F for Food, bien sûr! 😉
It has not been a very eventful week, food-wise. We’re travelling without the kids – pure luxury – and as a result, we can eat how and when we like, or not eat at all. Which is kind of a lot of what we did.
Hotel breakfasts… we’ve had fab to blah… and usually arrived just about when they were putting everything away (told you: travelling without kids).
Our guide book told us the Fresh Hotel in Athens had an excellent breakfast buffet, but it was totally classic and uninteresting when it came to taste, although there was a lot of stuff on the counters. I think the fresh orange juice was the best thing, the hot food and cold cuts were just about OK and the yoghurt was edible. Coffee was American, so not my cup of tea.
The Ardamis guest house in Monemvasia, however, served us a sit-down breakfast worthy of kings: hard-boiled egg, black olives, local sheep’s milk cheese and salmon (not very local, I’m sure 😉 ), excellent coffee and frothy orange juice straight out of the peel. The best part was clearly the Greek yoghurt, though, served with dried fruit (sultanas, figs, goji, black currants, red currants, blueberries…) and almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and liquid honey! And that’s only the bits I managed to identify.
Street food in Athens is cheap and good. You see signs for 1 Euro skewers everywhere, and sandwiches for 2. We stopped one afternoon at a tiny place I would not find again with a map and a compass, but there were a number of Greek men sitting and eating there, so we decided to do the same. We had lunch for 12 Euro for 2, with a Greek salad topped with an entire slab of good feta (not too salty and not one bit tough) and three different meat skewers with hand-cut chips. And beer. We said “Greek?” and he said “Yes. Stella!” Ha!
In Sparta, we stopped at Leonidas’s fast food and had a gyro sandwich. It was really tasty, and unlike the Greek bread I usually get, this one was soft and could have been eaten by an old lady with just her gums to chew.
For seriously fancy food – of the resolutely International kind – we went to the roof-top terrace of the Hotel de Grande Bretagne. Honestly, it could have been anywhere hot and international – Singapore, Rome, Bangkok – but the food was very nice, the service a perfect balance between attentive and discreet, the view spectacular (yes, that’s the Acropolis in the background). The bill was spectacular, too, so I pushed it over the table to the other half. It all comes out of the same account, but psychologically it’s easier to deal with ;-).
I am not a fan of sweets, so the many loukoums (Turkish delight) and honey-based or sugar-covered snacks sold everywhere didn’t tickle my fancy. At a friend’s house, her mother had made baklava, and that was good. I’m picky that way.
I have still to figure out what souvlaki is. Oh. Yannis tells me it’s meat skewers. OK. Souvlaki = brochettes. Silly me.
The mezze we ate have been familiar tastes from Lebanese or Turkish cuisine, so no spectacular discoveries there, either: aubergine purée, feta-stuffed patties, marinated chicken, olives, vegetables rolls wrapped in smoked meat, cheese-stuffed peppers…
One place worth visiting is the charming Edodimpolio delicatessen shop in the old town in Monemvasia. The cheerful and very enterprising owner will show you dried, pickled or marinated fruit and veg, let you taste olive oil and ambrosia, and tell you how one company unearthed the secret to making sweet dessert wine unique to Monemvasia, whose recipe and vinification tradition had been lost for 800 years due to the invasion by the Turks and the subsequent destruction of all the vineyards in the region. They even went to the European court of justice to defend their right to a controlled Regional Appellation of Origin – and won – and made the first vintage in 2010 in numbered bottles to celebrate the event!
Fotini also makes her own anti-wrinkle and anti-acne creams with local Aloe Vera and her husband’s extra virgin olive oil. She showed me her great-grand-mother’s oven-baked fruit liqueur (a French recipe, she claims – her great-grand-mother had French roots), and her grand-mother’s walnut Ouzo. She explained how her grand-mother shells and crushes walnuts and mixes them with sugar. Then she lets the mixture dry, bake and ferment on the flat roof of her house until it’s ready to be mixed with the Ouzo. She strains it through a cheese cloth and it’s ready to be bottled. I spent almost an hour tasting and chatting, and I am going to drag my husband there this evening, so he can taste and chat, too.
The best restaurant we ate in – and we ate there twice, with a lot of people, and got to taste and/or see a lot of different dishes as a result – was a discreet restaurant with impeccably tasteful decor and classy everything from quality building materials to Zwiesel crystal wine glasses to excellent table linens. Its name is Crisovoulo and it’s situated in the upper part of old Monemvasia. Their à la carte dishes are all excellent, plus they offer a set menu (two to choose from for each dish) with two starters, a main and a dessert for 35 euro. That is excellent value. Also, portions are generous, so the saffron risotto with squid in red wine sauce starter was a big as the main course of risotto with green asparagus and truffle oil at the Grande Bretagne roof terrace. They also have rooms. I can only imagine their breakfast…
A comment on Greek hospitality:
Everywhere we went, whether we stayed a long time or for only a few minutes, whether in Athens or a one-horse town, whether we spent much or little, we were always greeted with a big smile. Everyone was cheerful and helpful, and it was absolutely refreshing – literally as well as figuratively – as they put a glass of cool water in front of you before you even order. Everyone knows that Paris is famous for the surliness of the garçons of its street-side cafés, where you pay 3 euro for a cup of burnt espresso that is practically thrown at you. Not every place in France is like that, of course, but every place in Greece we visited was not. Despite the crisis, despite the upcoming referendum and the stress surrounding the possibility of a Grexit from the EU, the Greek people were their charming selves.