It is curious how a salad called ‘horiatiki’ became such a hit in Athens and all over the country. The term may be translated as ‘from the village,’ or ‘peasant,’ a welcome suggestion today as it brings to mind authentic good-quality foods, but when it was first introduced –probably in the 1960ies or early ‘70ies– the country was desperately trying to shed its agricultural, Eastern Mediterranean past, and become urban and European. It was common to dismiss a garment or a conduct as ‘horiatiki,’ not modern and worthy of the new urban middle class.
Obviously, whoever first combined these basic ingredients created a salad delicious enough to be copied, improved upon and even exported and become a household dish all over the world!
Probably the famous Greek Salad was actually inspired by the summer salad-meals of the peasants. Its main ingredient, the juicy vine-ripened tomatoes, complemented with onions and all kinds of garden vegetables and greens –cucumber, purslane, or some flavorful pickled green, like kritama (rock-samphire) that was originally a Chios island addition, and now has become part of the ‘exotic’ creative salads served in Mykonos and Santorini.
The salad has sweet and sometimes mildly hot peppers, and it is always topped with feta. In its original village past the salad/meal could have any kind of local cheese, as well as olives, and maybe capers or caper leaves. Horiatiki is scented with dried, wild oregano or savory, and doused with plenty of fruity olive oil. It might also contain salted sardines, and was often made more substantial with the addition of stale bread or crumbled paximadia (barley rusks), which soak up the delicious juices.
I vaguely remember my parents snubbing horiatiki, as an overpriced salad created by sly tavern owners. Up until then in the summer one ordered a tomato salad, with or without onions and cucumber, and separately a slice of feta cheese which came drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with oregano.
My parents, along with other people we knew, had come to the conclusion that horiatiki’s cost exceeded that of the usual salad and feta combination. It was a gimmick for the tourists, according to my father, but also later on some of my friends, who refused to order it; they thought that even when the salad became cheaper and a kind of standard all over Greece, taverns adopted it as a way for to serve inferior quality, and smaller pieces of feta; my parents kept on ordering tomato salad and feta, separately.
Eventually, though, the horiatiki invention backfired. Budget tourists were feasting on this horiatiki/Greek salad, ordering it as a main lunch or dinner and tavern owners started to complain about ‘the horiatiki tourists’ who were almost ruining their business during high season…
Of course the taste of Greek salad depends entirely on the quality and freshness of its ingredients. The traditional Greek winter version, not called horiatiki, is based on crunchy leaves of Romaine lettuce, that are complemented with spicy wild arugula, and fragrant herbs (fennel, dill, mint, borage and plenty of scallions). This salad seldom has tomatoes, and never depends on the tasteless, pale green-house tomatoes sold in supermarkets…