Thursday, 5 October 2017

Still There if You Look Hard Enough

My better half on the left, with some close friends of many years who visited the Platanos Taverna with us just last week.

The village of Lahania (sometimes spelt Lachania in the Roman alphabet) is a little hidden gem. I've written posts about it before, most of which contain photos. Here are a couple of links to these:

Lahania, a study in doorways
A Lazy Lahania Morning
Village Views

...and here a a few more shots taken off season...

It's rather sad, though, that in winter you can roam the village and hardly encounter a soul, since so much of the village is now either comprised of empty houses or properties given over to tourist rental, but the beauty of the place as an old traditional village is undiminished. Of course, you may be lucky enough to bump into the old 'retired' papas, George, who always has a sparkle in his eye and an offer of a free drink or slice of melon should you see him in the kitchen of his taverna (situated on the 'main' road through the upper part of the village) with his wife and son, preparing vegetables for the table.

But head down to the 'bottom' of the village to the old square with the restored church and clock tower and there, beneath a huge old plane tree you'll spot the tables and chairs spilling out of the Platanos Taverna, tucked away in the corner, almost as if it wishes not to be found. 

We ate there not long after first arriving here twelve years ago and it's changed a little since then. Yet still it is reminiscent to me of a bygone era, the days when the proprietor would scribble your bill in pencil on the paper tablecloth, when you'd be invited to go into the kitchen to chose your meal because there was no printed menu. In fact, the first time we went there that's exactly what happened.

Nowadays, of course, it would be illegal for the staff to scribble your bill from memory on the table cloth, often rounding it down once they'd written down all that you and they can remember. And they now have printed menus too, but for all that the feel of the place is 'old Greece', the days when tourism here was in its infancy. It has no sea view, but part of its terrace does overlook a wonderfully unspoilt hinterland valley that contains precious little of anything that's man-made. Eat there in the twilight of the early evening late or early in the season and you're liable to witness a few deer emerging from the shadows to go foraging amongst the wildness.

If you want to get a feel for the place, do click this link and take a look at some of the photos on their website's gallery page. Sitting at a table in the corner of the square though, is a quintessentially Greek experience. All around you is history, speaking to you from the old fountain set into the wall on the other side of the square, from the whitewashed walls of the houses and courtyards, from the old church with its tower that stands beside the taverna. Just up a narrow lane is the old olive press.

Eating at the Platanos you have to realise that they still serve up the food in the traditional way. Greeks have always eaten from the common plate. It's a habit that goes back centuries, in fact to Bible times and beyond [check out 1st Corinthians 5:11], and it's a very important way of demonstrating friendship. If you eat around a table and each one present picks their food from a common plate it signifies that you are all friends, you are viewed as family. You don't eat with enemies when you share the common plate. Thus, whatever you order is prepared with this custom in mind. We foreigners are so used to eating out and ordering our own starter, main course and dessert, but this isn't how the Greeks do it. They'll order a selection of dishes, all of which will be placed in the centre of the table and everyone tucks in from there. That's why Greek restaurants, at least the genuine ones, always start with an empty plate at each place. You fill that plate from what's before you in the middle of the table. Everyone around that table has all the food in common. 

Thus, we ate last week at the Platanos with a family of good friends with whom we go back many years. In fact the children will not thank me for telling you that Maria [Yvonne] and I remember them all too well as tiny toddlers, whereas they're now in their twenties. If you order, say, moussaka or pastitsio in a tourist restaurant, it'll come very much à la Johnny foreigner mode, with a few vegetables on the plate too, maybe a little salad, more than likely with chips [fries, guys]. In the old traditional way it'll come on a plate all on its lonesome. That's because you'll have already ordered a plate of salad, maybe some vegetables like gigantes, fasolakia, you get the idea. Your fellow diners will want a slice too in all likelyhood. But then, since all the food is in common that's OK, that's fine. It's how it's done.

Remember, too, that in a traditional taverna they'll have cooked something different from the menu every night. Thus the waiter who brought us our menus proceeded to show us from the dishes listed which were 'on' that evening and which were 'off'. This is why it often pays still to ask to go into the kitchen and have a look. They don't mind in the least. Just don't utter a groan of dissatisfaction when you see that some dishes aren't 'on' when you go, it's how they do things and it's proof that the food is indeed all home-cooked. Go another night and something else will be 'on'.

Thus our friends, who were eating at the Platanos for the first time, encountered a steep learning curve. I'm happy to say, though, that they all thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and the size of the helpings, and were soon into the spirit of the thing. We order bottles of Retsina, which as you'll probably know usually comes in 500ml sizes rather than 700 or 750, the regular wine-bottle size. With all of us well stuffed and after three bottles of Retsina plus a couple too of water, the entire bill for six people came to a few cents over €67. Needless to say, we left €75.

So, if you're ever in the south of Rhodes and can navigate your way to the square at the bottom of the village of Lahania, I can recommend the Platanos taverna. Only - just remember, don't expect your food to come all dressed up with side salad or vegetables. Why not try it the Greek way anyway? order up a selection of dishes and then all tuck in together. You'll not only be eating the true Greek way, you'l be cementing a fast friendship between one and all.

PS. This is the sign that greets you when you visit the loos at the Platanos...

I didn't say that!!

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