Sunday, 23 September 2007
Cretan Food, Wine, Spirits and Organics
Ahh Cretan food! Of course the locals know it, that the Cretan diet is the best in the world, according to the World Health Organisation.
The locals just know, instinctively and via strong traditions, how to live life, and this includes how to enjoy good food.
Proudly, Crete now has one of the highest registrations of organic produce in all of Greece, which is a wonderful way of continuing land practices unchanged over centuries and ensuring healthy eating and a healthy planet.
Whatever your tastes, you will find something wonderful about Cretan food. Is it the atmosphere? Is it the air? The mountains? The soil? The fresh water? The Mediterranean? Is it the farmer or the cook? This will take a few hours of diálogo dialogue... so let’s pour another wine and discuss…
Dópio local, is a great Greek word to know if you are travelling. It can refer to just about any food or drink or preparation, and ensures your hosts know you want the real thing. Ask for dópio crassi local wine.
At a taverna you could simply say dópio fagitó… local food. Your hosts will know what you mean. At a fishing village of course ask for dópio psári local fish.
One of our favourites. Dakos whether you eat it for breakfast, lunch or as a snack any time of the day, always satisfies.
Village Food and Rhythms
In the village, the natural rhythms of the harvests influence what is fresh and natural to eat.
In October, the stafília grapes have been harvested and the sultanas dried, so each house has abundant quantities of sultanínas sultanas, bursting with the summer sun trapped inside.
After the grape harvest and the all important trip to the einopoiío οινοποιίo wine factory, the scrappy left-over grapes are made into mustalevriá. This sweet wholesome dish is traditionally made from the músta must, the squashed skins of the grapes left over from winemaking.
In the village in November, each breakfast was karídia walnuts as they were plentiful. Sometimes simply karídia and méli walnuts and honey.
Later in January, the trees were full of mandarínia so these sweet treats were a feature at most meals and coffee breaks.
After the grape harvest and the wine making, our kazáni is fired up. This is the local still, making a potent white spirit from the wine grapes. Many pleasant hours are spent sitting around the fire making tsíkoudia, which is a labourious process for those responsible, consisting of 10 minutes hard work followed by 2 hours of hard drinking.
Occasionally, to line our stomachs, we pop some potatoes in the hot coals and eat them steaming fresh from the fire. The sweet smell of the tsíkoudia made from the must of the grape harvest and wine production will always remind me of the fun and relaxing parea at the kazáni in our village…
After winter rains, hórta flourishes, and yiayias are busy out in the country lanes with their bags collecting the lush wild greens. There are actually many different types of hórta…getting to know them and how to cook them is one of the pleasures of life in the village, and learning about Cretan food.
As you sit relaxing in the kafeníon, don’t be surprised if a ruddy faced shepherd comes in bearing mizíthra fresh goat’s cheese from the mountains. This freshness is one of the great qualities of Cretan food.
Around Christmas time, those with squeamish stomachs should stay away from the butcher as he kills the pigs for the village. Our kafedzís, who used to be the town butcher, still performs this service in late December for all the families with pigs. As he knew I was squeamish, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, he would make the hand sign for cutting his throat and say na spháxo ta vorúnia – I am going to kill the pigs - want to come and watch? He never tired of making this joke and others which would always make me laugh, and him and the rest of the kafeníon laugh at my grimaces and squirms. Pork is a popular Cretan food.
One unusual tidbit for visitors to know about is gliká tou koutalioú, literally ‘sweet of the spoon’. These are preserves, usually home-made, served on a tiny plate with a tiny spoon to newly arrived visitors (at any time) or at a coffee date in the home.
These are a very handy thing for any Cretan (Greek) housewife to have in the cupboard, as the sugar preserves the fruit, it doesn’t readily spoil and is a handy fall back when ‘the cupboard is bare’. The flavours can be as varied as the gardens and orchards around the village, and also seasonal, we love the síca fig jam made with fresh figs.