The Greek town of Leonidio, located in the Peloponnese region, is famous for its breathtaking landscape and archtitecture, unique dialect… and eggplants! Eggplants grown in Leonidio and the entire historical region of Tsakonia have the PDO (Protected designation of origin) status. The city even hosts an annual festival named Melitzazz (Μελιτζάzz) that is dedicated to local aubergines and the culture of Tsakonia.

Tsakonia is the small area in the eastern Peloponnese where the Tsakonian language is spoken. It is the only living descendant of the Doric Greek dialect. Tsakonian is highly divergent from other varieties of Modern Greek and mutually unintelligible with Standard Modern Greek. Alongside their own language, Tsakonians also have certain peculiar cultural traditions, such as the Tsakonikos (a form of traditional dance performed in an open circle).

Tsakonia is also known for its most famous crop, the Tsakonian eggplant. It is a long, purple-lilac variety with white stripes. Unlike most eggplant cultivars, it has a sweet taste and doesn’t need to be salted before cooking to get rid of bitterness. The locals are so proud with the Tsakonian eggplant that they even created a festival in its honor.

First held in 1996, the event was originally known as the Tsakonian Eggplant Festival. It started out as a food fair, with local and national chefs offering to sample various eggplant dishes. However, the-present day Melitzazz Festival is a multicultural event that celebrates the culture of Tsakonia, as well as helps discover various cultures from all over the world.

Melitzazz is a vibrant carnival of cultures that showcases dance, music, films and traditional cuisine of different countries and peoples. During the festival, Leonidio is transformed into a large multicultural village brimming with performances and open-air events that attract thousands of people, locals and tourists alike.

Depending on the current theme of the festival, which is chosen anew every year, its program may include rebetiko (a type of urban Greek music) and flamenco, Balkan brass and gypsy jazz, tarantella and operetta, samba and salsa, tango and capoeira… Every year, the festival team try their best to produce diverse programming showcasing all the aspects of the chosen theme.

The program of Melitzazz includes open-air performances on several stages, as well as in the town’s streets and squares, that begin in the morning and last well into the night, dance workshops, film screenings, and lots of other events and activities for those who appreciate cultural diversity and want to learn more about the culture and traditions of different countries and peoples.

Naturally, the festival has retained its culinary part dedicated to the Tsakonian eggplant. Every year, chefs from all over Greece and abroad come to Leonidio and cook hundreds of eggplant dishes, from deceptively simple grilled eggplant to moussaka, melitzanosalata and other staples of Greek cuisine.






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