Thursday, 21 October 2010

Greek Food

If I practically lived on Insalata Capresi (tomatoes and mozzarella cheese) in Italy, I did the same with tomatoes and feta cheese in Greece.  Whilst the two cuisines share the important role of tomatoes and olives/olive oil, I can't immediately call to mind much else that is exactly the same.  Of course the food of the poor all has something similar in the way of breads or pancakes:  tortilla, naan, pitta, focaccia, cornbread and other uses of starches e.g., rice and potatoes.  In really poor soil such as found in both Italy and Greece, olives and grapes are the crops that fare really well.  The Greeks seem to be starting to develop their wine industry, or perhaps it's just something we'd not noticed before.  Cucumber seemed to be prominent on the restaurant menus, be we couldn't find any in the stores that were wizened.  In fact, aside from the luscious tomatoes, I thought the fruit and veg on offer were fairly grim and extremely limited in variety.  We far from starved, however.  The melons were fabulous and the grapes as good as they come.

Bill lived on feta cheese - though he eventually tired of it (not me!) - and salami sausages.    He also discovered 'Russian salad', a kind of potato salad, and wonder-of-wonders, olives with pits in.  He doesn't touch olives of any kind as a rule, but as with many strange foods, they seem to taste best when eaten at their place of origin.  It may have to do with having them slightly warm and eating outdoors.  Though we stored the olives in the  fridge, they did soon warm up and even though I normally won't bother with any but seedless olives, I put up with pits on this occasion.

Greek yogurt is much richer than regular, more like cream I though.  We had that with fruit for breakfast or desserts.  The one Greek food I'm certain most folks would love is baklava.  I love it - in small quantities - in spite of not having much of a sweet tooth.  If you've never tried the layers of filo pastry and sliced almonds saturated with butter and honey, you have truly deprived your taste buds.  We only had it the once of r dessert.  I tried to convince Bill or order a single portion to share, but he insisted on all or nothing.  I didn't dare have it more than once  for fear of needing a new wardrobe.

The resort town of Kalamaki was only comprised of two main  streets forming a right angle, each packed with restaurants, pubs, leather goods, beach and tourist tat shops and other tourist aimed attractions such as boat rides and bus tours.  We  strolled the length of the L-shape, the beach and the back road to our hotel  a number of times, assessing the menus displayed in front of each restaurant.  In the evenings, 'touts' would stand on the pavement and encouraged pedestrians to enter their establishment or at least peruse the menu.  We have yielded to a few in the past and rarely regretted it, but as so many of these places seemed to lack commitment to their native fare, I was determined to find a 'real' Greek restaurant.

The Milos Restaurant (or perhaps it was Milos's) advertised Greek and International cuisine, but the board on the pavement listed only Greek dishes:

souvlakia, moussaka, tzazikimezes, lamb, chicken, beef, etc.

I don't buy lamb and I never order it at a restaurant.  I find it to be greasy, expensive and I don't know how to cook it.   The Greeks do, though.  I'd made up my mind also to try eating goat or kid on this trip which I'm assuming will be our last to Greece.  As it happened, there was none on offer, but I still manged other culinary adventures.  The first night I had lamb stew, which was delicious, as was my starter, comprised of dolmades, tzaziki, something rolled in bread crumbs and fried, something wrapped in filo pastry and fried and taramasalata.  

Bill had something with chicken, I think.  We ended up going to Milos twice more, the food was so good.  The staff had just the right approach as well:  service was attentive but not obsequious, friendly but not familiar, serious but with humour, careful but also comfortable.  The manager - perhaps owner - shook our hands when we left and recognized us when we returned two nights later.  He fairly danced when we said we would return the next night, our last.

The second night Bill discovered Big Beans, as it was listed.  Large butter beans in a tomato and garlic sauce that had min groaning with delight.  I felt much the same about my lamb in a honey sauce.  He had that lamb the next night - and more Big Beans.  I had a small adventure:  saganaki, which in spite of sounding like a Japanese city translates into baked cheese.  Imagine tender bits of beef and ham with mushrooms in wine sauce, baked in a small clay pot covered with melted Gruyere cheese.  I wasn't certain about that cheese, whether it would be too strong, but it was not.  It was heaven, but so rich I couldn't finish it all; though I did my darnedest.

What I hope you'll take away from this is an intention to try some Greek food next time you meet it.  True, the names are strange combinations that include too many Ks and Zs for comfort and you may turn your nose up at goat or lamb, but if you like Italian I suspect you would like Greek if you gave it a go.

The last night we let the manager talk us into adding bread to our order.  When he brought the small basket he recommended salting the buttered bread, saying how nice it would taste.  We told him we'd already discovered bread, olive oil and salt and he rushed away to fetch some olive oil.  he was stuttering with pride - and limited English - to tell us, several times, this was HIS olive oil that HE produced.  When the season ended and the restaurant closed, as it would very soon, he would next go to harvest olives for HIS olive oil.  We were impressed at his multiple talents.  I suspect than in a challenging economy the most successful people are those who can be this flexible.  I half expected him to try to sell us a bottle, but that didn't happen, which was good as we'd already purchased some olive oil on a tour we'd taken.

About which I'll tell you tomorrow.


Jo said...

I used to fix lamb chops, broiled, occasionally. Until my husband commented on the "beef" he was eating. Since he couldn't tell the difference, didn't think it was worth the difference in the price.

Shelley said...

Jo - What a hoot! You're absolutely right, not worth the price difference. Some Russian friends had us to dinner and cooked a leg of lamb that was wonderful. He'd marinated it for 24 hours in white wine, then inserted cloves of garlic and quarters of onion into slits he made in the meat and cooked it slowly in the oven. I think I had thirds and fourths of that, but I've not yet tried making it.

Struggler said...

Lamb is rarely my first choice, but I love almost everything else that's greek; feta, olives, moussaka, dolmades, yes please! In fact, if I had to pick a favourite cuisine, Mediterranean is definitely a contender.