Saturday, 30 August 2008

Wake up!

Last week the rally drivers from 'Grease to Greece' proved that it's possible to drive a car without petrol. The Englishman Andy Pag, who last year drove to Africa on waste chocolate, chose this time to cover the 2,500 miles from London to Athens driving on used cooking oil. The restaurants they asked for this oil during their journey were all happy to donate it, because it served a good purpose and disposed of it. With this story I don't mean to encourage the whole world to start driving on used cooking oil. Because then you will get an increase in demand for vegetable oil, which would upset the balance in the world: for instance in Asia they now complain that the production of palm oil, another alternative energy source, diverts agriculture from other crops and thus increases the risk of famine.

Olive oil may not be the oil most used for frying (although in Greece it is), but according to the British press the demand for olive oil in England is now so high that the country may be to blame for southern Mediterranean countries becoming deserts. Harvest machinery and water are the main requiremments when producing cheap oil for supermarkets. Because of the increasing demand, big companies buy olive groves but don't care about the environment and the landscape, using lots of water and chemicals for an increased harvest. This already happens in Italy and Spain, but not so often here in Greece.

Greek olive oil is internationally increasingly regarded as an excellent oil, just as the Lesvorian olive oil wins more and more international prizes. Here on Lesvos those machines driving over the trees to harvest the olives are still a distant nightmare. Although I can imagine that for some Lesvorians these machines would be a dream come true, because they make for less work and eventually they will earn you more money. As with the increase of organically grown olives. That is not done because of a better quality or because it's good for the environment, but most Lesvorians do this because you earn more money from organic olives.

Luckily enough Greeks are not good investors in new machinery or in new energy. So old traditions like picking olives by hand, will not quickly be lost. In the case of traditional production, olive oil can even earn them a big advantage. The Lesvorian oil keeps its good quality and there is a growing group of people who want better quality (I don't trust the quality of olive oil produced by the big companies).

Greece could have been as rich as any oil producing country: it has enough energy resources. But it prefers to be fooled by unreliable Russia (by the way, not only Greece) in signing contracts for big oil pipelines from Russia. If the Greeks dared to invest, they would not have to be so dependent of countries with oil and gas. Windmills, solar energy, cars driving on olive oil, why is it that Greece is not full of these things?

They also have plenty of geothermal energy which is currently hardly exploited, mostly just for growing asparagus and tomatoes. Just look at Lesvos and its thermal springs. It's full of boiling energy here under the ground and the only thing they do with it is exploit some thermal baths and those also are not used to their full for health care: some Lesvorians can be as stiff as can be because of rheumatism, you will never get them into the healing waters of a hot spring.

Maybe that will change, because last week the prime minister of Greece, Kostas Karamanlis, had a long conversation with Geir H. Haarde, the prime minister of Iceland. They didn't only talk about economic and tourist exchanges, but also about geothermal energy, a resource that Iceland uses as much as possible.

Karamanlis accepted an invitation to visit Iceland. Will he then realise what a treasure geothermal energy can be? The Greeks refuse to learn from their neighbour Turkey. It was the Turks that made the hot springs on Lesvos popular. Maybe the Lesvorians will not use the baths because they think it's a Turkish tradition. Turkey has exploited for years already its geothermal sources. Hundred and thousands of households there are heated by hot water coming from the ground.

So it's time that somebody convinced the Greeks that there is gold under their soil. Lesvos could become important because the island is so rich in thermal springs. Hot water for central heating, spa centres for tourists, heated greenhouses for vegetables and flowers.

Why should we continue to pay huge bills to the electricity company and keep on pumping expensive fuel into our cars, while there is plenty of energy under our houses and cars can run on waste products or (allegedly) water (on the internet you can order a book that apparently tells you exactly how to convert the engine of your car so that it can run on water)? Greece could be a very rich country, because of its volcanic soil and all the hours of sunlight it gets. It's time that Greek scientists stood up to educate the people. The Greek scientists/philosophers of early times are still venerated like gods, but the modern scientists are kept out of the picture by political shenanigans.

Copyright © Smitaki 2008

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

I cry for you, Greece

While many fires still rage through Greece, a state of emergency has been declared for the whole country and there are three days of mourning. Those three days are already nearly finished, the number of victims keeps on increasing and new fires still flare up daily. This disaster is not to be rectified with three days of mourning. This is a disaster such as has never been seen before in Greece.

From Saturday onwards TV stations showed non stop not only the terrible images of the fires, but also intense discussions between notables and anchor women, apparently not disturbed at all by phone calls from mayors desperately begging for help, describing how close the fire had approached their village, and angry people who didn't understand why nobody was coming to help them.

Words and images on TV are not enough to portray this huge disaster. Even the numbers of the ongoing outbreaking fires cannot describe it. Headlines shout: "Greece is burning!". Greece is crying.

Because you cry when you see villagers and homeowners desperately fighting against huge flames that threaten their properties: they fight with branches, buckets and garden-hoses, but in most cases in vain...

The government has stopped commenting. They themselves are now under fire because of the emergency service failures. Premier Karamanlis blames it all on arsonists, but no way do I believe that all fifty or so new fires that break out each day are the work of unscrupulous people.

The Greek government should be ashamed. Not only the current governing party, Nea Demokratia, but also PASOK. They ruled the country for years and are also responsible for this failing system that could not save people, homes, animals and land quickly enough.

In a Dutch book, 'Oriste, een reiswijzer Griekenland' (Oriste, a travelservice Greece) published by Teleac-Not in 1999 on page 154 they write about the fire brigade: "One of the developments to be concerned about is the increase in the number of wild fires and the failing fight against them. Until recently the forest administration was responsible for this, but now the responsibility has been transferred to the fire brigade. Fights between the two services, poor equipment, combined with often high temperatures, are not contributing to safe woods. It is as well to know that in a dry country such as Greece a thrown cigarette stub can cause an enormous disaster."

The Greek government only thinks of public enemy number one: Turkey. They invest huge amounts of money in the military. They forget the other enemy: fire. On a day that Greece was hit with about 180 fires, there were a thousand firemen battling against the flames, helped by 20 planes and 19 helicopters. How can you try to get control of so many fires with so few people and so little equipment?

It's very easy to blame it on landowners who see their land worth more when the trees are gone or on real estate agents that see in burned land ideal building sites. Of course they are to blame for some of the fires. But I'm afraid there are other causes that a government of a modern country should have dealt with long ago.

Was the government ever concerned about the illegal rubbish dumps in the Greek landscape? On every walk you make you will pass at least one such illegal dump. There only needs to be a bottle that works like a magnifying glass and whoops, there's a fire. Did the government ever encourage the building of garbage plants so that all those legal garbage sites would disappear? Last year such a dump caused a big fire close to Thessaloniki releasing toxic clouds. That's never happened in Molyvos, but whenever in the autumn they set fire to the garbage dump in order to clean up the place, it's frightening. Not to mention all the toxic fumes that you have to endure for days.

Some news broadcasters also mentioned the electricity poles that spark. On Lesvos we also have these poles that spread sparks. We even have one just beside the house. Especially in winter time, when there is wind and rain, they can make firework displays. I myself once saw a fire that started like that. But happily enough that was in the winter when we could only dream of drought and heat.

So just as the Chinese are said to be the cause of the increasing price of milk in Europe, the arsonists are all to blame for the devastating fires in Greece. The government should be ashamed. In a few weeks, on the 16th September, there will be elections. Early in the weekend of the disaster, all the leaders of the biggest parties (Nea Demokratia, PASOK and KKE, the communist party) ceased their campaigning in order to visit the worst hit places. Now that the criticism really starts, they stay under cover, too afraid to make a wrong move. Part of the campaign money is to be given to the victims, but you can never tell how people in a rage will react.

The heat wave seems to be over, although the weather reports keep on forecasting hot weather. The fires are far from being extinguished. When the time comes for the Greeks to vote, then the full disaster of human misery, the destruction of the ecological and the economical systems can be fully seen. It is promising to be very hot election days.

Copyright © Smitaki 2007

Monday, 25 August 2008

Greek dinner for experts

The first time I was invited for an ouzo by Greek friends, it was late at night and being a Dutch I thought it would only be some ouzo accompanied by maybe a little bit of cheese. So I'd already had dinner at home and I didn't believe my eyes when one dish of food after another was piled onto the table! The little plate with some cheese, fish and bread that you get served with your ouzo in a taverna, clearly had nothing to do with a dinner in a Greek home.

'Drinking an ouzo' is the Greek way of having dinner. The dishes at the home tables in Greece don't differ too much from those in restaurants. In the restaurants you generally also get food from 'Mummy's kitchen'. If you're lucky, and especially around feast days, restaurants have a lot more than what's on their daily menu. A good piece of advice: ask what they have that day instead of studying the menu. You will get some nice surprises.

One of my favourite dishes for a feast day is the stuffed lamb (arnaki yemista). The lamb is stuffed with rice, small pieces of offal, raisins, pine nuts, cinnamon and other spices. The lamb must be prepared in a large oven and if you don't own a big one, local bakeries, like at Easter, open their oven for the public. However a lamb is best prepared in an outdoor wood stove. The day before the dinner you build a fire in the oven, let the oven heat for half an hour, then take out the glowing coals and insert the dish with the lamb, which has been anointed with oil and lemon, in a little bit of water. The next evening the lamb will be wonderful and tender, the stuffing perfect.

Another dish that is stuffed and sometimes available in restaurants (amongst others the second restaurant in Petri), is stuffed squid (kalamaria yemista). The rice gets a lovely sweet aroma from the kalamaria and the different spices such as orange peel.

Sea urchins (achinoes) are thought to be the best dish to accompany ouzo. You will rarely find them on a menu (the fish restaurant in Achladeri may have them from time to time). With a little luck a fisherman will offer you some on the beach, but best is when you collect them yourself. You can get a stick with a grabber, so you can safely pick them up. Then you need a kind of cutter in order to cut, like an egg, the sea-urchin. You clean them from the blubbery insides and you are left with the bright orange eggs, that have a wonderous salty taste that goes very well with the spicy taste of ouzo. Just as they douse everything with lemon, Greeks also like to put some lemon on sea urchins. I don't. I prefer it straight.

Shellfish (thalassina) are one of the specialities from the Gulf of Kalloni: venus shells (kidonia), mussels (midia), wild oysters (stridi), small St. Jacques shells (chtenia). Mainly all these gorgeous shells appear on the table in the winter in the restaurants around the Gulf of Kalloni and sometimes also in restaurants elsewhere. Greeks prefer to eat all shellfish raw, just like oysters. Also mussels. I don't like raw oysters so I always quietly ask the cook if he or she will cook them. No problem at all. At home I cook them like I cook Dutch mussels: with some spices and some wine, also I never eat the shells that remain closed after cooking.

When a farmer slaughters an animal he keeps the best parts for himself. That's why a beloved dish to accompany ouzo is rarely on the menu: lambs' testicles (ameletita) and sweetbread (glikadia) (sometimes you get it at restaurant Ellis in Anaxos). I get hungry just writing about this. They are prepared in lots of oil and they have a wonderful sweet and wild taste. Even better than the testicles themselves is the cooking juice. You can enjoy your ouzo for hours dipping you bread in this dish.

Liver (sikoti) is a dish that you see regularly on the menus. Greek people like to eat their meat well done, but liver is often served medium rare.

For the people that are shivering now because of all that I like to eat here on Lesvos, now comes a speciality that even I have problems eating: the head of a sheep (kefali provaton). Well, you do not eat it all, but the entire head is served on a plate, the skull a little opened so that you can easily spoon out the brains. The cheeks, eyes and the tongue are seen here as a delicacy. I am sure when you have had enough ouzo, you will see that it won't be a problem to enjoy this dish as much as your host.

Then I also want to mention the Patza. This is a fatty soup made of offal and it is the best cure for a hangover. Greeks eat the soup to prevent a hangover. In the big cities like Athens there are even special Patza restaurants, open all night and with huge crowds. Here in Molyvos sometimes you get the soup served at the home of Greek friends. After an abundant meal followed by masses of sweets, when I really cannot eat any more and the bottles are empty, there comes the big kettle with patza on the table! That is the moment when even I with enough ouzo in my stomach, cannot bring another spoon to my mouth, even if it was chocolate soup. The Greeks however all eat. Maybe you think now that the Greeks are heavy drinkers, but you don't often meet a Greek with a hangover...

Copyright © Smitaki 2008

Sunday, 17 August 2008

E-mails for Maria and churches of Lesvos

98% of Greeks are Greek-Orthodox. Of this 98% many regularly visit a church. The Ascension of Maria, on the 15th of August is the biggest Greek festival after Easter. Christmas follows as the third biggest.

But I must admit, when the Greeks celebrate, they do at least do more than just eat. They go to church and some of them sit out a service that can take hours. Pilgrimages are also still very popular. The most important date for pilgrims is the 15th of August. Then the majority of Greeks go to a Maria Church to honour the Virgin Mary.

One of the most important Maria churches in Greece is the Panagia Evangelistria on the island of Tinos. Last week thousands of people flocked there to kiss the famous icon of Maria Megalomatia (Maria with the big eyes). Time has not sttod still on this island: for the faithful who couldn't attend, there was an e-mail address and so the church received hundreds of e-mails for Maria, from people in Greece and abroad.

Also on Lesvos it was very busy at the popular places for the Maria festival. Last week thousands of people climbed the 114 steps that lead to the Glikofiloussa Church (Maria with the sweet kiss) on the huge monolith rock in Petra. It took some old women hours, but they were determined to do it. And believe me, such a climb in this heat crowns a pilgrimage.

Already, weeks before the 15th of August, pilgrims were welcomed in the Panagia church in Agiasos. The journey to Agiasos is seen as a pilgrimage: lots of people come on foot from Mytilini and some of the faithful do the last part, the path winding up into the village, on their knees. The church was built as a home for the centuries old icon of Maria Vrefokratoussa (Maria bearing the Holy child). This icon was brought to Agiassos at the end of the 8th century by Agathon the Efesus, a priest from Constantinople.

Agathon was banished to Jerusalem, but he wanted to visit the Byzantine empress Irene who had a famous collection of icons and lived on Lesvos because she was also banished. When Agathon arrived on Lesvos however Irene had just died and Agathon had to look for a safe place. He went into the mountainous area around mount Olympos and when he felt safe he revealed the treasure he was hiding: an icon of Maria painted by the apostle Luke. In the icon was written: "Mitir Theoe, Agia Son", which means mother of God, Holy Sion (Jerusalem was also called as Holy Sion at that time). So this is how this mountain village got its name.

The first church was built in 1170 upon the bones of Agathon. Soon some houses appeared and it became a hamlet that offered a safe heaven to Greeks fleeing the Turks when they conquered the island. In 1701 a sick Pasha was healed by the holy water of Agiassos and for this he ensured that the people from Agiasos were exempted from paying taxes to the Ottoman Sultan. This tax free paradise attracted a lot more people and so Agiasos became a prosperous town. By 1729 some 500 families were living in Agiasos.

In 1812 the church, together with part of the town went up in flames (yes, at that time as well there were disastrous fires). The sultan granted the rebuilding and when the money was raised they started the building of a wonderful new church. However, this church was soon destroyed by another big fire in 1877, which burned down the whole village. Both were rebuilt.

Present day Agiassos is also known for its wood carving and ceramics. When you enter the village, you are immediately confronted with shops that are filled from floor to ceiling with icons and ceramics. By the time you reach the church you will have seen all the saints of the island, as well as hundreds of different Marias and plates and vases in all shapes and colours.

And believe me, Lesvos does have a lot of saints. There are so many churches and little chapels and they all have their own story and are each dedicated to a saint. People still continue to thank a saint by building him or her a new church.

But they are never built as beautifully as they were in earlier times. Yellowed printed icons, or pictures behind glass in a kitschy frame replaced the valuable icons and wall paintings that were the decorations of the earlier times. Lots of those murals did survive. But only a few churches have the money to conserve these treasures in the proper way. One of my favourite paintings is the fresco in the church of the former monastery of Perivoli (on the way from Vatoussa to Andissa). This piece should be in a museum. It is from the 16th century and depicts a Heironymos Bosch like scene with sea monsters eating people. This colourful wall paining is not even protected by glass!

So I totally agree with the World Monuments Watch which on its 2008 list of the 100 most endangered sites of the world put Lesvos with its historic churches. 12 churches are on their list as a whole, from early Christian to 19th century. They do not name them but I am sure that the church of Perivoli is one of them.

The World Monuments Fund will save these sites from destruction, which can be caused by climate changes, wars and other threats, but also by bad restoration, as seem to be the case on Lesvos. Here they don't really know how to conserve. Imagine: around the 15th of August such a centuries old icon of Maria will be touched or kissed by thousands of believers. Wall paintings such as the one in Perivoli are not well protected against the weather, mosaic floors will be eaten away and some precious old icons stand unattended between kitschy modern icons.

In the big monasteries like the Lemonos Monastery close to Kalloni or the Taxiarchis Monastery at Mandamados they take care of their treasures. But who takes care of the treasures in the smaller and less popular churches? The mural paintings for example in Liota have nearly all disappeared... The rich but conservative Greek Orthodox Church should be ashamed that an international organisation has to take care about their treasures...

Copyright © Smitaki 2008

Monday, 11 August 2008

Summer hits

We are at the height of the summer. Athens has emptied out and most Greeks have gone to the seaside looking for some cool air. Not that you really have to find cool places: the north wind, even in the middle of August, brings chilly nights. July was the coolest for many years and the endless heat waves that last year aided the dramatic wild fires on the Peloponnese, have until now stayed away.

What cannot be said about the wild fires? Last week Lesvos was also on the daily list of wild fires in Greece. Last Wednesday, between Molyvos and Petra, opposite the Karuna complex, flames suddenly flew to heaven. The inferno didn't last long, but more than one inhabitant of the new Molyvos quarter Molywood (around the complex of Milelia) got a bad fright. Flames were fuelled by the wind and climbed quickly up the mountain. It was clear that they tried to reach over the mountains, towards the harbour at Petra. However it took the fire brigade, helped by a plane and a helicopter just a few hours to stop the flames and extuingish them. In the nights the flames tried to restart another fire, but they were smothered before they could grow into a threatening fire. In the morning the fire was declared to be over.

The next night however in the same area another fire broke out, this time near the reservoir. The fire was quickly brought under control.

Many rumours circulated about the cause. One said it was a farmer who repaired his tractor, which burst into flames, another said it was an arsonist, another said it was a stupid farmer burning some rubbish. It was said that the second fire was started deliberately (now with the investigation a week later, it's certain that there's some crazy person setting fires because these two fires were followed by another 4 smaller fires in the same area. The firebrigade is now on the alert day and night).

You'd better try to forget the fires and enjoy this busy summer month. Friday, the 15th of August, will be Annunciation Day of Maria, after Easter the most celebrated Holy Day in Greece. Days before pilgrims start flooding into Agiasos to pay their respect to the virgin Maria of the famous Panagia-Church in the middle of the village. And if you don't like crowds you'd better stay away from Petra as well, because its white Maria Church on the rock is another favourite destination for pilgrims.

Molyvos is also now full of people. Untill the middle of August the village was pretty quiet for the time of year and all the shopkeepers were complaining. This was not due to the municipality, which offered a full cultural programme, in case people were not satisfied with just sea and sun.

Besides some dance and theatre performances and several exhibitions it's the concerts at the castle of Molyvos that are the highlight of this programm. Last Friday night it was Panthelis Thalassinos who tried to play the stars from Heaven (a Dutch expression meaning playing a wonderful show). It was a cloudless night and the centuries old castle tried to hold its breath, but a merciless cold northwestern wind made the scene freezing cold and more than one in the audience was battling the cold instead of listening to the music.

A pity because Thalassinos' song 'Apo tin Petra sto Molyvos' is an evergreen for Molyvos. It is about a walk going from Petra to Molyvos and then barefoot on to Eftalou (from the first cd of the double album 'Stis kardias mou t'anoichta'). Another song, Karavia Chiotika, is about (ironically enough) the northwestern wind and boats coming from Chios that bring memories from a lost love of a Chiotic girl with a sweet mouth smelling the mastic. Thalassinos' music is wonderful. His music is somewhat melancholic, it mostly avoids the popular Greek rhythm of rebetica, but the music definitely makes you yearn for the Greek islands.

More traditional but popular songs will be performed at the castle by the female singers Melina Aslanidou and Rallia Christidou on the 23rd of August. You probably won't understand all they will be singing (although with Greek songs it's easy: most are about love), it will be an experience to sit under the stars in an old castle, listening to magical music.

The biggest summer hit however was the movie 'Mamma Mia'. In the whole of Greece and in the open air cinema of Molyvos tickets sold out pretty quickly. Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan (the James Bond actor) make the show, along with the merry songs of Abba and stunning Greek landscapes. These Greek images is why the movie is so popular here in Greece. As well as in an English studio the movie was made on the islands of Skopelos and Skiathos and in Pillion (mind you however, some of the beach scenes are filmed in California, Laguna Beach).

Finally last night it was mother nature that produced an impressive spectacle of light, sound and water. Yesterday early evening the show started above Turkey with a lightning show between the clouds. Hours later thunder joined in, first with a little rumbling but soon with thundering kettledrums. Rain started falling and with some breaks the whole spectacular event ran into the morning of the next day. Thanks to this loud concert I only got to sleep when daylight set in. Then I'd already spread tons of towels under several windows to keep the house dry. With the sound of a steady toc-toc of a leak that sounded like an out of tune triangle I finally slept...

Copyright © Smitaki 2008

Friday, 1 August 2008

Greek dinner for beginners

According to recent research 75% of Greeks are overweight. This places Greece at the top of the list of European countries like Spain, Portugal and Italy with overweighted people. I assume it cannot be because of the Mediterranean diet.

This week a French doctors organisation came to the the conclusion that the monks living on Mount Athos might be the healthiest group of people living in Europe. The monks in their centuries old monasteries live to be very old because they have almost no heart or lung disease. What is their secret? The Mediterranean diet. Most of them eat according to a tradition that is almost as old as their monasteries. They regularly fast, they don't eat too much meat and all vegetables, fruit, wine and olive oil mostly come from their own gardens.

Elsewhere in Greece modern life has struck and modern life also means fastfood.

I think that whenever you investigate in which parts of Greece they still eat healthy food, Lesvos will be somewhere at the top of the list. There is still only a small number of fastfood places on the island, just as there are still just a few big supermarkets. In almost all restaurants you can have traditional food and many restaurants use vegetables from their own garden. In Lesvorian homes it is mostly grandmother's dishes that appear on the table.

When you come for a holiday here and you want to get to know Greek life, you should also learn how to eat Greek. By that I mean the Mediterranean diet, which is rich with vegetables, pulses and olive oil. To have dinner in Greece means a social occasion: the more people join the dinner table the better.

Although there is always a list of starters on Greek menus, it doesn't mean they'll appear on the table first. Many tourists feel cheated when everything they ordered comes to the table in a random order. I always say: what's ready first in the kitchen, will appear first on the table. Nobody orders a dish for themselves, all dishes are to be shared. Having a good Greek dinner means you will have a table full of food.

A salad is a must in a Greek dinner. In the summer that will be the famous choriatiki (Greek salad), which is a salad based on tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, onions and feta. It's often sprinkled with local herbs like parsley, chopped rocket leaves, dried oregano, wild purslane and, not so often on Lesvos, but frequently on Chios, capers. The treat of a tomato salad however is on the bottom of the dish where olive oil and tomato juice mingle and where you dip in with a piece of bread (another compulsory element in a Greek dinner). Greeks are big dippers and many Greek dishes have wonderful juices (my favourite dip dish: chtapodi krassato!).

The Greek kitchen is known for its many vegetable dishes, so don't be afraid to order a lot: the portions are small and you have to share all of them: fried slices of aubergine (melitzanes tiganitès) or courgette (kolokithakia tiganitès), stuffed aubergine (imam), French beans (fasoles) or vegetable pies (pitas), that can have as main ingredients onions (kremidia), courgettes (kolokithia) or wild vegetables (chorta). Vegatables are also made into little balls (kolokithokeftèdes, melizanokeftèdes), also cheese balls (tirokeftèdes) and potato balls (patatokeftèdes). A Lesvorian speciality is stuffed courgette flower, cooked with a filling of rice (kolokitholoeloeda mè rizi), or fried with a stuffing of cheese (kolokitholoeloeda mè tiri). Then there are wonderful dips like yoghurt with cucumber (tzatziki), cod roe salad (taramosalata) and pureed aubergines (melitzanosalata).

No dinner is complete without cheese: a slice of fried cheese (ladotiri saganaki) or a spicy feta (tirokafteri).

There are several fish dishes that you can order as a starter: Shrimps in a tomato sauce with feta (garides saganaki), the famous fresh salted sardines (sardelles pastès), other salted fish like mackerel or tuna (lakerda pasto) and octopus cooked in wine (chtapodi krassato) or roasted on the fire (chtapodi psyto). I am wondering if the famous squid (kalamari) is a starter. Like the other cuttle-fish (soepia), that you will find regularly as a starter.

After ordering salad, other vegetables, cheeses and fish you have to think what main course you are going to have (but you can also just leave it at 'starters'). For the fish you rely on what they have that day. Even I don't always know all the names of the fishes they will tell you. In this case the best you can do is go into the kitchen and choose your fish. There is only one warning: the red mullet is a very expensive fish. The big fishes are grilled on a fire and served with a sauce of olive oil and lemon.

For the meat you can mostly choose between lamb chops (paidakia), lamb from the oven (arni sto fourno), an oven dish with veal and onions (stifado), sausages (loekanika) meat on a spit (souvlaki), meatballs (keftèdes), chicken (kotopoelo) or a beefburger (biftèki). A common misunderstanding is that you may think that a biftèki is a nice steak. I'm sorry to tell you that you rarely find steak on a traditional Greek menu. A biftèki is a kind of dry baked hamburger that has nothing to do with a real juicy steak.

There is mostly no mention on the menu of any dessert. You depend on the goodwill of the restaurant. After you've asked for the bill, or had the table cleared, the owner may put a dish with fruit, yoghurt with honey or other sweets on the table. In the high summer season this is mostly watermelon (karpouzi).

You have a Greek dinner with a glass of ouzo (well, one glass may not be enough), or wine (krassi) and lots of water (nerò). Rosé (rosè) is not so well known and beer (birra) is just good to get rid of your thirst.

This is just a selection from the regular summer dishes (in the winter you have different vegetables and fish). So don't hesitate ordering whatever you fancy (as long as you don't order red mullet or lobster the bill will be moderate). And don't feel shy about going into the kitchen when there is no display to show the food they have. Greeks also go into the kitchen to look at the food.

Having a Greek dinner is not only healthy because of all the different food, it should also be a happy gathering. So don't copy the modern Greeks that order pizza or hamburger but just order what takes your fancy. This is the best way to learn about Lesvorian food. When you don't know what to order, just look at the table of your neighbours and point out what you're interested in. You will see that the Greeks are happy to show you around the Lesvorian dishes.

Copyright © Smitaki 2008