Monday, 23 October 2017

Trahanas: Byzantine porridge

I’ve been slightly unwell with a cold – sore throat, runny nose, chest infection – I have been prone to chest infections since a nasty bout of pneumonia a few years ago.

A cold, obviously, is no big deal, but it is still an inconvenience that requires attention and confrontation. And who is our greatest ally in this battle to restore our health? Our mothers, of course. Our mothers’ advice, our mothers’ honey and lemon drinks and our mothers’ trahana – pictured above.

Trahanas is a Cypriot national dish, a thick, creamy soup, mostly eaten in winter and bound up with Cyprus’ ancient and Byzantine past. Trahana is so important to Cyprus that it has been the subject of academic research, most notably by William Woys Weaver, professor of Food Studies at Drexel University in Philadelphia, who wrote The Origins of Trachanas: Evidence from Cyprus and Ancient Texts.

Trahana is also widely eaten in Greece, and in their essay Byzantine Porridge: Tracta, Trachanas and Trahana, Stephen Hill and Anthony Bryer trace the origins and history of this pastoral food through ancient Greece and Byzantium.

(A by-product of all this academic research into trahana is the suggestion that rather than Marco Polo bringing pasta to Europe from China, pasta is an offspring of trahana and therefore a traditional European food, which comes to us via the Greeks, Romans and Byzantines).

My mother’s trahana soup uses one cup of homemade trahana – a dried mixture of soured milk and crushed wheat – (trahana can be bought in the shops, but obviously homemade is better), water (some cooks use half milk, half water), chicken stock and avgolemono/beaten egg and lemon. I like to sprinkle grated cheddar cheese on top, though chunks of halloumi, kefalotyri or feta is more authentically Greek.