I was introduced to Trahana more than twenty years ago by my friend Mimi in whose family house I stayed when I used to visit the Greek Island of Skopelos. Usually, once each visit, I was fortunate to be able to eat with the family. Mimi and Yannis, knowing my interest in food and foodways, usually produced something local, unknown and always delicious. It was in their house I was given locally produced goats cheeses, horta in all its green forms, vissino glyko (sour cherry preserve or spoon fruit – to die for), and trahana.
Mimi explained the processes involved in the production of the trahana as we ate the sour creamy soup containing the trahana. The soup produced by each local household varied depending on the additional ingredients but the method of production of the trahana remained the same. Handmade at the end of summer and kept in sacks for the winter, the making of it was an opportunity for a community gathering where each woman produced the trahana for her family, stories were shared, singing took place – if there was enough breath during the energetic process, and a good few hours go past till finally a good supply of trahana can be stored for the coming seasons.
So what is trahana? Basically it is very fine, small (about the size of a pin head), homemade pasta. It is made with flour or semolina or bulgur and milk or yoghurt (for sweet trahana) or sour milk – on Skopelos, goats milk – for sour trahana. Salt and butter may be added and some versions add eggs too. Generally, it is said to be a Turkish invention but the food historian Maria Johnson says that trahana may have originated in China. Aglaia Kremezi, a Cretan, dates it back to Athenaeus and to hondros (a coarsely ground wheat in Ancient Greece) that is now called ksinohondros (sour wheat) which is cooked in exactly the same way as trahana is cooked in the rest of Greece today.
Vassilis and Anastasia from Cookouvagia describe the three day process of drying and grating to make sour or sweet trahana and give detailed instructions for each step of the process as well as how to use it at How to make trahanas.
Because the production of trahana is so labour intensive and I had only really heard about it in the context of local family production, I was surprised to find ‘Trahanas sour’ (labelled Greek Home Made Pasta) on a visit to what was advertised as ‘the largest Greek Supermarket in the US’ in Astoria, New York a few years ago. The packet emphasises the traditional nature of the product, leading with ‘Our grandmother recommends’, ‘Traditional recipe from the selection of the most precious Greek grains’. The ingredients are whole wheat, milk, butter and salt, and says for a tasty meal to add 3 tblsp olive oil and salt to 1ltr of water and 100g pasta. Boiling time 7-10 minutes. The packet says it is produced in Greece, all words on the packet are in English.
Last year, our locally based Taste of Greece Ltd sold a ‘Traditional Greek Pasta’, Sweet Trachanas whose ingredients were wheat flour, superfine semolina of durum wheat, milk, eggs and salt, which, boiled with 1ltr of water to 100g of pasta took 5-7 minutes. This product is certainly a Greek product with mainly Greek information and instructions, and some German and English translations.
Finally, Skopelosnews, during Skopelos week, recently ran a post on ‘Trahana night’, where the process of making trahana and other local products is demonstrated for the public. Have a look – it needs strong arms. If you want to try it then find your local Greek store and save some effort. Alternatively, you may want to just use bulgar wheat.
Tomato soup with yoghurt
(from The Real Greek at Home, p68, T. Kyriakou & C. Campion, 2004, Octopus Publishing Group)
- 200ml olive oil
- 500g button onions
- 2kg tomatoes, skinned, seeded finely chopped
- 150g trahanas (or coarse bulgur)
- salt, pepper to taste
- 300g strained Greek yoghurt
- mint leaves to decorate
- Heat olive oil, sweat onions for 5mins with lid on
- Add tomatoes, bring to boil
- Add boiling water till you have the quantity 7 parts liquid to 1 part trahana/bulgur.
- Add trahana/bulgur
- Simmer for 45mins till trahanas/bulgur is soft. Season well.
- Serve in bowls adding large dollop of yoghurt and garnish with mint.