crunchy but not hard, and the taste is buttery with hints of the flavourings used. There are several flavourings to choose from: orange, lemon, brandy, ouzo, vanilla, etc. Koulourakia are brushed with egg wash before baking and it's traditional but not necessary to top each one with a few sesame seeds. When koulourakia contain spirits, they are called koulourakia methysmena, which means drunk koulourakia. In some regions of Greece, probably for dietary reasons, spirits are not used for flavouring. Anise can be substituted, to give the hint of the ouzo taste. Ouzo, after all, the famous and omnipresent Greek apéritif, is flavoured with anise. You can find one of my recipes for koulourakia by clicking here. I should mention it was my mother's recipe, and those koulourakia pictured at the top of this post, the ones next to the coffee, were made by both of us: she made the dough, I shaped them. She used to say the recipe was the best one for koulourakia she had ever tried ... given to her by a dear girlfriend.
|Koulourakia before going into the oven (photo by Sweet Almond Tree).|
Four of the photographs are mine, and the rest were taken from Parallaxi, an online magazine.