Wednesday, 15 August 2012

A Tale of Two Tavernas, or "In the Interests of Research" part 3 (Photo added Aug 24th)


We'd begun our little mini-break on the Saturday evening, August 4th, by taking the two or three kilometre walk to Angelaki's Taverna (pic above), on the main road between Kiotari and Gennadi. It's not perhaps the ideal location for a taverna, but they do make the best of their position. Situated as it is on a rural section of the main road through Kiotari, on the right hand side as you head South towards Gennadi, another two or three km down the coast, it's not difficult to find. The traffic noise, not that it's like a motorway or anything anyway, is alleviated deftly by a low double-wall in front of the taverna's terrace in which there's a thick planting of green shrubs and climbers, which have the effect of taking your attention from the road and keeping it focused on the modest terrace and the recently constructed sturdy wooden canopy, over which are laid interwoven dried rushes to keep your head from the Greek sun during daylight hours, above your head.

Angelaki's has no pretensions. It's very basic and the better for it. It's terrace is rough concrete screed and the building itself is an old flat-roofed cottage with those 1960's metal framed windows and doors still in place. To the right, though, is a recently renovated and enlarged BBQ area with a healthy fire crackling away in a white-painted traditional stone open-fronted oven, plus charcoal glowing under the grill all ready for meats and fish to be gently softened and infused with that beautiful aroma that only the real old wood/charcoal embers can give it.

The tables are of that very basic, square plywood variety that some Greek chippie's been turning out for decades to grace the front of a trad taverna and they're just fine for that fact. Plus, always pleasing to my eye - the table cloths are blue and white check, perfect. The chairs, too, are the traditional raffia type taverna chair that numbs your bum or legs after a while, but are a must-have if a taverna's to live up to its "traditional" epithet.

There is actually a rather sad story behind this taverna, one which has had us wanting to make this visit for some considerable time. We were glad that we'd finally made the effort. Angelaki herself is not very old, probably in her late forties I'd guess. I can't say that we know her all that well, but we have passed by and chatted with her and her hubby whilst they tended their vegetable patch and orchard, which is right beside the taverna along the roadside, during wintertime and they'd always made sure that we carried some produce away as we'd bade them goodbye. Her late husband was a dab hand with fridges and freezers, probably washing machines too I shouldn't wonder. Sadly, he died a couple of years back without prior warning. It was all very sudden and left Angelaki devastated. They'd not long closed the establishment as a taverna, probably because it had involved a lot of toil and long hours by comparison with what hubby could earn fixing white goods for local people. I distinctly remember one winter once having a chat with them inside the building and noticing an electrical point in the wall which sported that many adapters that I couldn't count how many wires eventually led from it to the various appliances which were drawing their power there. I reckon the island's power station must have registered a dip in current if all that lot had been switched on at the same time. How it hadn't caught fire was a mystery to me and I well expected to drive or walk by some time soon and see the charred remains of the building smouldering beside the road.

After her husband died it wasn't many months before the place once again opened as a taverna, as it appeared that she was out of options as to how else to make a living, now that she was a widow. The locals from Kiotari, Gennadi and Asklipio all supported her and now it's not unusual to pass by the place on a Saturday evening and see it packed with them, their cars all parked higgledy-piggledy fashion on the dirt and gravel parking area beside the barbecue.

Does her cuisine merit such support? That was the question which your intrepid reporter and his beautiful wife (she might read this folks!) wanted to find out. So we arrived at around 9.00pm on the Saturday evening in question and sat down among the tables, about half of which were occupied. Out came a shortish bloke with a willing expression but not much personality to stretch the expected paper table cloth across the top of the blue check, at an angle so that the check still showed in triangles at each corner. He secured the paper cloth with four wooden clothes pegs in the corners and asked what we'd like to drink.

Drinks ordered, we perused the menu as well as our fellow diners. To my left were two teenage Greek girls, probably related to the family we guessed. To my right, behind Y-Maria sat a family of Greeks. Good sign. Further away to my left at a perimeter table sat a young Greek family, the husband of which we recognised but I couldn't for the life of me tell you from where. As we sat ruminating over what to order, two middle aged couples entered from the parking area to my right (I was sitting with my back to the road, facing the building) and sat down at a central table not a few feet in front of us. They sounded like Italians and they seemed to know what they wanted.

Once the diminutive waiter (friends later told us he's probably one of Angelaki's brothers or her brother-in-law) had returned we started to list what we'd like to eat. We asked if the revithokeftedes (chick pea fritters/rissoles) were on and received the reply that no, they were off. Hmm, shame. What about kolikithokeftedes (courgette fritters/rissoles) then?  Yup, they were OK. So he scribbled that down as we proceeded with our next request, oven-baked mushrooms with cheese and garlic sauce. Nope, off too.

At this point I'll tell you two things. One: Some years ago I distinctly remember a taverna somewhere on Samos where so much was "off" that I was tempted to ask, "Shall I go get a postage stamp and you can write a list of what's actually 'on'?!" and two: If a taverna claims to be indeed of the "traditional" variety, to discover that quite a few things are "off" is actually a good sign. "Why's that?" you cried (you did, didn't you?). The answer is simple, if they've got an extensive menu and everything's "on" then you know it's a pretty safe bet that it's all frozen and about to be popped into a microwave before being presented at your table as freshly-prepared traditional cuisine. When various items are "off" it means that the food is indeed cooked fresh and that the cook or chef hasn't prepared such dishes on that particular day. What is on though, is much more likely to indeed be freshly prepared by hand and thus much better tasting. Not to mention much better for you.

So, the short guy who almost smiled once or twice, eventually brought us patates fournou, some delicious fava, those courgette fritters (or rissoles, whatever), some lightly toasted and herb-sprinkled village bread and a dish of spinach and cheese balls.

Our verdict? Well, obviously we didn't touch the meat, but the four Italians did. They were served up with a bunch of bottled beers, huge plates of grilled chops or something similar and patates tiganites (chips!) - not exactly the most nutritious meal we'd ever seem anyone devour. But it all disappeared, so perhaps it was an indication of how well Angelaki prepares her char-grilled meats, who knows? Well, those four Italians do obviously. We always shudder when we don't see anything green or red on a plate full of food. Still, it was their choice, perhaps they're ambitious and aspire to colon cancer or heart disease some day. Looked from their physical appearance (both blokes and ladies) like they were half-way there to be honest.

We thoroughly enjoyed our meal and the fava especially was superb. A perfect complement of the delicious toasted village bread.

So, to taverna number two. On Monday evening after those few hours on Kolumbia beach we drove up to Psinthos. To reach this village you have a choice of approaches, depending entirely of course on where you're coming from. But it is a village up in the hills and so every approach road is "curly" or "twisty-turny" (I prefer "curly"), just be ready for that. The shortest of these curly roads is the one from Afandou, which is the way we chose to go when driving home. But we approached it from the Epta Piges (Seven Springs) road between Kolumbia and Arhipoli, since we were wending our weary way up there from Kolumbia Beach.

Although the 15km or so drive from the junction just outside Arhipoli is very, very (and a few more "verys") twisty, it is newly surfaced and the countryside very beautiful. Doing the trip as we were, just an hour before sundown, was the perfect time light-wise, the hillsides taking on a vibrant ochre glow as the last fiery rays of the sun struck them at a shallow angle. You eventually enter the village (seemingly miles after first seeing the sign) from the South in the bottom left-hand corner of its very pretty central square. I'd go as far as to say it's arguably the prettiest inland village on the island. The square is on a gentle slope, has several rather attractive trees in its central area and is surrounded by a small perimeter road which is lined with a choice of tavernas and bars. There stacked near a low wall around the square were a few piles of plastic chairs, bearing promise of some village function or other just past or still anticipated, at which, of course, there would be dancing. If this link works you'll find a selection of photos from Google of the village square. Just zoom right in then drag the little man to one of the blue spots on the aerial photo.

We parked up and walked into the centre of the square. At this point you could do an eenie meenie miney mo, but, after sitting and gazing around us for a few minutes, we decided to walk around the plateia and take a peek at the menus on offer. It ended up being a choice between the Stolidi tis Psinthou [lit: "the decoration of Psinthos", but would most probably translate into English as "The pride of Psinthos"] and the Plateia, which eventually won out because of the conversation which ensued as we examined their respective menus.Talking to the woman who runs the establishment, along with her husband Dimitris (we didn't catch her name, sorry), who's only in her thirties, we told her, after she'd run through a list of the meat dishes which were "on" that we were vegetarians.

"No problem," She replied, "My mother will do you a vegetarian moussaka if you like. Made freshly for you, if you want to order it." We'd been looking at the moussaka option and really fancied it for a change. So, with such an offer "on the table" as it were, we sat down. My wife then began suggesting that we not look across the way to the staff at the "Stolidi", since they were still without clientele and could see us plain as day now we'd made our choice. I tried to assure her that they surely lived in the real word and knew that "you win some, you lose some" but had to admit to hoping that they'd soon attract some custom and thus have their attention drawn from us, since we'd almost succumbed to their charms but told them that we still wanted to look around a little more before making a decision.

So, what did we order? We started with a lettuce salad, since we almost live on "Greek" salad every day at home. "Just a lettuce salad please," we said. She brought us a huge stainless steel platter laden with shredded lettuce and sliced red onions, enough for a meal for two in itself. We also plumped for the homemade ("My mother's own recipe, again, made freshly to order" said our host) revithokeftedes, of which she brought us six, all of them huge. They were so huge that we asked for a doggy bag for the ones which we couldn't eat, which she was glad to supply. In fact she wrapped them in aluminium foil for us and we enjoyed them the following day at home. To go with the above, we ordered a plate of patates tiganites and the homemade veggie moussaka.

As you'd expect, the moussaka and revithokeftedes took a while to come, which was further evidence of their being prepared freshly to order. In the meantime we were content with my beer, Y-Maria's G&T and the lettuce salad, chips (freshly hand-cut and evidently fried in olive oil) and the lightly-toasted village bread which the owner had brought us, much like the bread we'd eaten at Angelaki's a couple of nights before. Also, quite like the bread which George had done for us at the Pelican's Nest back in the March.

The revithokeftedes, some of which came home with us. You can see that huge lettuce salad to the right.

Those chips (Yup, American friends, those are chips!!) were simply TDF

The delicious home-made freshly prepared moussaka, every last vestige of which we got outside of, all in your interests of course!! (sorry about ending that phrase above with a conjunction)
While we were quietly devouring this sensational food, a little old ya ya, who'd been sitting on the wall outside the church nextdoor, came shuffling past and we bade her good evening. This was all she needed to stop and begin a conversation with us.

"Where are you from?" She asked with a smile. We told her the usual: living in Kiotari, been here seven years, mother-in-law from Athens and so on. Our host spotted this chat in its early stages and made as if to shoo the old lady on, but we assured her that it was fine. We were happy to talk with this lady from the village. She told us with very little prompting all about her life. How long she'd now been a widow, what it had been like during the war years. How she remembered when electricity first came to the village, running water too. Of course, as with all of her generation, my mother-in-law included, she spoke Italian. When the Italians had ruled these islands between the wars all the children had to be schooled in the Italian language, not Greek. Many of the girls weren't even allowed to go to school. But her abiding memory of the Italians is of a nice, cultured people. Most of the imposing buildings along Mandraki harbour were built by the Italians, many roads and bridges too. "They did many good things for us." she said. This brought to mind the story of Captain Corelli's Mandolin [don't see the movie, read the book], in which the impression one was given was that the Italian soldiers were rather reluctant conquerors who much preferred to eat pasta and sing opera than make war. They used to try and get the Greeks to join them in the village squares for cultural evenings and evidently, with the passing of time, they enjoyed a measure of success too.

After she'd described some of the hardships which she'd endured through her eighty-something years, she filled up a little and reminisced about the fact that, for all of its simplicity, life was better decades ago. Eventually, we bade her good evening and she moved along. Once she'd gone our host turned up to ask if she'd been a nuisance. "No," we assured her, "we'd enjoyed meeting the lady. She was no trouble at all."

"It's just that, well, she's a bit forgetful these days and you may find yourselves having to answer the same questions every few minutes. Didn't you find that?"

"Not at all." We replied. "In fact she was very interesting to talk to."

When we'd almost finished eating and the square had come to life, the sky had darkened to an inky black, punctuated as ever by gem-like stars, an illuminated cross had appeared atop the hill to the North of the village and children were playing in the plateia, safe in their home environment, we called for our bill and thought about making the journey back to Kiotari. Who should come along from the other direction this time but the old lady we'd conversed with. After we'd once again greeted her, she stopped, approached our table and asked with a smile, "Where are you from?"

3 comments:

  1. If your intention is to 'sell' Rhodes on behalf of the Ministry of Tourism, John, you are doing a remarkably good job. Could you push negotiations with Ryanair please to ensure they renew and extend their services to the island? I'm sure you'd be very successful. As for the Italians in Angelika's, to be fair, their meat was probably red once upon a time! Fingers crossed for our next trip, just the eye op to get out of the way next week and October should see us trying a selection of new (to us) tavernas.
    Vicki

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  2. That looks like one hell of a good moussaka John.

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    1. That's 'cos it was!! We were well impressed.

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