On the Road: BBQ Thursday (Tsiknopempti) in Monemvasia

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Although not an official national holiday, in my opinion it should be considered as one. How could you go wrong with a celebration in which you BBQ and eat only meat? No breads, no salads, no vegetables and no vegans (sorry if I have offended anyone.) BBQ Thursday or Tsiknopemti (literally translated “the aroma of meat Thursday”) is an Orthodox Christian tradition. It is a jovial celebration a week or so before lent, when you grill and eat large amounts of meat in preparation for the forty days of fasting when you will go without.
Recently I had a friend visiting from Canada and just because it was February and we could, we decided to take a short motorbike trip to the south of Greece. Completely oblivious to the fact that it was BBQ Thursday we loaded up our bikes and headed south to the wonderful Byzantine fortress of Monemvasia where we had planned to spend our first night. As we rode up to the castle gates we quickly realized that we were the only tourists (a pleasant rarity here in Greece.) We found our guest house and promptly set off exploring the windy cobbled streets, and hiking the scattered ruins of the upper town. Several hours later, needing a coffee and something to eat, we found a great cafe that was actually open, with accompanying views of the sea. I’m not sure whether our patron felt sorry for us, or was in need of people to attend his party, but as we finished our coffee he invited us to a celebration he was having later that evening. So at about 9:30 we showed up at the cafe which to our surprise had been converted into a private BBQ party, complete with traditional Rembetica music. As the evening progressed, plate after plate of lemony BBQ pork appeared at our table. We consumed each delightful morsel, and it seemed that our acceptance and familiarity with our gracious host grew after each bite. After several hours and I’m sure kilos of pork later, we conversed with our hosts as longtime friends. By the end of the night we as foreigners seemed accepted as locals.
As we road off the next morning my mind contemplated the previous evening’s festivities. Despite economic hardship and austerity, Greeks are people who feel, valuing relationship over efficiency, knowing how to enjoy the important things in life, being generous to strangers despite personal hardship. For me it was more than just a BBQ, it was an open door to understanding. This would be a Tsiknopemti that I will never forget.

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