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Saturday, 8 September 2007

Paleohora cuisine (Η Παλαιωχωρίτικη κουζίνα)

We just spent three days in Paleohora, a favourite coastal reosrt town southwest of Hania in Crete. The area is still underdeveloped compared to the northern side of the island, helped by the long and winding stretch of road that you need to drive through to get to the other side of the island; this explains why I didn't find any photos on the internet of the restaurants that we went to. This underdevelopment does not detract from its charm; in fact it serves to make it one of the prime Greek holiday destinations of the mid-life crisis-hitting northern Europeans, especially among Brits and Germans who want to get away from the rat race world they live in. Unfortunately, a Cypriot-interest leisure lifestyle consortium has recently bought up a barren piece of land nestled among the hills surrounding the area, and life there is already ringing in modern changes. The cuisine offered in its restaurants - which were all busy, even in early September - covered the whole gamma of international food, with an extra focus on local cuisine. We ate out twice a day during our holiday, and were never diasappointed.

On Wednesday, after a dip in the crystal clear (albeit icy cold) blue sea at Grammenos Beach, we sat at Ostria by the long stretch of sandy beach known as Pahia Ammos: soutzoukakia, horta, roast chicken and potatoes, yemista and beef stew. Total cost with two barrel beers served in ice-cold glasses and soft drinks for the children: 34 euro. Isn't that rather cheap? My husband agreed. In the evening, we ate at Porto Fino pizzeria, which was located on the other side of the promontory which makes up Paleohora, by a stony beach called Votsala: puttanesca spaghetti and a medium sized pizza with the works, downed by some more barrel beers, also served in ice-cold glasses. Cost: 11 euro. We couldn't resist an ice-cream for dessert. The main gelaterie served large scoops of ice-cream in wafer cones. We all tried different flavours of ice-cream, at a cost of 7 euro for six balls in total. Our family of four was dining out on three courses of well-cooked, beautifully-presented meals for 13 euro a head at the most romantic locations in the area.

On Thursday, we swam at Pahia Ammos and sat down for lunch a stone's throw away from the rocky beach at Votsala at To Kima (= The Wave), a restaurant owned by the parents of two of my former students: stewed fresh green string beans, giant white beans in red sauce, youvetsi (lamb cooked with rice pasta) and meat patties with fried potatoes. This cost only 26 euro with two big glasses of barrel beer and soft drinks for the kids. Needless to say, all the restaurants in Paleohora have a separate fridge for keeping their glasses as cold as ice, and they all serve beer from the barrel. My husband thought the food here was lacking in olive oil, the main constituent of all Greek food, but I have a feeling that there were at least two good reasons for this: the customers were mainly foreigners who find olive oil too heavy for them and have nevertheless learnt to use it sparingly; in any case, I thought it was much healthier to eat food that wasn't drowning in olive oil as is usually the case with Greek cooking. It meant that you were more likely to eat the food being served to you rather than mop up the remaining olive oil-based sauce on your dish with the spongy fattening peasant bread that is always served at Greek restaurants, whether you ask for it or not, along with a jug of water, which these days comes in the form of a bottle of water which you get charged for.

After a traditional Cretan meal, you need a cool shower and a siesta before you go out again for the evening, when the air is cooler and more bearable. When we left the hotel in the late afternoon, the wind had changed direction and was blowing hard. We climbed up the Venetian fortress called Fortezza, and after a walk round the promonotory, we recided to return to Porto Fino, because it really was the best place at the best location for a light family meal. Puttanesca was served once again, this time with Vienna schnitzel accompanied by mushroom sauce and a chef's salad, washed down by those famous beers again. When the bill came (21 euro), we were also treated to blackcurrant granita in shot glasses. For dessert, we had some more ice cream from the gelateria and cream cake (5 euro). Again, 13 euro a head as the total cost of the day.

On Friday, we got up later than usual so we went out for brunch at Votsala cafe: tradtional Greek salad, a large vegetable omelette, strained yoghurt with honey and fruit, toasted sandwich, orange juice and coffee, all for 16 euro. After a few hours of swimming and fishing at Grammenos beach, we felt quite hungry in the mid-afternoon, but we only wanted something to snack on because we wanted to go out in the evening. Alas, nothing was open, except for a creperie and some souvlaki joints. What we really wanted was a baguette sandwich or a donut, but these places close down in the midday heat; who wants to eat then anyway? For 10 euro, we had some gyro souvlaki (otherwise known as a hero sandwich) in pita bread, club sandwiches with french fries and a hamburger from Thraka Express, washed down by some Pepsis. In the evening, we couldn't break our traditional stroll along the harbour and an alcohol-free meal at Porto Fino: puttanesca (we might establish it as an hors d'oeuvre once we get home), a pizza with the works and a tuna salad (17 euro). We decided to buy some take-home dessert from a bakery chain; alas, it did not live up to our espectations. Aside from the Gringlish spellings (Apple Dies, Chocolate Crepas and Xam and Cheese pastry), the cream cakes (known as 'pasta' locally - nothing to do with spaghetti) tasted rather stale (7 euro). A sad end to a splendid mini-break.

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