Local it up
Today I cooked. “… and?” you reply. Well having been on the travel trail in Europe for 2 months, the daily where and what to eat routine is gagging for a brief intermission. I do love being cooked for, inappropriately sticking my nose in the restaurant’s backstage to inspect what is hopefully an inspiring chaos of steaming pots and scooping ladles. I love trying it all. Smoked, shaken, confi’d, fried, scrambled, pickled, curdled and caramelised… eating is at least 51% of the experience (note. I won’t do marzipan, crumbed brains or coffee, yes coffee, it’s like licking the pavement).
I love to chef it up. Happiness is a hot frypan on the 20 burner Euro gas stove filling the kitchen with irresistible aromas of frying garlic, leeks and onions in local virgin press olive oil. I want the neighbours banging on the door offering themselves in exchange for a dinner invite. I’m ahead of myself though. To cook you need ingredients.
I jumped in the ‘say hi to Hyundai’, minus the usual 10 enviro green shopper bags and headed to the very local Livadi supermarket. This place hasn’t had any sort of make over – ever. The Yai Ya (they seem to run this town) at till number one would snap you in half if you tried to pilfer. Isle after isle I inspected jars of sticky sour cherries, vanilla flavoured sugar paste (ugh), almond and sesame halva, triple cream local honey infused yoghurt, freshly baked sesame dipped dry breads, sardines and anchovies in kalamatas and olive oil, and fetta cheese… beautiful local fetta cheese… moist without being Danishly creamy, salted to taste rather than kill a small horse. And then there’s the frozen seafood. Only in Greece will you find a whole small dog sized Octopus wrapped in plastic and shoved in with the artichoke hearts and broadbeans – like some creature from Ripley’s Alien ready to jump your face, waiting to be thawed, sliced, fried and devoured at the next family gathering.
Perhaps you’re expecting a 10 course run down of some Socrates inspired home-style degustation. I’m a man of simple Bistro style pleasures. Put freeze dried carrot and a julienne of vacuum cooked escargot in front of me and I’ll feign enthusiasm, but on the inside I just want slow roasted organic lamb shoulder with goose fat spuds, followed by lemon curd filled meringue with a scoop of passionfruit ice-cream. I’m booking a table for Glebe Point Diner the night I return.
Lunch was inspired by The Stone Soup’s five ingredients pledge. Tomatoes, fetta, lemon zest, olive oil and lemon juice. That’s it. No sound the trumpet truffle infused additions or dancing goats. Just the perfect Kapsali bay-view from my balcony, the autumn sun filtering through the scented pine trees, and a plate of effortless yum all for moi.
Dinner. Again I five ingredient’d it. Garlic, olive oil, zucchinis, tinned tomatoes, that small soup-stylebpasta I can’t remember the name of and crumbled fetta. I’m putting the fetta in a garnish category… like a Greek salt and pepper. A simple Southern European-esque risotto kind of dish. Bliss.
I hope I haven’t disappointed with lack of sophistication. If I was here for a few months the kitchen would of course take on temporary 2-hat status, stocked with spices, rices, wraps and pans, timers, weights and organic dates.
Where-ever you decide to explore, don’t just 3 x day dine out it. Get in amongst the local rhythm of wet markets, delicatessens, bakeries, chocolatiers, gelaterias, udon outlets, sushi trains, street stalls, tea emporiums, butchers, organic co-ops and olive oiliers (is there such a thing?)… there’s far more pleasure to be found in the backstreets of everyday life than you’ll ever find in Athen’s ‘bland at best’ Plaka offerings.