Top dishes Greeks eat for the New Year’s: Vasilopita and Kreatopita
Greece as any other country, has some common traditions throughout the country. In almost every home during Christmas time you will be offered sweets such as melomakarona, kourabiedes or diples.
The culmination of the sweets galore though is Vasilopita. A special kind of sweet bread that Greeks all over the world eat on New Year’s and is either baked at home, or you can find it any pastry shop.
Vasilopita: what is it, when to eat it and how is it served
Its name is a combination of the name of Santa Claus in the Greek orthodox religion “Agios Vassilis” and “pìta” which stands for pie. It’s Saint Vassili’s pie and the story behind it is that he was a very well-educated scientist and philanthropist of his time, he came from Cappadocia region (nowadays it belongs to Turkey) and went wherever he was needed to assist the poor and needy. He did not have a sleigh, nor was he fat or dressed in red. He did not have elves; it was just himself. He founded several hospitals and orphanages and used to leave food outside the door of those in need and in there, he used to hide coins for them to find.
It consists of flour, eggs, butter, sugar, yeast and spices such as mahalepi, mastic, cardamom and some orange zest. It has a round and flat shape.
It can be decorated on top with Christmas themes especially if a family has young children, but on almost every Vasilopita you will see written the year to come.
Many families cut a vasilopita, as is customary to say, as soon as the new year begins, some minutes after midnight! And that doesn’t stop them from cutting another one at New Year’s lunch. To help understand the significance, many associations or organizations cut Vasilopita throughout January or even February.
Before the cutting takes place, three times the symbol of the cross is slightly engraved on it.
It is cut into equal size pieces for the participants to the New Year’s lunch, but not only.
In fact, religion is always present and Agios Vassilis gets a piece, Jesus Christ one too, one might go the job that feeds the family-agricultural families for example, cut a piece for the fields and if the coin is in that piece, they hope to have a good crop season.
The coin hidden in Vasilopita brings good fortune
The particularity of Vasilopita lies in the fact that a lucky coin is hidden inside which everybody wants to win, since it is believed that the winner will have good luck throughout the new year. The coin is well incorporated in the dough before baking and therefore no one knows where it ended up. So, the quest and “agony” to get that piece with the coin, is a tradition that never fades.
Everybody begins looking for it” desperately”. Sometimes the coin may end up between two pieces, then both “owners” are considered lucky for the new year.
In fact, before handing out the pieces, all are called for, so no one can get a chance in peeking.
That coin afterwards is to be taken at a church and then light a candle praying for health and good luck or whatever one wishes for.
Kreatòpita, a gourmet variation in northern Greece
As expected though, you can find variations of Vasilopita from region to region within the same country. I want to present one very particular variation that combines the custom of hiding a coin inside a famous Greek dish, the pie made with phyllo.
You may have tasted Spanakòpita a.k.a. spinach pie or Tyròpita a.k.a. cheese pie or even the famous breakfast Bougàtsa a.k.a. cream pie of Thessaloniki.
This variation I am presenting, the Kreatòpita a.k.a. meat pie, is quite standard in northern Greece and especially at villages on the mountains. It is a specialty of pita made only for New Year’s lunch. You may find it at some restaurant on some mountain village, but it is mostly cooked at home.
The male goat meat is key ingredient in Kreatòpita
This pita is not an easy one to make, it requires that one must roll out 5 thin and large phyllo sheets with a non-standard rolling pin – that wooden rolling pin is long more than 1 meter! – to place at the bottom of the pan of equal size and other 4 on top of the filling. It sounds time consuming to cook and it is.
The reason though that makes it even more special, at least the one cooked at some villages situated at the feet of Olympus, is that the meat for the filling comes from a male goat. Its meat is considered unsuitable for consumption any other time of the year because of its smell-it stinks actually. Around December / January the smell subsides and allows its rich flavour to show. The meat is boiled with many onions to make it even tastier.
Again, this Kreatòpita is cut like a Vasilopita, according to the participants number and the pieces are served according to the seating order. Only then does the great search for the coin begin.
If you find yourself in Greece around New Year’s, you will see a Vasilopita almost everywhere. I hope you get a chance to taste it, but most importantly to win the coin.
Good luck at the treasure hunt!
Mi chiamo Taxia e sono greca. Mi piace condividere le bellezze e le tradizioni della mia nazione per farti scoprire “l’altra Grecia”.