Saturday, March 31, 2012

Greek Life

Last summer, the Pickle Project on Parade (as we endeavored to call it) visited the fascinating Mariupol Region of southeastern Ukraine. Our travels to this region were inspired by an interest in learning more about the Greek communities there and sharing their stories with Pickle Project readers. This post is the first in a series about the people, culture and cuisine of Greek Mariupol. Special thanks to Galina, Carina, Anna, Lubov and Tatiana for all of your ideas, enthusiasm and support in Mariupol.

Maripoul Oblast is home to largest Greek-Ukrainian population in the country. Lubov, an ethnographer at the Donetsk Regional Museum, explained that there has long been a strong Greek influence in the Mariupol region, as Greek sailors and traders made their way from the Sea of Azoz, across the southern steppes. Greek settlements in the region were expanded in the 1780’s as Katherine the Great sought to consolidate her rule in the Black Sea region, especially Crimea. At the time, Greeks were the primary labor force in Crimea, Lubov explained. In an effort to weaken rising powers of the Crimean Khanate on the Peninsula, Katherine’s forces pushed the Greek population, along with large groups of Crimean Tatars, into the territories of Mariupol. This was one component of Katherine’s larger “planned colonization” strategy undertaken across Ukraine.

Greek villages are scattered across the region but Saratana and Starry Krim (Old Crimea) are two of the most prominent. Greek cultural traditions and practices, including food preparation, remain strong in the region. We also learned that there are efforts underway to preserve the Greek language spoken in the villages of Mariupol, a dialect called Rumaiica.
We had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with Tatiana Bohadetsa, director of the Museum of Greek History and Ethnography in Sartana to sample some Greek-Ukrainian specialties. To our great indulgence, Tatiana is not only an expert of local Greek history and culture, she is also the author of a cookbook featuring Greek specialties of the region.
Included in this feast were the delightfully named smoosh (шмуш), puffy pastries filled with spiced meats or fish and potatoes. My favorite were crispy fried triangles stuffed with pumpkin and sauteed onions.
For Tatiana, these dishes are central to helping keep the connection to her Greek heritage alive. She also noted that food is an easy access point for people. It tastes good, helps them remember and helps them learn. We couldn’t agree more.

Top to bottom:
Mural at the museum in Saratana

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