I have moved six times in five years between three countries, and every time I have had to rip up and lay down roots. As someone who is half-Greek, a big part of this process involves sourcing the ingredients to make Greek food at my new home.

Often, this involves finding the closest Turkish shop.

I am not a member of ‘diaspora’ in its literal sense – specifically, I have never ‘left’ Greece. What is more, my knowledge of Greece and Greek food feels very second-hand and cobbled together, a very improvised yet critical way of participating in a culture I struggle to call my own.

Furthermore, these Turkish stores often cater for many diasporas at the same time, rather than just Greek people. For example, one of my favourite shops back when I lived in South London markets itself as selling ‘Turkish, English, Greek, Arabic and Eastern European foods’ on its signage. For people like me who feel disconnected from their own culture, or for those who have been physically separated from them, these places can have a therapeutic sense. Often, I will have struggled to find the shop in the first place, so by occupying the shop, I can reorient myself towards my own culture and feel reassured in an otherwise disorientating time. I can only imagine how restorative that might feel for someone who pines for their culture under less auspicious circumstances.

What is exciting about these spaces, however, is that by orienting yourself towards your own culture, you find out that you inevitably turn towards others that are similar and enjoy finding the unexpected connections between them. I have found that the boundaries and tensions between national identities break down in these spaces. For example, I have found that Bulgaria produces a farm-style yoghurt in a clay pot just like we have in Greece, with a crust of salty fat on top protecting the creamy yoghurt below. I thought I’d never be able to reproduce the pleasure outside the UK of dipping a spoon of honey into it, cracking the top, and enjoying what I can only describe as velvety, sweet, savoury and sour all at the same time. Similarly, in my local Turkish store, I can buy Greek coffee, Turkish coffee, and Cypriot coffee, which are all effectively the same. While Greece, Turkey and Cyprus all have complicated relationships with each other, shelving their types of coffee side by side reduces strongly-felt distinctions between these nations to effective branding and national ideology.

National tensions also break down in conversation. For example, back in my old local Turkish shop in South London, I became great friends with a member of staff who always called me his ‘brother’ or his ‘friend’. As he helped me find Greek or other products that I might enjoy, we would note how our cultures were similar and how artificial the conflicts between the Greek and Turkish states were. In these spaces outside of our respective cultures and the ambit of our political classes, we could express a deep solidarity.

This brings me to a dish which celebrates this solidarity: ekmek kataifi. This is a super-sweet dessert made from shredded filo pastry that is baked, drowned in a syrup, then topped with cream and pistachios. Essentially, it’s a very easy-to-make version of baklava with added cream.

The dessert has its roots in the Ottoman Empire and is shared across countries like Greece, Turkey and Lebanon, where it is known as osmalieh. The best place to get this in Greece is the first place I ever had it: Chatzis in central Athens, just opposite the Parliament building[1]. It makes an excellent party showstopper as it is very easy to share, and you can also make it vegan without making any significant changes to the recipe: in fact, I prefer it with olive oil instead of butter.

Like most of my second-hand knowledge of Greek food, this recipe is adapted from that of Akis Petretzikis, winner of Greek Masterchef and source of culinary knowledge for many young people in Greece[2]. I’ve pared down the dairy to emulate how Chatzis presents it, while also dialling down the sweetness. At the last party I took this to, I made it too sweet and sent everyone present into a jaw-tightening, sugar-induced coma. As for the shredded filo (what we call kataifi), you can buy this in the fridge section of Erdem Food Centre on Cowley Road, Oxford.

Ekmek Kataifi (serves 12-16)

For the syrup:

–   400ml water

–   400g granulated white sugar

–   Peel of two lemons

–   1 stick of cinnamon

–   1 tbsp of honey

For the base:

–   500g shredded filo

–   150g olive oil, approx.

For the topping:

–   Whipped cream or vegan cream

–   Cinnamon

–   Crushed pistachios

1. Preheat the oven to 160oC, fan assisted.

2. To assemble the base, take a 35x25cm roasting tray (preferably with tall sides) and fill it with around a third of the filo. Make sure to pull the filo apart to get rid of any knots. Drizzle around 50g olive oil evenly over the top (no need to be exact here).

3. Repeat this process twice more, layering a third of the filo, getting rid of the knots, then drizzling the oil on top, until you have used all the filo. Place in the oven to bake for 30 minutes, until golden.

4. Meanwhile, place the 500ml water, 400g sugar, zest of two lemons and the cinnamon stick into a saucepan over a medium heat and bring to a boil. Once it boils, add 1 tbsp honey and boil for 3 minutes, until the sugar melts. When ready, remove from the heat and leave to cool completely. Decant the syrup into a heatproof jug.

5. After the pastry has been in the oven for 30 minutes, flip it over and bake for another 30 minutes until golden.

6. When the pastry is ready, immediately pour the syrup evenly over the top. The pastry should make a very satisfying sizzle. Leave it to cool.

7. Either refrigerate the ekmek kataifi or, If serving immediately, slice into 12-16 portions. When plating them, individually top the portions with a layer of whipped cream and a sprinkle of crushed pistachios and cinnamon.

[1] https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g189400-d5220424-Reviews-Chatzis_Sintagma-Athens_Attica.html#photos;aggregationId=&albumid=101&filter=7&ff=402759690

[2] https://akispetretzikis.com/en/recipe/1731/ekmek-kantayifi