Spanakopita (Spinach Pie)

What Is Taperakia? For These Greek Moms, Sending Meals to Their Kids is an Act of Love

Learn about the Greek practice of shipping adult children Tupperware containers of food, plus get their recipes to make at home.

For Greek celebrity chef Vassilis Kallidis, peppers stuffed with rice and herbs is the ultimate comfort food. Part of the yemista (γεμιστά)—a staple Greek dish that also includes stuffed tomatoes and, sometimes, zucchini—it's the taste Kallidis grew up with. But it's not the memories of his childhood that make yemista special for him now, more than two decades after he left his home in Thessaloniki. Instead it's the taperakia (ταπεράκια)—plastic containers full of those peppers—lovingly prepared and sent to him in Athens by his mother 500 kilometers away.

Taperakia, or the diminutive of the word ταπερ (the Greek spelling of tupper), connotes the custom of Greek mothers preparing traditional foods for their children and sending them in Tupperware containers wherever those children reside after leaving home. It's not clear when the tradition began (although Kallidis jokes that it probably goes back to antiquity when, instead of plastic, mothers used clay containers) but according to Marianna Economou, a documentary filmmaker, it's a natural extension of the relationship Greeks have with food.

"Food is [often] used in emotional manner [and] it has a very powerful role in the Greek society," says Economou, who directed a 2013 documentary about taperakia called Food for Love. "Food moves around in Greece all the time; it expresses love and caring." Kornelia Kallidis sends taperakia to Vassilis by bus—she's used the same bus for years and she drops off the parcels with the driver herself—but there's also a special delivery service that caters to mothers and promises a delivery time of less than 24 hours.

A woman cooking outside
Iouliani Polykretis makes yemista (stuffed tomatoes and peppers) at her organic farm on the island of Naxos in Greece | Credit: Margarita Gokun Silver

Economou became interested in taperakia as a student in the United Kingdom, when she watched her friend receive regular shipments of spinach pies and meatballs from his mother in Greece. Later she learned that this wasn't an isolated occurrence. More and more women she met were sending prepared dishes to their children, some going as far as creating weekly menus and splitting their tuppers into single-sized servings.

Some of this practice, Economou argues, comes from the mothers' fears that their children can't cope on their own. Kallidis agrees. "For my mom, I'm not a celebrity chef," he says. "I'm away from the nest, I'm supposed to suffer." Taperakia is one way a mother expresses concern for a child's well-being. For Dimitris Dimitriadis, who's been receiving taperakia from his mom for years, this "ritual-like preparation of food [is a] gesture of love and care."

Children's opinions on taperakia vary. For some it's a welcome taste from home—"It was exciting [to receive] it and [my roommates] thought it was cool" says Katerina Bournou, who studied in Manchester, England—but for others their mom's homemade food is something they haven't yet had a chance to miss. Grown-up enough to own a restaurant in Athens, Kallidis, who still gets taperakia from his mom, now sees it as symbolic. "I don't want to waste even a single grain of rice from [her] tuppers," he says. "Because it comes from my mom it's more precious than gold to me." For him—as for his mother—her lovingly prepared stuffed peppers and grape leaves are a way to communicate, to be together while apart, and to maintain their bond across time and distance.

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