Today is Tsiknopempti (Smoky Thursday) for 2022, otherwise referred to as the week of Kreatini. This is a special day of the year in Greece, where a large amount of meat is traditionally grilled and consumed, just before the arrival of Great Lent, marking the lead up to Pascha and also the official start of Apokries (carnival season).
The event is always celebrated on Thursday (Pempti) and consists of the word “tsikna” meaning the burning of food. People who fast for 40 days without meat during Easter lent use Tsiknopemtpi as a day to eat as much meat as they want, right before fasting begins.
It is part of traditional celebrations for the three-week Carnivale in Greece. The first week is Profoni (prelude), the second week is Kreatini (meat week), the third week is Tirofagou (cheese week).
Tsiknopempti is on the Thursday of the week known as Kreatini before the fasting of Sarakosti begins. It is celebrated 11 days before Kathara Deftera, Clean Monday, marking the start of Lent.
On this particular Thursday of each year, outdoor barbecues are set up everywhere and anywhere throughout Greece, from neighbourhoods in Athens, to town squares in Thessaloniki, to church courtyards on the islands and in remote villages and you are guaranteed to smell grilled meat anywhere you are.
Most taverns, restaurants and cafes also serve grilled meat today and expect to see lots of singing and dancing on the streets as this is a day of celebration.
It’s all about cuts of pork, lamb, beef, goat or any other meat of your choice and with a huge emphasis on grilling and charcoal and by far, the most common item will be some variation of souvlaki.
For good-quality meat may be the tavernas a few kilometres outside of Athens, but expect them too to be very busy.
Certain outer suburban areas and their tavernas are renowned for their meat offerings. Hasia, on the western side, is a great district for juicy lamb chops and exohiko (details below), while Kalyvia, on the city’s eastern outskirts, is renowned for its traditional tavernas serving steaks, chops, and biftekia (seasoned mince patties), all on the grill.
Expect to find various meat-on-spit variations at the Palia Penteli square in northern Athens. These include pork kontosouvli, kokoretsi, pork roll, and lamb, all prepared in ways that are also customary in Greece during Easter celebrations.
Beyond the standard grilling, each region of Greece also has its own customs and traditions which are celebrated on this day every year.
What is certain is today is one of the busiest days for butchers around Greece, and Greek households will be preparing and enjoying their favourite grilled meat dishes, creating a cloud of smoke where ever it’s being cooked.