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Soumada: The traditional, refreshing Greek made of almonds

Have you ever heard of Soumada? The very traditional, ultra refreshing and aromatic summer drink made of sweet and bitter almonds?

Soumada is made from syrup of milk from mainly sweet almonds and a few bitter ones. You mix it with cold water (in proportion 1 part soumada, 3-4 parts of water), and add some ice cubes too if you like.

It is a traditional drink served in engagements and weddings on this islands of Chios, Crete, Nisyros, Andros, Sifnos, Kythera and Lefkada. It is also sold in bottles and if you;re lucky, you can try a glass at a more traditional cafe or sweet shop (zaharoplasteio) on these islands even nowadays.

Soumada has its roots in Asia Minor and apparently came to Greece after Greeks fled Turkey in 1922.

There are several recipes to make soumada from scratch: sweet almonds and a couple of bitter ones in multi-mixer until powder. Boil with water and sugar. But the procedure is a bit complicated so no recipe here.

My personal Soumada-Almonds-Dried-Mackerel Diet

For some unexplained reason, I decided this year to buy a bottle of this white, thick and sweet syrup for a refreshing drink during the heatwave afternoons.

And then all my memories from vacations on the island of Chios came back, all these wonderful days of my childhood with my great-uncle and -aunt and my cousins who spoiled me from morning till the late at night. My mother had sent  me there to … – don’t laugh! – to gain weight.

It was a custom every afternoon, that my great-uncle would take me to one of the little cafes at the port promenade. He and his friends would enjoy ouzo and meze, and I would drink a glass or two of this wonderful cool drink with a slight aroma of bitter almonds.

At some point, I remember there was always a guy holding a big straw basket with little chilled treasures inside: green fresh almonds picked up from the trees in the morning. They would remove the soft green hull, leave only the light brown skin on the still soft white nut, chill them on ice and sell them in the afternoon.

There was always a handful of these fresh delicacies, soft and sweet almonds landing next to my soumada glass and I would eat them with a little salt and a big devotion.

After I was ‘high” with almonds overdose in solid and liquid, form I was allowed to taste the meze mostly consisting of tomato slices, olives, cheese and tsiros – thin slices of air-dried mackerel fish drizzled with some olive oil.

I don’t know what my great-uncle me were thinking of such a weird snacks combination every afternoon for a month and thus before dinner.

My great-uncle, first cousin of my grandpa, was a Greek migrant who fled from Turkish Cesme right opposite Chios in 1922. I don’t think he had more than a basic school education of four years to have a deep knowledge of nutrition etc. but he had a very big heart.

And me … well… I was just enjoying what the big heart of a skinny man would offer me.

A the end of the day of the month i mean, two skinny people together managed the impossible. The special diet worked.

My great-uncle had a tiny small eatery, where port and warehouse workers would have a lunch. And I could pick up a bit of these and a bit of that, whatever I liked and never heard “No!” or “Don’t!”

Once per week, my uncle would take me to one of the warehouses, put me on this old-fashioned scale where they used to weight brown sacks of weeds or something.

Every time I was holding my breath, while the uncle would balance the weights, carefully reading my weight and made a note with a pen in his hand pal,.

After four weeks he called my mom that “mission was accomplished.”

My grand father came to the island to pick me up. And for another week the soumada-almond-tsiros diet plus early and late breakfast, lunch and dinner went on as before. One day, it was rather night, grandpa and me went on board of the ship for a long journey of over 12 hours to the port of Piraeus.

When we arrived in Piraeus and my parents had come with the car to pick us up, they didn’t recognize me.

I was no longer the tall, skinny 8-year-old child but a sun-tanned ball stuffed with soumada, almonds and mackerel.

PS A few years ago I visited Chios again. Uncle and aunt are long gone, my cousins live in Athens since ages. I walked through the streets of my childhood memories, some of the old houses near the port are still standing, but not the tavern. I took some pictures – which I lost when my laptop broke down.

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3 comments

  1. Thank you for this moving insight!

  2. Thank you for sharing your sweet memories. I very much enjoyed reading that.

    I will try to find out how to make this drink.