Greece has always been a country with great cultural, religious and gastronomic tradition. This time, we present to you the traditional flatbread prepared for “Kathara Deutera” (Ash Monday or Pure Monday): Lagana (Λαγάνα), the bread that makes fasting delicious. On this day, people throughout Greece visit bakeries very early in the morning in order to buy fresh made lagana and celebrate the first day of the Great Lent in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Although Pure Monday is nowadays a national feast, when families are gathered to fly a kite and have a picnic, lagana is still here to remind us of the initial purpose of this national holiday.
Traditionally, lagana was made without yeast, but nowadays it is less common to find a traditionally unleavened lagana, especially if you buy it from a big bakery. Taking into consideration that this “Clean” Monday actually refers to the abstention from sinful attitudes and non-fasting food, there are still purists who insist on preparing the bread with no olive oil and dairy products, which also makes it a great choice for vegan gourmets. This bread is originally flat, oval and with a surface decorated traditionally by fingertips. On the holes created sesame seeds are sprinkled, as the most common topping.
It is quite impressive how many theories exist explaining the origin of the lagana on the orthodox Greek table, forty days before Easter. Firstly, the tradition takes us back to the ancient times through the Old Testament, when Israelites were trying to escape the Egyptian slavery under the guidance of Moses. Being in a hurry so as to avoid the Pharaoh’s army and due to time restrictions, the only thing they could prepare was some bread without yeast, which would be unleavened and flat. Others claim that lagana symbolizes the state of the human soul. People should stay pure and modest, so as to be able to engage in the religious Easter activities. Equally, the lagana bread should stay pure, made only with the initially traditional ingredients. This is the main reason why the use of enzyme and yeast is traditionally avoided in the period of Lent.
The name Lagana was already used in Ancient Greek times. Aristophanes, a poet of the 5th century BC, mentioned the phrase “laganas stéte”, meaning “laganas are made” in his work “l’eccliaste”, while the roman hero Horatius referred to this bread as “the sweetness of the poor”. Linguistically, the word lagana comes from the Greco-Roman words “lagana”, “laganum” or “laganon” (in ancient Greek: λάγανον), also known as “tracta” or “tractum” (in ancient Greek τρακτὸς, τρακτόν). This term used to refer to a sheet of dough or a thin pancake in the ancient Greek and Roman times. What’s especially interesting is the fact that, although the ancient Greek word “laganon” used to be neutral, after its assimilation by the Latin language, it formed the modern feminine version of “lagana”.
If you have never tried lagana before, just try to remember the first time you ate the famous Italian bread “focaccia”. Many people claim that these two bakery products are similar, due to the fact that both of them are flatbreads, consist of the simplest ingredients and have the most basic seasoning. However, only lagana is proud and brave enough to be (traditionally) made with no yeast!
Thus, if you ever happen to be in Greece on Ash Monday, do not forget these things: try lagana with “tarama”, halva, and never ever cut it with a knife but by hand (metal is said to be associated with the forces of evil!).
- Lagana (bread), Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lagana_(bread) [19/02/2018]
- Greece: Lagana, Vera Abitbol, 196flavors, https://www.196flavors.com/greece-lagana/ [19/02/2018]
- Lagana (bread), Wikiwand, http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Lagana_(bread) [19/02/2018]
- Tracta (dough), Wikiwand, http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Tracta_(dough) [20/02/2018]
- Laganes: From Unleavened to Unleavened Bread for Great Lent, Irene Archos, http://greekamericangirl.com/laganes-from-unleavened-to-unleavened-breath-for-great-lent/ [20/02/2018]
- Lagana Bread, CooksInfo.com, http://www.cooksinfo.com/lagana-bread [20/02/2018]
Written by Markella Koutsaki – Study visitor at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament (Luxembourg). She is currently enrolled in the trilingual Master in Learning and Communication in Multilingual and Multicultural Context at the University of Luxembourg and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in French Language and Literature form the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.