Let’s talk about koupepia

Food. Food is such a small word, carrying myriads of feelings, thoughts, and memories. Food reflects aspects of our cultural roots.

Food evolved from our basic need to feed to something more emotional. Since primitive times food has been used as a source of energy. People would cook it in such a way as to maximize the energy they could get from it and avoid food poisoning. However, that was not enough for humans. The architecture of the human mind is designed to be never satisfied with what becomes normal. Food is not an exception. As society began to form, people yearned for food richness and wanted to represent their culture through their food.

When R and V wanted to celebrate their engagement party, they invited us to a Greek restaurant where one of the dishes served was koupepia. That moment came with some spurs of realization for R and me because we recognized how much our food cultures have in common. That eureka moment made me look at koupepia with a different eye. It was as if I found a fossil bone in the wrong stratum and destroyed a whole geological theory.

In Cyprus, they’re called “koupepia”, in Greece “dolmades”, in Turkey “dolma”, in Iran “dolmeh”, in Armenia “sarma” and the list goes on. For those who are not familiar with this dish, it’s vine leaves stuffed with pieces of meat, rice, tomato, onion, and local herbs, depending on the local cuisine. In all my candor, my research on the origins of koupepia is not exhaustive, but one side of the story suggests that in 335 BC Alexander the Great first created it as military food. Specifically, his army was suffering from food shortage, so he mustered all the little bits of meat he could find, combined it with anything he had, and wrapped it in grape leaves so that it was easier to store and dispense.

Even though no one can verify if the story is accurately true, I believe koupepia is one of the food dishes reflecting aspects of the culture which people include in their cuisine. Let me explain what I mean by first analyzing the structure of how koupepia is made. Firstly, all the ingredients in koupepia are cooked. Secondly, if anyone has seen or attempted to make koupepia they will realize that it’s a long process. Thirdly, koupepia belongs to the stuffed food family. Lastly, it includes the three components of the Mediterranean diet; protein, carbohydrates, and fiber.  

Now you may be wondering, what’s the common denominator of all those different cultures I could extract from koupepia. Considering the sweltering heat in all of the aforementioned countries, the creator of koupepia made sure that all the ingredients are cooked to avoid food poisoning. Having in mind the size of the families, or at least how it used to be, people in these cultures tend to share familial experiences as a form of bonding and contributing to the family system. Its stuffed nature covers the messiness of all those ingredients together and can flesh out how much those people value aesthetics. Lastly, koupepia is regarded as a healthy dish since it contains a balance of nutritional ingredients.

Each cuisine and/or food dish leaves you with a riddle to unreel what’s in it, what’s missing, how was it cooked, for how long, and where.