When Meat is King: Unveiling the Secrets of Greece’s “Tsiknopempti”

Tsiknopempti Grill

A guide on Greece’s feast dedicated to meat, by the team at Greeklist.

1. Tsiknopempti, the Greek Barbeque Day

In the heart of the bustling Greek carnival season, nestled amidst vibrant costumes and joyous revelry, lies Tsiknopempti, a Thursday steeped in both cultural significance and culinary delight. More than just a feast of fire-kissed meats, this day marks the final opportunity for indulgence before the introspective journey of Lent begins.

It’s a day where only meat is permitted!

Grilled Meat - Tsiknopempti

2. What exactly is Tsiknopempti?

Tsiknopempti is Thursday within the flamboyant tapestry of Greek Carnival, a unique celebration known as Tsiknopempti unfolds. Translated as “Smoky Thursday” or “Charred Thursday,” this day isn’t just about the delectable aroma of barbecued meats filling the air; it’s a deeply rooted cultural tradition and a final indulgence before the forty-day Lenten fast.

Historians believe the roots of Tsiknopempti stretch back to ancient Greece, possibly connected to celebrations for Dionysus, the god of wine and revelry. As Christianity took hold, the day became intertwined with the Lenten calendar, serving as a final hurrah before embarking on the somber introspection and abstinence of the fasting period.

Today, Tsiknopempti is a vibrant mix of religious observance and joyful revelry. The aroma of grilled meats like souvlaki, lamb skewers, and sausages permeates the air, emanating from homes, tavernas, and outdoor gatherings. Families and friends come together to feast, laugh, and celebrate, creating a lively atmosphere that echoes the spirit of Carnival.

Tsiknopempti Festive Spirit

3. When is Tsiknopempti?

The date of Tsiknopempti changes every year based on the date of Orthodox Easter Sunday. It always falls 11 days before Kathara Deftera. It’s actually the last stop before the start of the Great Lend Period in Greece.

For the next 3 years, Tsiknopempti will be as following:

  • In 2024: March 7th.
  • In 2025:  February 20th.
  • In 2026:  February 12th.

4. The best dishes of Tsiknopempti table

Tsiknopempti unfolds a culinary tapestry woven with fire and flavour. Beyond the sizzling allure of grilled meats, a harmonious interplay of textures and tastes awaits. Juicy souvlaki and succulent kontosouvli reign supreme, joined by the earthy richness of tzatziki.

Here are the best dishes of Tsiknopempti

  • Gyros: The Tsiknopempti staple. Pork or chicken slices are stacked on a vertical rotisserie, seasoned with herbs and spices, then shaved off and piled into warm pita bread with the usual suspects: tomato, onion, and tzatziki.
  • Gyros
  • Souvlaki: This classic Greek dish consists of skewered and grilled meat, typically pork, chicken, or lamb. The meat is marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, herbs, and spices before being grilled to perfection.
  • Souvlaki
  • Grilled Steak: Called “brizola” in Greece, ribeye or sirloin being the popular choices. Well grilled over charcoal.Marinades with olive oil, lemon juice, herbs like oregano, and garlic are common.
  • Greek Steak
  • Kontosouvli: This dish features a large piece of meat, such as pork or lamb, that is slowly roasted over an open fire. Its actually a bigger souvlaki that contains also colorful peppers.
  • Kontosouvli
  • Kokoretsi: This unique dish involves wrapping seasoned offal (usually lamb) around intestines and grilling it whole. It’s not for everyone, but an authentic experience.
  • Kokoretsi
  • Kebab: Similar to souvlaki, kebabs are also made with skewered and grilled meat, but they are usually ground meat rather than chunks. The most common type is lamb
  • Kebab
  • Apaki: This Cretan dish is made with smoked pork that is then grilled or roasted. The pork is usually marinated in herbs and spices, and it has a rich, smoky flavour.
  • Apaki
  • Loukaniko (Grilled Sausage): Popular choices are usually beef, pork or chicken, grilled for a smoky flavour and served whole or sliced. They usually contain herbs and spices.
  • Loukaniko
  • Pancetta: A cut of pork meat from the belly of the animal, with intense marbling (fat). Ideal for slow cooking at a low temperature to make it juicy and tender.
  • Pancetta
  • Paidakia (Lamb Chops):They are grilled pieces of meat with bone, cut perpendicular to the spine. They usually come from lamb or goat, but can also be pork or beef.
  • Paidakia
  • Biftekia (Greek Burgers): Hand-formed beef or pork patties, grilled over charcoal for a rich flavour and juicy outcome.
  • Biftekia

Don’t forget to accompany your meal with creamy tzatziki that cools the sizzling heat, also patates tiganites (Greek fries) that offer salty comfort, and a vibrant Greek salad adds a refreshing chorus to the symphony of Tsiknopempti meats.

Check out our special guide on Greek Cuisine!

5. Where to taste the Tsiknopempti dishes in London

Because of the large Greek community in London it ignites the spirit of Tsiknopempti! Savour smoky souvlaki in lively taverns, dance among laughter and grills, and celebrate the carnival spirit, even across the miles.

Here are some suggestions for the best greek barbeque places in London:

Tony’s Pita

A family run restaurant with Mediterranean cuisine and atmosphere. Offering a large variety of choice from their menu, suitable for everyone’s tastes and preferences. Starting from theireveryday dishes and also additional daily specials that their chefs bring to you with love.

Contact Information

  • +44 (0)20 7722 5227
  • bookings@tonyspita.co.uk
  • 4 New College Parade, Frognal

Byzantium Restaurant

An impressive, unique and well-established Greek restaurant that is conveniently located between Bayswater and Queensway, that emphasises family-style food, traditional pastries (tsourekia, baklava etc.) and real Greek coffee.

Contact Information

  • +44 20 7229 9367
  • 31 Moscow Road, Westminster

Going Greek

Enjoy a delicious souvlaki or sample some sharing plates with an ice-cold Greek beer. Choose a traditional pastry or a delightful dessert with your coffee.

Contact Information

  • 020 3030 4543
  • info@goinggreek.co.uk
  • 18 The Green, London, N21 1AY

Nostimo

They serve all kinds of Mediterranean inspired delicacies whilst staying true to our Greek heritage. Using top quality ingredients, they have a passion for Mediterranean cuisine, and they love delicious food.

Contact Information

  • 2070524471
  • info@nostimo.london
  • 9 Brunswick Centre, King’s Cross

Halepi Greek & Cypriot Restaurant

Lunch there can include anything from fresh fish dishes to salt marsh lamb and finishing off with sweet-tasting desserts. While you are there, you must try the Pyrenean baby lamb that will only leave you licking your fingers

Contact Information

  • 020 7262 1070
  • 18 Leinster Terrace, Westminster

It’s all Greek to me

Treat yourself to a tasty snack in our laid-back souvlaki bar or enjoy a leisurely evening in our boutique restaurant downstairs. With imported specialities, a deli counter of artisan produce and a selection of unique wines, it really is all Greek and the best Greece has to offer.

Contact Information

  • +44 207402 5505
  • hello@itsallgreeektome.london
  • 101 Praed Street, Hyde Park

Ithaki Greek Kitchen

A few years back three friends decided to start a culinary trip in London cooking and trying traditional Greek food. The memories from their homes from the Ionian Islands to Athens and then to Asia Minor got together and created smells and tastes and a love for good traditional Mediterranean food.

Contact Information

  • +44 (0) 77765 24051
  • info@ithakirestaurant.co.uk
  • 5-6 Hanger Green, Ealing

If you want more great places to eat, here is our guide on the Best Greek Restaurants in London!

6. Ideal destinations in Greece to experience Tsiknopempti

Inhale the smoky aroma of grilled meats! Greece explodes with Tsiknopempti and Carnival – a fiery blend of tradition and fun. Dance to lively tunes, don vibrant costumes, and savor delectable souvlaki, kontosouvli, and sausages.

Here are the top destinatιοns during Tsiknopempti, and carnival in general:

  • Patras: The undisputed king of Carnival in Greece, featuring grand parades, lively street parties, and a festive atmosphere that attracts locals and visitors alike.
  • Xanthi: Famous for its multicultural Carnival, blending Greek and Balkan traditions. The Xanthi Carnival includes colourful parades, traditional music, and diverse cultural events that showcase the town’s rich heritage.
  • Rethymno, Crete: Its famous Carnival typically includes parades, traditional music and dance, colourful costumes, and various events. The town’s Old Town becomes a hub of activity, and locals and tourists alike join in the festivities.
  • Galaxidi: The Galaxidi Carnival is known for its eccentric and humorous atmosphere. Locals and visitors dress up in imaginative costumes, participate in parades, and engage in various traditional and modern festivities.
  • Athens: Tsiknopempti transforms the city into a carnivalesque haven with streets filled with the irresistible aroma of grilled meat. Locals and visitors gather in tavernas and open spaces, indulging in traditional barbecue feasts and revelling in the festive spirit.
  • Thessaloniki: On Tsiknopempti the city’s tavernas and squares become a carnivore’s delight. The air is filled with the sizzling sounds of grills as people partake in the joyous tradition of savouring grilled meats
  • Mykonos: While not particularly known for Carnival, it is renowned for its energetic nightlife and festivals. Visitors can still enjoy the island’s lively atmosphere and unique events during the Carnival season.
  • Santorini: Although not as widely known for Tsiknopempti celebrations as other places, the island’s charming villages and waterfront restaurants embrace Tsiknopempti with the enticing scent of grilled meats filling the air.
Rethymno Carnival
Rethymno Carnival
Patras Carnival
Patras Carnival
Xanthi Carnival
Xanthi Carnival

Greeklist and HotelBrain offer you exclusive deals, for the mentioned destinations.

7. Conclusion

Greece ignites with Tsiknopempti’s smoky symphony! Succulent meats sizzle, vibrant laughter fills the air, and fiery traditions spark joy. From bustling city taverns to quaint island celebrations, each bite and dance step immerses you in the spirit of community and cultural pride. Savor the memories long after the coals have cooled, knowing you’ve experienced the true essence of Greek celebration.

Tsiknopempti

Don’t miss our travel guides to Athens, Thessaloniki, Crete, Santorini, Nafpaktos, Ioannina and Mykonos!

 

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