Heritage Foods and Portokalopita (part 1)

I conducted a 2 day workshop in Ioaninna, west Greece 4-5 Sept 2018. The idea was to familiarise people with the idea of how our food is a part of our living heritage and how they are known as heritage foods. The venue was the Youth centre of Epirus, set up by a husband-wife team. The perfect hosts with a group of Erasmus volunteers, my stay was absolutely unforgettable!

I arrived straight from Heraklion, Crete via Athens and was in a zombie state of fatigue, only to be greeted by a hot and sultry breeze. The next day however it got slightly better and by 6pm the chairs started slowly filling up with the participants of the workshop.

I had planned two exercises for them which included listing a bunch of heritage foods from around Greece and their areas specifically and I challenged some of them to actually draw the map of Greece… which one of them did!!! Complete with its islands that look like freckles on the face of the Hellenic peninsula!

map of Greece… I plan to check it for missing dots! :p
teams listing heritage foods
team 2 deep in thought and trying to draw the map

The tasks:

The teams were then asked to justify their list of heritage foods, according to why they thought these dishes represented the Greek culture, their history, heritage or, social practices. Some of the names that came up were:

  • Zimaropita (a flour pie with cheese from Epirus)
  • Batsaria (another Greek cornmeal pie from Ioaninna)
  • Vatrachopodara (frog legs from the island with no name, off Ioaninna)
  • Bobota (a corn meal pie that is not consumed in Ioaninna anymore but was also a meal for the less privileged and had its own image related issues to deal with…!)

In another post I shall be tackling the image ridden bobota and the tale of how we all, deeply felt its pain and anguish over being so under rated as we struggled through the task of eating it 

So on the 2nd day of the workshop some of the participants made it back and we were going to cook their prefered foods on the list. We had chosen:



Bobota and one of the boys had his yiayia (grandmother) conveniently make Batsaria and gemistes, or stuffed vegetables. Greek grandmothers have got to be the best I must say! 

Portokalopita – Orange Phyllo Pie

Ingredients: We took a recipe from online but the participants remembered eating it otherwise and had their own input.


• 400g caster sugar or normal sugar will also do
• 350ml water
• 1 orange, juiced
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 450- 500g phyllo pastry
• 3 oranges
• 5 eggs (we used 4)
• 200g Greek yoghurt
• 180ml sunflower oil (I would prefer olive oil in fact)
• 100g granulated sugar
• 1 tablespoon baking powder


Combine all syrup ingredients, in a small saucepan and bring to the boil, simmering it for about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool whilst you make the cake.
Preheat the oven to 180 C. Lightly grease a baking dish with olive oil. Take each sheet of the phyllo and using your hands, start tearing it and shred it in bite sized chunks, all over the baking dish to make a base. Zest about 2 oranges and juice 1. Combine the orange juice, zest, eggs, yoghurt, olive oil, 100g sugar and baking powder in a bowl, blender or food processor. Blend together on high speed for a couple of minutes, till the mixture is frothy. Pour the orange and egg mixture over the phyllo in the baking tin. Stir together gently, right in the tin, to ensure the egg mixture is evenly distributed.

the ginger was very confused to be in this picture…!
and a whisk and a mix!

Bake for 45 minutes, or until the top is golden and the filling set. Once out of the oven, immediately pour the cooled syrup over the hot cake. Set aside for at least 1 hour, till most of the syrup has soaked in.

The end result, a golden vision 
Pouring the syrup on top was like therapy

By the time we were ready to eat it the syrup had totally soaked up the pie and we kept stuffing our faces and waiting around for the food to settle  in our systems so we could eat MORE Portokalopita aka heritage food 😉

Clockwise from the stuffed veggies or Gemiste; Potatoes with ginger by me; Portokalopita; Batsaria by the Yiayia!

Notes: I made everyone try eating with their hands, Bangladeshi style and they did not disappoint me!

In case you want to know more about this part of Greece, pls read about it in my article for the National Geographic Traveller (India) magazine here: http://www.natgeotraveller.in/author/reema/