Sunday, 13 January 2008

Blue dragon (Μπλε δράκος)

If you ask me what kind of food I miss most from New Zealand, I'd say I miss the international cuisine that was available in Wellington, to suit all kinds of eaters from vegans to omnivores, from budget meals to luxurious buffets, from Uncle Changs to Great India. Food is plentiful in Crete, but the same 'gourmet' stuff is served up everywhere; no matter what restaurant or taverna you visit, the menu will contain exactly the same range of Greek cuisine that the previous restaurant or taverna you visited contained. You must have noticed this if ever you came to holiday in Crete or any other Greek island. Apart from a few bits and pieces of traditional local cuisine, the menu will also contain: moussaka, papoutsakia, village salad, calamari, dolmades, yemista, etc. Take the seaside road out of the town along the beaches of Northern Hania: The Seven Brothers, Diomedes, Caretta Caretta, .... they are all Greek restaurants, they all serve Greek food, made in the same way; the only difference is the cook. So there is really very little to choose from. We lack variety in this town. Our restaurants serve what we often cook in our own homes. People here are not really adventurous when it comes to food; in fact, they are downright traditional. The restaurants do serve a huge variety of food, but it's what all restaurants serve in Hania, especially during the summer.

What's more, I can't buy the ingredients needed in order to create those foreign meals I used to enjoy in New Zealand. Chinese ingredients are limited to a few supermarkets, which sell mass-produced brands of sauces, canned baby corn and spring roll sheets, making whatever you cook using these ingredients taste quite bland. Imagine using BLUE DRAGON noodles and BLUE DRAGON baby corn with BLUE DRAGON green chili sauce, and eating that with BLUE DRAGON sprouts in BLUE DRAGON spring roll sheets which you douse in BLUE DRAGON soya sauce and BLUE DRAGON chili sauce. You've just eaten a blue dragon, not a Chinese meal.

My hometown Wellington is not really much bigger in population than Chania. There are many similarities between the town I was born in and where I live now. I call both towns, even though Wellington is the capital city of New Zealand and the seat of government; basically, it was a small town when I lived there, and its population has not grown by that much since I left. The city including its outlying suburbs and satellite towns (where people live and commute into the city for work) has about 350,000 inhabitants. Hania is smaller in territory, and has about 160,000 inhabitants of whom about 60,000 live in the main town, but the number of people in Crete in the summer during the tourist season rises considerably, to over half a million. There are up to 45 chartered flights a day coming from all over northern Europe from April until October.

So it's not too small a town to sustain a variety of cuisine. It goes without saying that tourists would want to eat out at such places, but it would also give locals a chance to try it, and if it is well cooked, they might even take a liking to it. We do at present have a couple of Chinese restaurants, another specialising in Turkish food, and another dodgy-looking one advertising Tex-Mex cuisine. Of course, we have pizzerias, but that's more like fast food than real food. The new immigrants of Hania (from Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, northern Africa, the Middle East and South Asia) are not opening food outlets selling their own food, which sounds like a clear message that this food, or should I say these people, are not really being welcomed by the locals. In a town like Chania, abounding in fresh produce and good weather all year round, where most people eat freshly cooked homemade food every day, it seems a shame to have such a narrow-minded view concerning other people's food. Thus, in essence, what I miss most is the open-mindedness of society towards other law-abiding citizens from different cultures.

You need:
1 square of instant noodles
2-3 tablespoons of oil
1 onion, chopped small
2 cloves garlic, chopped small
1 knob of fresh root ginger, finely grated
1 greated carrot
2 cups of shredded cabbage
1 green pepper, chopped into thin strips
a cup of cooked shredded chicken or baby prawns or sliced sausage (optional)
soya sauce and chili sauce
Put the noodles into a pot of hot water, and drain them when they are limp.
In a saucepan, heat the oil and brown the onion, garlic and ginger. Add the vegetables and meat, and mix well tell everything is coated in oil. Cook till the cabbage is limp, adding a few drops of water if the ingredients are sticking to the pan. Add the sauces in a quantity to your liking, and mix well. Finally, add the noodles, and mix in well, ensuring once again that the noodles and vegetables do not stick to the pan. Voilà, one blue dragon!

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