It was Saturday afternoon and we had just finished lunch. We were all sitting in the sitting room talking about my dad’s new job when the phone rang. My sister, Aphrodite, answered the phone. I don’t think she understood who it was, because she quickly asked my mum to come to the phone. After hanging up the phone, she told us that it was her cousin, Valia, who has been living in Amsterdam for the past 20 years.
“I had no idea you have a cousin in Amsterdam”, Aphrodite said.
“It’s been ages since your dad and I last saw her. She rarely comes to Greece, especially after her parents moved to Germany. She and her husband, Elif, are coming to Greece the following week and they would love to visit us next Sunday”.
“How long are they staying in Greece?” I asked.
“Well, they are staying in Athens for a couple of days. Elif’s family from Turkey is joining them and they are all staying at a hotel downtown. Then, they are going to Crete for their summer holidays. I invited them to lunch on Sunday”, my mum replied.
“Why don’t we cook soutzoukakia, mum?” I asked. “We last had soutzoukakia a long time ago and you know how much we all like them!”
“That’s a very good idea, Mariam. Can we go shopping on Thursday evening to buy everything we need, Yannis?” my mum asked dad.
We made a list of all the ingredients we needed and went shopping. There is a market quite close to our house – we enjoy going there for our shopping because we always find fresh food and a variety of products to choose from. We bought some minced meat, milk, parsley and red wine. We had enough eggs in the fridge and some bread and garlic in the kitchen cupboard. Of course we didn’t forget to buy some cumin and cinnamon, two spices that can’t be missed from the recipe!
I was really looking forward to meeting Valia. My mum told me many stories from the time they were kids and I was sure I would like her. They used to play board games together, ride their bicycles to the riverbank and cook different foods in the kitchen when their mums were not at home! My sister and I were wondering if she would bring us a present from the Netherlands and what it could possibly be.
When the day of the visit approached, we started talking about the preparations we should make. I helped my parents tidy everything at home. I even helped them with the garden. It was finally Sunday. I hadn’t slept well at night and I was very anxious to meet my mum’s cousin and her husband. It was the first time we had ever had someone from abroad in our house and I wanted to learn about how life is in other countries.
Everything was ready on the day of the visit by midday. My sister and I had helped our parents to lay the table, prepare the salads and the drinks. The soutzoukakia smelled so delicious, I couldn’t wait to eat them. After about an hour, the bell rang. I looked at my mum, smiled and ran to the door. It was a very happy moment. My mum and her cousin were excited to see each other again after such a long time. My mum introduced us to the guests and Valia introduced us to her husband. We all sat in the living room for a while and had a talk about life in the Netherlands, our guests’ jobs and plans for the future.
The grown-ups seemed to have been carried away by the discussion, but Aphrodite and I were getting hungry.
“Mum, when are we eating?” I anxiously asked my mum.
We sat at the table. Everyone kept talking about their lives and relatives. Valia asked my sister and me about our school, our favourite subjects and our free time activities. We had a lot to say about that!
Meanwhile, my parents had started serving lunch. I was responsible for the drinks and Aphrodite for the cutlery.
“Oh, soutzoukakia, how did you know, Anna, that it’s my favourite dish? My mum used to cook it every Sunday when all the family gathered and spent the day together”, Elif said quite surprised.
“Really? It can’t be. My grandma has been cooking this dish since I remember,“ I said puzzled.
“Yes, you are right, my love. What you don’t know is that this food originally comes from
Turkey. A long time ago, your grandma’s mother used to live there. Greeks living there took the original recipe of sucuk, a kind of sausage, but added red wine and tomato sauce,” my mum explained.
“They were so delicious that the recipe became very popular,” Elif added.
“You mean that people cook soutzoukakia in both Greece and Turkey?” Aphrodite asked.
We continued talking over lunch for a long time. It was so interesting to learn all those things about other people living in other parts of the world. Valia and Elif invited us to Amsterdam and my parents told them that they would love to travel to Amsterdam sometime in the future. Valia and Elif promised to come by again on their way back from Crete to the Netherlands. Before leaving, they gave us a bag with some Dutch gifts they had bought for us. We anxiously opened the bag. We were very happy with our new cheerful caps and the tastiest sweets we had ever tried.
EXTRA INFORMATION ON THE TOPIC
The first soutzoukakia originated in Smyrna, what is now Izmir, Turkey. The name itself derives from the Turkish word sucuk (a spicy, fermented sausage made from ground meat). The Greeks who lived there added red wine to the mix along with tomato sauce that often has the addition of butter for extra richness and velvety texture. The Greeks brought the recipe along with them when they had to move to Greece.
Soutzoukakia are cooked in the pot, although they may be lightly fried beforehand, and served with a sauce in which they have been cooked or left to soften. They are usually served with rice, but can also be served with mashed potatoes, potatoes or without any side dish. There are many variations in the recipe, but generally the fixed ingredients of the traditional recipe include: minced beef, together with minced pork, bread, eggs, onion, garlic, and tomato for the sauce, while the traditional recipe certainly includes cumin and cinnamon, salt, pepper, parsley, and may also include a little red wine, vinegar and sugar.