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Published: June 23rd 2016
Left: Omellete with frappe gliko; top right: bougatsa; bottom right: cheese pastry
As promised... the food
My time in Narthaki has come to an end and I have returned to Athens where the people once again greatly outnumber the animals. I will really miss Narthaki; its people, landscape, and history made me feel at home in the “real” Greece. I recognize and appreciate that countries are made up of smaller villages and larger, more touristy cities like Athens, but I always feel like I am getting the more authentic experience of a country when I stay and live in a smaller village. This was similar to my time in Gravina in Puglia (Italy), or when I go to smaller villages in parts of the United States. Each culture is beautiful and unique in both types of places, but I find major cities have been adapted or conditioned by the tourists who swarm to them. This is most evident in the types of food that are offered or available in each place. I will genuinely miss the amazing meals prepare for us at our time in Narthaki. As my last post for this travel blog (this time around), I feel it most fitting to detail some of the amazing dishes I had the
The Feast at the Official's Home
So many different dishes of food and more than we could have ever finished. His family's home was lovely and we got the chance to sit outside as the sun was setting.
chance to having while experiencing Greece.
Although we did not eat at a cafe every day, those who did had their choice of coffees, pastries, and fruit. Because of the heat, our group often ordered cappuccino freddos or frappe gliko during breaks or on weekends when we had the chance to explore. Alternatively, for our group, every morning we anxiously waited to see what type of pastry we would get from the bakery for our breakfast table, all baked fresh and picked up prior to 7:00am. Spanakopita is the better-known option, served in spiral form, with spinach, onions and some crumbled feta cheese. Other mornings we would get a thicker pastry in a half-moon shape filled with cheese, ham and cheese, or chicken (picture chicken pot pie). Two of the pastries tasted like pizza, but varied in their shapes and ranking among the crew: the half-moon “pizza” had a red-pepper based sauce which was good, but was considered lesser to the pizza boat. Picture a pretzel-like bread stretched and the pizza goodness stuff into the middle of the boat. Either way, a delicious start to the day. One of my favourite pastries, and a common order at the cafes
Dinner at Zorba's
Back in Athens I returned to the group's initial meeting place and ordered one of their set plates. Top is the first round: insalata, tzatziki, fresh bread, and red wine; Bottom left is main dish: rice, roasted potatoes, carrots, and lamb infused with the tomato sauce; Bottom right is the dessert: fresh watermelon.
on our days off and out of Narthaki, is the legendary bougatsa. These flaky pastries have layers of sweet vanilla custard. During one trip to Nea Anchialos we had these pastries served with powdered and cinnamon sugar. Quite possibly the best dessert or morning suga-fix. Many of our days I found that the pastries were too much salt, sugar, or grease to start the day. What I did instead, was had a more traditional breakfast and saved the delicious pastry as “second breakfast” during break at 10:30am. It was always something to look forward to, to say the least. First breakfast consisted of Greek yogurt, honey, and museli granola with whatever fruit (kiwi, banana, apricot, peach, strawberries) we had that day. We always had canteens of coffee to go around to ensure a productive day as well, since work for us started prior to the cafe opening.
Traditionally, lunch is a larger gathering for many families in parts of Europe (Italy was the same). It is served mid-afternoon and is promptly followed with a siesta for a few hours. For us, siesta was from whenever we finished lunch, until 5pm. Lunch was promptly served at 2:00pm every day and
When I returned to Athens I ordered Gamistas one last time; tomato and pepper stuffed with tomato-rice medley and baked in olive oil, served with bread. The coca-cola was because of the heat, and it was lunch.
was also prepared for us by the local bakery. Each day was a different type of sandwich, so we always anxiously awaited for news of what type from those who walked to get them. Sandwiches always had mayonnaise, tomatoes and lettuce on fresh baked (hearty) bread, but the “meat” always changed. Tuna, Ham & Cheese, sausage, chicken nugget (don’t knock it ‘til you try it), feta & tomato, and my favourite: omelette & sausage. We didn’t usually get the chance to have eggs for any of our meals, so omelettes became a sort of treat. On days off where we were responsible for our own meals, many of us ordered omelettes from the Ouzerie, which were the size of a dinner plate and cooked in olive oil (amazing when served with a fresh salad and bread). Thessaly is considered the breadbasket of Greece, and over the course of 6 weeks I can fullheartedly understand why. I may not eat bread that much at home, but they sure do make it right in Narthaki.
Dinners are a very large and family-based affair. They are often served late (8:30pm was our usual, which was a bit early), and the affair can
Feast Day in Narthaki
Some of the different foods served to us by Ilias and his family. TopLeft: vegan stuffed pasta shells; TopRight: Vegan pizza; Bottom Right: Meat (bifsteaki, souvlaki, kebab); Bottom Left: cheese/pepper pastries & wine.
take many hours. The mayors dinner that we were invited to started around 11:00pm and went well past 2:00am. It is a very social event, and when it is a feast or a special occasion, can involve live music and traditional Greek Dancing. There were a few nights were we had special occasions, which brought about a specific kind of feast. Once we had been invited to dine at a local municpal official’s home, where there were plates of different foods, including homemade melitzana (a type of eggplant dip), a beet salad, a warmed grape leave salad, fried potatoes (like french fries), a pan-fried potato with carrots and roast beef, a plate with homemade spanakopita, fresh bread, meatloaf with cooked egg in the centre, roasted mushrooms, and two massive platters of freshly cooked goat (less than 1 year old goat), and many items I'm sure I'm missing. There is always so much flavour in all of the dishes, but not with the typical salt, sugar, or miscellaneous ingredients that we have pumped into some of our foods in North America. There may be salt in many of these dishes, but the spice combinations, freshness of the food, and care taken
Top right: Thank you meal from the Ouzerie, includes roasted potatoes and "greek lasagna"; bottom left: Panceta; bottom right: feta
in each meal is amazing.
Most nights we were treated to the culinary works of a local family, whose meal preparation process usually started before 10am each day. One of our colleagues had the chance to work with “yayas” (Grandmother in Greek) during breaks to learn the recipes and techniques, help in the kitchen, and really get a different perspective on the amazing traditions. Dinner started once everyone had arrived at the table (ranging from our 15-member volunteer/teaching group, to our 31-member field school group). Salads, bread, and feta cheese would be brought out for everyone. Bread was more of the Narthaki locally baked (and grain-raised), and was great dipped in the juices from the salad. Insalata was the most common salad type, with onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, field peppers, oil, some lemon, and oregano. Feta came out as a brick drizzled in olive oil and either sprinkled with oregano (traditional) or pepper (vegan). You learn very quickly to control yourself and not eat too much of the good appetizers prior to the main dish. Of the 5.5 weeks that I was in Narthaki, only 3 meal options were ever duplicated, and only because of special request. Not only did
"Yayas" have an amazing skill for cooking, but her repertoire of recipes was inspiring.
Every other day would be a vegetarian option. We had soups once a week (at least) that were made with hearty lentils or chick peas and often had feta cheese and vinegar added to them, which made an amazing combination. The chick pea soup was a type of stewed chick pea and tomato paste with hearty roasted potatoes and lemon juice. All ingredients were local and often came from the Tuesday market. My favourite vegetarian dish was the Gamistas. The pepper or tomato were hollowed out and softened as they baked in an olive oil. Then they were stuffed with a rice medley infused with tomatoes, oil, and other seasonings. I had these again in Athens to get one last taste, and they already lessened in comparison to the Narthaki version.
We also had a lot of dishes with a standard typical tomato sauce. Its a type of olive-oil based sauce with salt and tomatoes and many other unique seasonings, which is perfect after a long day in the fields or Greek heat to replenish the salts. We had this sauce on pasta, on rice, and as a sauce with ground beef stuffed into zucchinis with cheese. It was also the base sauce for the meat served in the “Greek Lasagna” type of dish called pastitsio. Beef is crumbled into the tomato sauce and layered onto a rounded noodle (like rigatoni), and on top of that is layers of cheese, followed by bechamel. This is similar looking to moussaka, but with very different flavours. Moussaka is an eggplant dish with ground meat and cheese with bechamel and a type of mashed potato. All of the flavours are amazing and there was rarely a night that any food was left on the plate.
Saturdays and Sundays were considered grill night, where a set menu was offered and people got to choose which they preferred. I’m sad to say that I really only ever had one type of food, and just kept ordering it because it was so amazing (and I wasn’t the only one). Pancetta, me potates, me tzatziki. Pancetta is a type of pork belly (meat with fat), that gets grilled in different seasonings and served as thin slices (usually we got two). A plate of potatoes came like French fries, and I got into the habit of having them with tzatziki because of a colleague's suggestion. In the end her and I would order 3 meals of Pancetta, and split the second between us. The other special meat dish that we had (apart from the variations of peppers and sausages, spaghetti, stuffed eggplants, pastitsio and moussaka), was the day we had chicken and potatoes. Similar to a dish I had in Italy, the chicken was almost baked and poached in olive oil. It was so incredibly moist, flavourful, and local, that every plate was cleaned either by the original eater, or by those asking for additional plates. I’m not sure I could pick a favourite meat dish, but the ones I have highlighted came pretty close to that distinction.
Our last major dinner at the Taverna was a feast day, and included dish after dish of different foods. We had a red pepper and cheese pastry, they made us pizza, potatoes, bread, a type of larger shell pasta filled with vegetables and vegan cheese, and then plates of meat: cheese stuffed beefsteaks, pancetta, souvlaki sticks, sausages, and the specialty, kebab. Kebab was totally new for me, but tasted like an amazing roasted pork in all the seasonings and was juicy and fresh. We had a number of vegetarians and vegans in our group, so the meat dishes were shared between very few people, and we struggled to eat them all with so many options and amounts of items. Ilias and his family really welcomed us into their kitchen, and continuously prepared for us meal after meal of happiness. This could quite easily be the thing I miss most about Narthaki.
I could detail the foods in Greece for days, and have already contemplated how I am going to replicate some of these flavours. I barely touched on the seafood options that we got when we went to Nea Anchialos, or when we ordered tsipouro. I failed to mention the different types of local wine, locally-grown beer, radlers, or tsipouro (way better than ouzo in my bookes). I know I didn’t detail the snack foods like paprika pringles or oregano chips, kinder eggs or gelato, but hopefully I’ve given a good indication or preview of different types of amazing foods here in Greece. Food is incredibly social. We all need it to survive, but in Greece it turns into a very social event that brings people together and gives them the chance to relax and socialize after a long day in the fields (or lab). It's like having a dinner party in North America, that happens every night, and in your honour.
So long, and remember to enjoy all the food in life – it’s a big part of the goodness in each day
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