Many of the most popular and well-known “Greek” dishes, actually originated with the Sephardic Jews, who began moving to Thessaloniki in the 15th Century.
Thessaloniki was once called the "Jerusalem of the Balkans". After the Jewish population was banished from Spain in 1492, about 20,000 Sephardic Jews came here to build new lives, and here they stayed until World War II, when 93% of the Jews in Thessaloniki were deported to concentration camps. Throughout the centuries, Thessaloniki was one of the Jewish capitals of the world, tolerated by the Ottoman Empire, and their presence contributed immensely to the culture and commerce of the city.
Today, very little remains of the refined Sephardic culture – just a few synagogues, a beautiful Jewish museum, and not much else. Except, thankfully, the Sephardic culinary tradition left indelible traces on the local cuisine. Some Sephardic dishes still carry with them Spanish names, like huevos haminados (baked eggs), rodantikes (pumpkin cake), and frittada de berenjenna (eggplant frittata).
Sephardic Jews weren’t big lovers of garlic, but the onion was revered. They used dried and fresh fruit for desserts and eggplant was one of the most popular ingredients. Some popular, well-known “Greek” dishes are actually Sephardic in origin: the melitzanna salata, a very popular vegetable dip; the sweet baklava (a dessert rich with sugar, dried fruit and honey); and even yaprakes – better known as dolmades (meat and rice cooked inside grape leaves).