Tuesday 7 May 2013

Pizza, Souvlaki, Greek Salad and Iced Coffee; Crete!

My trip began rather unconventionally, with a fly in to Paris, Luton and then Chania, Crete, all of which was done within 24 hours. This is the beginning of what I refer to as my “Grand Tour”, although hardly a conventional this trip, this little adventure has already taken me to London and I’m heading to Edinburgh as I write this (Edit: this was published from Istanbul). The next few weeks will see Shannon and I off to Istanbul then up to Copenhagen, Malmo and Paris on a trip that has been in the planning for years and one which totals 5 weeks in execution.

While the majority of the trip, starting from London, includes both Shannon and I traveling together, Crete was somewhat different. Having headed off early I met my two good friend Russ and Becca in the UK and we hopped over to Crete to stay in the apartment that was graciously lent to us by his uncle Lee.
Greeted with middling to gorgeous weather our time in Crete was more vacation than adventure. Whereas Russ and Becca were still suffering through the writing of their dissertations, I was recovering from mine. We were also quite far from urban centers and did not have a car at our disposal. This of course is all an excuse to mention that I spent most of my time in Crete, eating drinking and swimming in the Mediterranean (when it was warm enough).

The juiciest part of this little blurb is of course the food! What was it like? Absolutely great! Healthy, light and extremely fresh, we lived mostly off Greek salad, souvlaki and tzatziki. Crisp fresh cucumbers, juicy tomatoes (that actually taste like tomatoes!) and smooth Greek yogurt became constant features of our diet. We were also constantly spoiled by extremely affordable and delicious feta (we ate three large blocks in 5 days) and we had fantastically smooth red onions. This leads me to mention that if you’re staying in Crete, I recommend renting a place with a kitchenette, the island’s bounty of fresh produce and delicious olives will keep you  more than satisfied.

The Becca poises to strike at the wild Greek Salad

In the pastry, bread and dessert department, Crete did pretty well. As in many places, croissants were a common feature in bakeries and as with many places, many of them were palatable at best, being made largely with pastry shortening instead of butter. We did however find some decent ones at the bakery, Montepno, in our little town. These butter croissants were a tad too sweet, being stuffed with oodles of Nutella but this turned out well when washed down with their delicious iced coffees. Regular croissants and other pastries were also available, however most native greek pastries were savoury when I wanted something sweet so they kind of flew under my radar as we only had breakfast out twice (oops!). However, the baklava was as good as usual, tasting pretty much identical to the ones found at home.  The bread was alright but it hardly blew my socks off…except of course for the pita bread! Fresh, steamy and warm, the pita bread in Crete was to die for but must absolutely be eaten fresh.

 It lost much of its appeal a day later.
While on the island we found ourselves tempted (a shameful three times) by the lovely pizza of nearby restaurant Nesaki. While the fare was very simple it was extremely fresh and quite addictive. As implied by our constant return to the place we really enjoyed the friendly ambiance and perhaps most of all the pizza. The end of the meal at Nesaki was consistently drawn to a close with a complimentary offering of Raki and dessert which we politely downed with the loud “yamas!” expected of us, cautiously  keeping in mind the saying: “one raki, two raki, three raki, floor!”. Although the pause between the main meal and the raki sometimes bordered on excessive, we still loved out time there at the affordable rate of around 32 Euros for tzatziki, bread, a large pizza, wine, dessert and raki, enough to comfortably feed three people. If you ever happen upon this wee restaurant, I especially recommend their garlic bread, tufts of pizza dough coated in a liberal soaking of fantastic Cretan Olive oil and garlic and then blasted in a pizza oven until perfectly crispy and chewy.

Last but not least, the typical Greek souvlaki was omnipresent throughout Cretan menus.  The one time where we had it from a restaurant was in a touristy restaurant in the bay of Chania where it was somewhat dry and left me rather rather cold (something which was  possibly reinforced by the fact that they charged us two euros each for bread, ack!). The souvlaki that we made however, and cooked on our charcoal grill was delightful!

The recipe off the top of my head went something like this:
Souvlaki with Tzatziki:
For souvlaki:
-5-6 cloves garlic
-1/4 -1/2 tsp. salt
-Freshly ground pepper to taste
-About one pound of fresh pork
-Juice of one lemon
-a liberal drizzle of olive oil
-a few spoonfuls of greek yogurt
- Dried basil or oregano (optional and to taste)
The direction itself are rather simple, crush the garlic, cube the pork, juice the lemon and combine all the ingredients in a bag or container. Leave to marinate for at least a few hours or overnight, skewer and grill!
Half of a large cucumber
3-4 cloves garlic
1 ½ c. or so of greek yogurt
Salt, pepper and lemon to taste
Directions: Split and core the cucumber, dust liberally with sea salt and let sit for a few hours to drain. The salt dehydrates the cucumber preventing your tzatziki from being liquid. The best way to do this is to coat as much of the inside of the cucumber with salt as possible and let it sit. After it has reduced substantially in volume, rinse it quickly in cold wated and, pat dry and chop coarsely. Incorporate it into the yogurt with the garlic and season with liberal amounts of salt. Consider adding pepper or lemon if you wish!

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