Contrary to popular belief we Greeks don’t eat a whole lot of lamb. One glance at the per capita lamb consumption shows that Greeks eat about 35 pounds of lamb meat per person annually which doesn’t even put us on the top 15 nations of lamb consumers worldwide.
What created this myth in America (I think) is that Greek immigrants who couldn’t afford to purchase much meat back In Greece came to the new world worked hard and with their hard earned money treated themselves and their family to what they rarely had before. As many became restaurant entrepreneurs, lamb chops slowly made their way into their menus thus making the assumption that Greeks eat lamb all the time.
If we add the spectacle of our most widely known custom on Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday to roast a whole lamb (head and tail intact) on a spit over hardwood coals the result is a “Greek lamb legend” by Greeks and non Greeks alike which says that Greeks eat lamb in every other sitting.
Easter Sunday is a feast with family and friends who for months afterwards will tell others at every opportunity and remind us time and again what a great time they had, how much food they ate and that they had never seen a lamb’s head before.
During the spring months in Greece the vegetation is plentiful and the sheep graze freely but because of lent the demand for meat drops dramatically leaving shepherds with an oversupply of livestock they must unload therefore sheep are slaughtered not only for the Easter Sunday feast but for St. George’s name day (April 8) and for the day of St. Constantine and Helen on May 21 as well.
Did you know that in the old days people would take a lamb to church before it was slaughtered so that the priest would bless it before it hit the oven?
If you tune in to Greek satellite tv during our holy week you will get a daily analysis from an on site reporter who’s in some meat market in Athens announcing to everyone what the price of lamb is per kilo and how it doubled from a few years back.
“We can’t afford it” is the response from the would be customers for years now and today with the economic crisis embrace yourself for more of the same.
Lamb souvlaki? Really? Since when? If you visit any Greek taverna in Greece pork is what is served on a skewer and on that big pile of meat we call gyro.
One observation I have made here in America however with 2nd and 3rd generation Greeks is how traumatized some have become over this lamb issue.
The story goes like this:
Grandpa Nick who had a 10 yr. old grandson who was also named Nick (of course) went to a farm years ago in Lancaster county PA and brought home a cute little baby lamb that little Nick and his younger sister who wore gold ID bracelets on their right wrists named “Vicky”. Every morning Nick and his little sister would jump out of bed way before their alarm went off for school to bottle feed Vicky and rush and do their homework once the school bus brought them back home so that they could get permission from their mother to play with their pet. Little did they know that Greek Easter was just around the corner and grandpa had other intentions.
What happens next is no surprise, “Vicky” winds up on a huge silver serving tray at the buffet table right next to the mousaka on Easter Sunday.
“Where’s Vicky” asks little Nick as he’s searching for his pet lamb that he played with religiously every day, “she ran away” is pappou’s response chuckling as he and the rest of the family lick the bones off of Vicky’s rib cage.
A few years later little Nick put 2 and 2 together and he and his sister were never the same.
That was it. He never ate lamb again which explains why Nick, an adult today and many more of us Greeks are all f**ked up.
“Dude, your Greek and you have to help me with this leg of lamb I just bought” said a friend on the other line of the telephone a few months ago as if he was cooking some meat from Mars and I was the only person In the world that had perfected some secret roasting technique so I lied and passed him a recipe from the food network as my great grandmothers and it worked! The very next day and I got a call saying it was the best lamb he ever had.
One thing to keep in mind however is to make sure you also invite all of your neighbors the following Easter to your house because if you don’t you run the risk of someone calling 911 and having the police show up at your doorstep demanding proof the animal on the spit is a lamb and not some other creature.
So let’s keep this lamb thing close to the vest and let everyone believe the “Greek lamb legend”.