Tsiknopempti is the Thursday during Carnival, the Greek Mardi Gras. It takes place 11 days before the start of Greek Orthodox Lent. Tsiknopempti signals the start of the last weekend that observant Greek Orthodox Church members are permitted to eat meat before fasting for Lent.
Naturally, everyone rushes to prepare and enjoy their favorite meat dishes for Tsiknopempti, which gives it one of its other common names, “Smoke Thursday“.
This is definitely not the day for sensitive vegetarians to visit the the “restaurant rows” of Greece. They say that Greeks try to consume enough meat on this day to carry them through the entire 40 days of lent. So there’s plenty of smoky air, redolent of the aromas of cooking meat, everywhere.
By the way, the day is celebrated on a Thursday because, for observant Greek Orthodox Christians, the traditional fast days – when they abstain from meat throughout the year – are Wednesday and Friday.
Meaning of Tsiknopempti
In English, Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday” and so Tsiknopempti is sometimes also called “Fat Thursday.” In Greek letters, Tsiknopempti is Τσικνοπέμπτι. In Greek, Thursday is Pempti (Πέμπτη), meaning the fifth day of the week as Greeks count Sunday as the first day.
The word tsikna (Τσικνο) refers to the smell of cooked meat – however, “Smelly Thursday” has not caught on as a translation.
Typical Tsiknopempti Recipes and Menus
Meat is king, with the emphasis on grilled meats, though the occasional stew pot will be visible.
Some hotels and virtually every taverna will put on special menus for Tsiknopempti. By far, the most common item will be some variation of souvlaki – meat on a stick. These will be available everywhere along the streets in the taverna areas; be sure to walk carefully to avoid banging into an unexpected grill in the already narrow streets and walkways. Souvlaki skewers in the hands of the inexperienced can also be causes of mild injury.
Since eating is the main activity in Athens on Tsiknopempti, it can actually be a good time to visit the museums and monuments, which will be quiet even by the standards of the off-season, especially later in the day.