How To Fast For Lent (Nistisima)

For the Orthodox world, Lent began last Monday, and so did the 40 day Lenten fast. In this context, “fasting” doesn’t mean not eating at all, rather it means restricting one’s diet by eliminating all meat, eggs and dairy. Fish and shellfish are allowed. Devout Greeks actually fast for 120 days each year: 40 days before Christmas, 40 days before Easter, and 40 days before the Assumption of Mary. This is fully 1/3 of the year! Because of this, Greeks have developed a whole cuisine of delicious foods called “nistisima” that have no meat, eggs or dairy. As long as you avoid the seafood, these dishes are not only vegetarian, but also vegan. Mama’s Taverna will be serving up only nistisima during Lent, but don’t worry, it’ll be really good!

UPDATE: Laurie from Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska points out that if you add up all the various fasting days in the church year, there are approximately 180. Half the year! See the comments for details and an interesting link.


  1. Comment by Laurie Constantino

    Ah, Great Lent, one of my favorite times of year. As for fasting, actually in the orthodox calendar there are about 180 fasting days or so! As my priest likes to say, we should all be fasting for half the year (I don’t, although try to stick to seafoods on Fridays, strict fasting during Holy Week, and laxer fasting during the rest of Lent).

    Here’s the official calendar, a version of which is in most Greek households and helps as a cheat sheet for what foods are allowed on any give day:

    OK, that’s way more information than you or anyone else could possibly be intersted! :-)

    Love your blg – your olive post and mama’s health soup are my favorites. The olive piece was information, and the soup piece very funny. Glad to have found you!


    PS: Do you live in Greece?

    Fish is not allowed during most fasting periods (blood and backbones are no-nos) though shellfish of all kinds are definitely ok. Our elderly aunt and all her friends also fast from olive oil and wine, in addition to the items you list, which is what the devout are supposed to do.

    Great Lent goes for 48 days (plus the week or so before when dairy is allowed but not meat), Christmas Lent for 40, 14 days before the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, another fast of varying length before the Feast of the Apostles at the end of June, the day before Epiphany (Jan 5), August 29 when John the Baptist was beheaded, the Elevation of the Holy Cross (September 140, and pretty much every Wednesday and Friday throughout the entire year

  2. Comment by Laurie Constantino

    I don’t know how I cleverly did it, but someone the paragraphs on my last post are more than a little out of order: the last two paragraphs belong after the first two paragraphs. Sigh. Sorry!

  3. Comment by lulu

    Thanks for the info and the link, Laurie. It’s very complicated! I think Mama must take a more general less detailed approach to nistisima, if that makes any sense. She does observe a very strict fast during Megali Vdomada. Zoe and I are less reliable. :-)

    I actually live in California.

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