Taxi service

Taxi service
Dimitris' taxi is available for all your holiday needs. If you're coming to Hania and you need a taxi, we would like to drive you around. More info: drop me a line at: mverivaki hotmail com

Saturday, 31 January 2009

Aliens in the kitchen (Ξωτικά στην κουζίνα)

calabrese fennel kohlrabi

Calabrese, finnocchio, kohlrabi, all grown in Galatas, Hania. Only finnochio is sold in the stores; calabrese and kohlrabi are grown, but not sold.

Any ideas for cooked kohlrabi? I only use it raw.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Wild greens revisited (Και πάλι άγρια χόρτα )

Winter is my favorite season for greens, because this season and on through to spring gives such a wide variety of wild horta. In the summer, vlita (amaranth) greens are readily available, but that's about it. It seems strange that they can grow so prolifically during the hot season - they need a lot of water to remain healthy plants. But in the winter, greens orchestrate a festival of the senses: there is a huge variety available if only you know where to look, and they each have their own appearance, taste, texture and smell. In this season, people all over Greece are getting down to their knees looking for wild greens.

Wild greens, cleaned and ready for use, have just started to appear in the fresh markets - at the hefty price of 6.50 a kilo for a mixture of wild greens. These greens are harvested from the countryside, cleared of grit and dirt (so they only need a good rinse), and sold as a mixture. Despite their weedy looks - they are hardly ever sowed as seeds, but simply grow wildly - most of them are highly aromatic. If you crush a few mixed leaves in your hand and smell them, they enervate you with an uplifting feeling, making you aware of the natural environment with their hands-on effect. Most of these greens are never sold separately, apart from the fennel, which is always sold in small bunches as a herb, in the same way as mint, dill and parsley. In Crete, wild greens are sold by the kilo, all mixed up together, which is also how they are used.

wild mixed greens

The bag I bought (I was able to fill it myself) contained: wild fennel, the Greek-type wild parsley and wild celery, wild leeks, sowthistle, swiss chard, wild mustard, hawksbeard, kafkalithres (known as hartwort, a species of Tordylium) and one or two more leaves which I couldn't identify; this shows how much progress I have made since last year, when I would buy them and never once wondered what their names were. A year on, I have even managed to track down articles in scientific journals concerning their nutrient values:

"The large variety of wildly grown edible greens differ every season ... and [are] eaten fresh in salads with plenty of virgin olive oil, or mixed and cooked with tomatoes, onions, meat or fish. They are also mixed and prepared as pies, thus increasing the daily vitamin and antioxidant intake. Edible wild plants are a common food source for the older generations of the population of Crete and continue today in families which maintain the traditional lifestyle. The Greek Orthodox religion plays an important role in the traditional diet, recommending approximately 180 or more days of fasting from meat, eggs and dairy products per year... The wildly grown Cretan greens are potentially a rich source of antioxidants in the [Cretan] diet... which plays an important role in the health of the elderly and rural population of Crete. ... The wild Cretan greens are rich sources of vitamin C, K, E and carotenoids, and capable of significantly contributing to the RDA needs of the population. In most cases, it was found that the wild greens had higher micronutrient content than those cultivated. ... further studies are required to evaluate the feasibilty of commercially growing some of the wild greens so that non-rural population can also reap the benefits of enriching their diet with traditional greens."

Out of curiosity I tracked down the sources of the wild greens used in the study, and found (to my chagrin) that they were NOT from Hania, but from every other province of Crete: Rethimno, Iraklio and Lasithi; this is simply because the research was based in Iraklio, and Hania was the province most further away to the study centre, the other provinces of Crete neighbouring Iraklio. But the wild greens being harvested and eaten by the local people are the same all over the island.

*** *** ***
The urban population need not worry about how to obtain these greens - it has expensive access to them via the fresh produce counters of the supermarkets and the daily street markets. But there is also a much cheaper source for the same greens, one that is not always feasible because of the restrictions of urban living.

In actual fact, most of these greens are available in the gardens of most village dwellings. A patch of earth from our own garden revealed fennel, mustard, nettles, chickweed, making my purchase of wild greens sound rather expensive, given their availability at my doorstep. Here's the catch: think of the work required to search for these varieties among the clover flowers (which are also edible - the leaves are used in the Middle East in salad dressings when there is a shortage of lemons), clean them (they are collected at a time when the earth is still very muddy and wet), trim, wash and dry them. Now you know why freshly picked wild greens sometimes cost more than meat.

horta at the stadium hania chania horta at the stadium hania chania
The stadium in the centre of Hania is full of wild greens. They grow around the tarmac used for track and field events, while tsohos (sowthistle) and radiki (dandelion) can be seen growing from a nutrient-packed sewer...

Just how much weed (in the legal sense) is edible all around us? What I found in my home garden alone made me realise just how much we take for granted. I also took a little tour of the peace-inspiring gardens of my workplace, and found a highly developed, sustainable - and highly edible - ecosystem. Susun Weed summarises the most common garden weeds found the world over in Western gardens if you want to find out what's edible in your own patch of earth. The most important consideration when using garden weeds as wild greens is to make sure you have identified them correctly as edible greens. Then you may also want to make sure animals haven't been treading them, because it will also mean that they've been doing other things there too. A forum discusses interesting ways to use dandelion weeds, one of the most popular garden greens growing in abundance in most people's lawns. And don't forget that these greens are probably the most organic carbon-footprint-less food you will eat in your life..

maich gardens maich greens
MAICh gardens: enlarge the photos to see the radiki (dandelion) and tsohous (sowthistle).

I'm not quite sure when I'll bring my own bag to collect the greens I found growing in abundance at MAICh; if my colleagues see me, they may think I've taken to the hills...

*** *** ***

These greens can be served as simple boiled greens dressed with the classic olive oil and lemon juice, accompanied by cheese and boiled eggs. I've also cooked them with rice, like a spanakorizo. In Crete, they are often turned into exotic traditional rustic dishes. They are so versatile that you could easily make a very different dish each day using the same greens.

To soften the pungent scents and tastes of the wild greens, I added some tamer greens (spinach) to the wild mixture:
wild greens for marathopites kalitsounia and cheese pasties
For those who like their horta raw, try this mixture (with salt, pepper and olive oil added - soft curd cheese optional) on a piece of toasted bread of any kind.

This mixture was used to create the following dishes:
- calamari with wild greens and green olives (kapama) in tomato sauce, served with rice:
calamari kapama
The greens can be used chopped or whole - we prefer them cut up into the sauce. This method of cooking greens (in a tomato sauce) is generally known as 'tsigariasto'; adding frozen calamari and olives turns the dish into 'kapama'.

- my latest round of freezing green pies (hortopita; made in the same way as spanakopita) and kalitsounia:
making kalitsounia
This tray of kalitsounia will last us about a month if served on a regular bi-weekly basis.

- and marathopites, small vegan pasties, a local specialty in Hania, my all-time favorite pie:
seamless marathopita
This μαραθόπιτα (marathopita - fennel pie) has a seamless look to it. The greens mixture is encased in pastry. This pie is traditionally cooked on a very hot oiled skillet called a 'satsi'. I added more fennel to the mixture for more taste.

This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Marija from Palachinka.

This one's for Cheryl, who could make a mint by selling wild greens from her own garden.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Political dingle-dangles (Πολιτικές κρεμάστρες)

In our house, we love looking at maps, just as much as the Brits love birdwatching. My favorite map is one I picked up on the Kings Road in London from one of those shops where people pay a lot of money for a not-so-useful-but-very-artistic gift to impress their friends, and then they ask the shop assistant to wrap it up for them in some expensive wrapping paper, in this case, the map. Three pounds for a piece of paper with an old European map printed on it, showing the state of Europe in 1897, from the perspective of the USA.

In 1897, Finland did not exist, nor did Poland. Ireland was not a divided country, while Romania was a third of its present size. Austria was Hungary and Hungary was Austria, while Germany and Turkey both claimed to be empires. Serbia and Bosnia were separate countries, as they are now after the killings and destruction that Yugoslavia underwent to get back to the state it was in over 100 years ago.

the century atlas of europe 1897 by co. new york
The Century Atlas Map of Europe, 1897

100 years ago, no one knew where Macedonia was, but every one knew Constantinople. Now, you can choose the kind of Macedonia you want to go to (but not on a Greek map), whereas no one can go to Constantinople any more (you've got to go to Istanbul). Uskup was a relatively insignificant part of the Turkish empire. Now, with a slight change of name (Skopje), it's a relatively insignificant part of Europe. Greece was about as big as two Sicilies stuck one on top of each other, and it reached as far as Larissa. My beloved homeland was still considered part of the Turkish empire, but no one could decide on whether to call it Crete or Candia, despite the fact that it had in fact only just managed to free itself from hanging off the dingle-dangles of the Turkish empire in the previous year. News did not travel fast enough to the other side of the world in 1897.

I stuck my purchase up on the kitchen wall when we returned home from our trip. My husband thought it inappropriate.

"This map only confuses me, Maria, I can't find my bearings." People believe in labels. He couldn't see the ones he expected on this old 1897 version of Europe. I bought him an updated map of the continent as we know it, produced in Greece, and labelled in the politically appropriate manner as such. He was delighted.

"Now we can take the old one down," he said.

I protested. "Let's keep it there for comparison reasons."

map of europe
Modern Europe, 2006 (Greek edition by Loukopoulos Bros)

*** *** ***
He was staring intently at this modern map the other day.

"One look at this map and its obvious what they want to do."

"Who?" I asked. I eventually worked out who he meant by they. You will too.

"The gas pipeline presently runs from Russia, through the Ukraine, and onto some other European nations, eventually arriving in Greece.

present gas pipeline
The present gas pipeline (approximately)

"The Russians are sick and tired of playing games with bad debtors who hang off they's dingle-dangles, so they want to build another gas pipeline running through politically friendlier countries.

possible future gas pipeline
The future gas pipeline (approximately).

"But they says that's not necessary, because they wants to build its own pipeline running from Kazakhstan, whose resources they uses, running through Turkey, which would then pass it on to Greece. Which all means, of course, that if we decide to use gas from they's new proposed pipeline, we'd be hanging off both they's and Turkey's dingle-dangles. And they hopes we're going to agree. Paparia!"

they would prefer it like this
They would prefer it if Greece used this gas pipeline instead

*** *** ***
Politics. We've had enough of both politics and politicians as of late. Politics and politicians get involved in so much of the daily life of Greece, that Greeks simply cannot progress, and all because we allow ourselves to hang off the own dingle-dangles of our politicos. I wonder what would happen if we were simply to ignore them, and carry on with our daily business, as if they simply did not exist.

chess award
A charming middle-aged Englishman once told me on a double-decker bus in Londond that my kids are destined for the stage...

Take the Vasilopita cutting function for the Chess Academy of Chania that I attended last weekend with my children. The event was supposed to start at 6.30pm. I should have known this would have meant 'Greek time', in other words, at least 3/4 of an hour late. The only reason why we went was because my son had won third prize in an in-house tournament, and he was going to be awarded his medal on this night. The event was held at the reception area of a hotel. The admission price was 5 euro per person, sweets and drinks included, raffle tickets excluded (2 euro each). I couldn't work out why the event couldn't start on time: was it because of the strict adherence by Greeks to Greek time, or was it because all the politicians who were invited to give out the awards were adhering strictly to Greek time, hence our hanging off their dingle-dangles, in order to achieve the purpose we were there for?

The array of politicians was wide. I have never, ever, in my whole life, had the chance to see the people who run both my town and country from up so close. (And neither do I wish to have to do this again so quickly.) I was lucky (in that double sense) to be sitting near the door and could take in their individual entrances. I had my camera with me, but since none of these people had the Tsipras factor, it never occurred to me to take photos of these important gents as they arrived at this auspicious occasion, "η κοπή της Βασιλόπιτας", the cutting of the New Year's cake for the Chess Academy of Chania, an event held any time in January by all clubs and organisations, usually a social occasion to wish the members good luck. Many Members of Parliament were invited, but funnily enough, no priests, hinting that chess is a political rather than religious game.

The first politico to arrive was from the old school of politicians, Mr Skoulakis (a fellow blogger, would you believe). He has the classic Cretan looks with a thick moustache; he looks very much like my dad. His serious but homely manner reminds one of Venizelos, the famous Cretan politician who became the Prime Minister of Greece. Skoulakis entered the room like a gentleman who didn't need any introductions, taking it for granted that everyone knew him, and they did, because he's been in politics longer than I have been alive.

Next in was Mr Markoyiannakis. Why he's known better as Markoyiannis, without the Cretan name suffix -akis, as one would expect of a Cretan (have you ever noticed my own name?), might have something to do with his blond looks - he definitely doesn't look like my dad. He entered the room shiftily, his furtive gaze showing on his mafia-like fatsa as his eyes darted quickly from one side of the room to the other. He was flanked by two slight looking gentlemen who, despite their short stature, were probably undercover cops with pistols hidden in the right places to be brought out as needed. Mr Markoyiannakis never actually looked at anyone, just straight through them. The icing on the cake was when he excused himself for having to leave the event early. In his own words; "There are a lot of Vasilopites to cut this evening." Shucks man, that guy works so hard.

Along comes Karagiozis in the form of Voloudakis. His eyes were large and bright, just like a college freshman's; he's new to the job. It's clearly obvious by the way he kept his hands raised waving to everyone; he looked as though he didn't know anyone in there in the first place. He waved as he entered with his eyes nearly popping out of their sockets, just like a Kewpie doll. He looked like my dad - the young version, of course, minus the moustache; let's face it, it's not so fashionable these days. He carried on like this until the end of his stay at the awards ceremony, exiting in exactly the same fashion as he entered, his hands flapping wildly.

What kind of Vasilopita ceremony would it be if we didn't have Santa Claus himself making an appearance? Enter Mr Nikiforakis, Santa Claus minus the podge. He had a jolly look about him; he couldn't stop smiling and laughing. His humour was contagious - we ended up laughing with him too. He kept confusing the derivatives of the word 'skaki' (σκάκι), the Greek word for 'chess', with the word 'skase' (σκάσε), the Greek word for 'shut up'. This guy also looked like my dad (albeit after he had lost a lot of weight due to illness), and yes, he had a moustache. At one point he couldn't stop laughing when he corrected himself after saying 'skaSisitiki' (which meant "something to do with shutting up") when he should have said skaKisitiki (which means "something to do with chess"), which prompted my 8-year-old son to ask me: "Καλά, τρελός είναι αυτός ο άνθρωπος και γελάει τόσο πολύ;" (which basically translates to "Hey, why is that man laughing so much? Is he crazy?"). It is said that if you want the truth, you should ask a child.

What's that Greek saying about the roosters?

too many roosters
Οπου λαλούν πολλά κοκκόρια, αργεί να ξημερώσει.
"Wherever a lot of roosters crow, sunrise is delayed."

The higher the chess award, the more VIP the politician was who handed it out, and the earlier in the evening it was presented. We got our award nearly two hours after we arrived. It was presented to my son by an insignificant local councillor. At this point, both my children had developed scratchy bums from sitting too long in a chair, and we had to leave. We couldn't wait for the κοπή της Βασιλόπιτας, the intended purpose of the evening, and neither could we hang around to find out if we were a lucky winner of a man's tie, a lady's pair of gloves, faux bijoux, a keyboard (without a computer), and some other prizes, kindly donated by local businesses.

Being a mother is very hard work - I've got at least a dozen more years of this keep-up-the-appearances business to go...
*** *** ***
"The Greek map," you ask me. "Shouldn't you have one of those hanging on the wall?"

map of greece

Yes, don't worry, we've got one of those too. We live in Greece, remember?
And it's still a country.
By sheer luck.

Oh my God, the food. Before the pan burns, here's the recipe for dingle dangles. All food photos kindly donated by karvouna. Publicity photos of the MPs were stolen from related websites.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Greek humour and Pad Thai Singlina (Γέλιο α λα Ελληνικά και σύγκλινα α λα Ταϋλάνδη)

I'm not too hot on TV cookery shows. They seem to be full of advice that isn't feasible, ingredients that aren't readily available, complicated recipes made to look simple, and overly slim cooks (for someone constantly involved with food). Their pantries are full of jars and bottles containing items you've never heard of, the meat they cook never looks like it came from an animal (but from saran-wrapped styrofoam dishes), and the cooks seem to have a strangely distant relationship with their object, their kitchen aprons too clean for the use intended.

The Greek equivalent of 'Ready, Steady, Cook' was quite enjoyable, but didn't last long. People at the time were probably not ready for such radical changes to their regularised cooking methods and ingredients. Some of the more entertaining food shows in Greece these days are those which report on regional cuisine cooked by locals with a hands-on approach to food. The presenters of such shows are rarely cooks themselves, acting more like facilitators (or 'glastres', flower pots as we call them in Greek, meaning not very well-informed female TV announcers).

An actor recently came on a 'morning coffee' program, and showed us how to cook a pear tart. His 'kitchen' was located in a restaurant. "That looks nice, Maria," said my husband. "We (the royal one) could try making one of those some day." Yes, we certainly could - it would be bigger, the crust would be thinner, and the fruit wouldn't look pureed; quite frankly, it looked like something made by someone who rarely spends time in the kitchen on a daily basis, has most of their cooking needs performed by restaurants and/or family members, and simply wants to impress his/her friends by cooking haute cuisine.

This is why I love Ilias Mamalakis' shows (and Jamie Oliver's for that matter). For a start, they both cook food suitable for all ages. Ilias knows food at the grass roots level. In his travels around the country in search of regional specialties, he targets real food made on a regular basis by the locals, using locally produced specialties. His shows are foodalogueamentaries: a mixture of armchair travel, documentation and hearty meals prepared for eating in social environments, a very important characteristic of Greek cuisine. He also takes trips abroad showcasing foreign cuisine, at the same time teaching us how to adopt it into our Mediterranean kitchen using local food items. He did this very well last weekend with a food trek across Thailand, interjected with plenty of Greek humour, which may sound slightly insulting to the uninitiated. It takes a little getting used to, but it is genuine, and there is no intention on the part of the entertainer to offend. Sometimes, it's just a case of stating the obvious, which is not always done in the politically correct world. But honesty is the best policy, and it doesn't hurt to laugh.

When Ilias arrived in Thailand, the locals probably thought he was Buddha reincarnated. A short, stout man with his big fat cuddly teddy bear looks, and a constant smile on his face, he epitomises contentment with the world around him. Ilias was infatuated with the exotic sights and sounds of Thailand, as any open-minded person would be upon entering a new environment:

of the tropical rain: "when it rains here, γίνεται ο χαλασμός του κόσμου" (it's like the end of the world).
of the local people: "if you want to hear them, ask them to talk to you as if they need to be heard through a tropical rainstorm" (that χαλασμός του κόσμου that he was talking about above).
of the elephants: "finally, someone who eats more than I do."
more on the Thai people: if you smile and speak softly, you'll be guaranteed a pleasant reception from them (ελπίζω να μην μας έβρυσε, he also added - "I hope he wasn't swearing at us").

Ilias explained some of the new flavours he was lucky to try in their authentic home environment while he was there, and gave us an idea of how we can substitute local items if we don't live near Evripidou Street in Athens, where most of these items are readily available (the largest variety of non-Greek food items in the country are located here):
dried hot radish - "use freshly grated Daikon radish which has a spicy flavour"
palm sugar - "use plain sugar, adding it little by little to suit your taste buds"
tamarind - "it tastes of sour lemon"
fish sauce - "σχέτη λύσσα" (so salty it will make you rabid); use salt or extra soya sauce
rice vinegar - use a mild Greek wine vinegar for a similar effect.

We all take delight in the sensation of trying something new, but if you live away from the main centres (Athens and Thessaloniki), these exotic ingredients will be hard to come by. My local supermarket stocks a good range of BLUE DRAGON products, but if you use only one mass-produced brand of Asian bottled/canned/packaged food, in this case you will end up making a meal that resembles a blue dragon rather than a real Asian meal. It's better to make an effort to find local products that you can substitute for the real tastes to re-create this meal in your own home, and this can be done. There are few cuisines in the world that do not have a range of herbs and spices that can be used to create a desired flavour.

So where's the humour? Here's how Ilias explained some other ingredients to his Greek viewers:
tofu - μια σχέτη αηδία (absolutely sickening): no matter how dairy-free or vegan or healthful tofu is, it is usually tasteless;
tomatos - as ripe as a stone - you're better off using Greek ones (he's probably right).
sesame oil - ha ha, very funny, olive oil can't be beat (of course, he's right);
dried shrimps - OK, they have so much shrimp available that they run out of storage space in their freezer;
chili - έχει βάλει αρκετό ώστε να εκτοξευθεί ένας πύραυλος - they use enough to fire a rocket into space.
Not funny to you? Lost in translation...

The 15 minutes dedicated to making pad thai was not enough to really understand the technique involved in making this dish. The internet features a short but very descriptive video of pad thai being made on a floating market (pretend you didn't see the cook rinse her cleaning rag in the river) but the best account is given by Chez Pim. She explains how ridiculous it is to give precise instructions on making a dish often made with whatever is on hand, and whose success depends on the taste buds of the eaters. She also notes some abominations in recipes available on the internet for pad thai that will guarantee failure - no doubt, we could all mention a few gems of this sort for other recipes...

It goes without saying that pad thai was on the menu during Ilias' trip. As my husband watched the Thai chefs deftly shaking their woks, his mouth watered at the range of items being constantly added to them, layer by layer. "Can you do that?" he asked me.

Men will be men. The last time I did that was when the children complained that this kind of makaronada was not to their liking. Not being very sympathetic to fussy eaters, I hate cooking more than one meal for lunch to suit different tastes. It isn't feasible. Good thing there was some leftover spag bog for them today.

pad thai singlina
My kitchen benchtop was fast running out of space as I laid out all the ingredients needed to create a Mediterranean version of pad thai. Packaged goods, left to right: mild Cretan wine vinegar, olive oil, sugar, hot thai chili sauce, soya sauce, rice noodles, sambal oelek. In the bowls: shredded cabbage, cauliflower florets, thinly sliced singlina, grated onion, garlic and ginger, lime (available here occassionally), lemon, egg, slivered bell pepper, peanuts. The unsightly large empty plastic canister on the right is simply my way of reminding Mr OC to fill it up with olive oil...

I won't be giving you my recipe for the pad thai I made; the photo says it all. I used Pim's advice (not her recipe), and if you want to successfully make some yourself, it's worth reading every single word. I had no suitable meat or seafood available as it is used in pad thai, but I was very fortunate to have on hand some traditional Cretan preserved pork (known locally as singlina, smoked pork with sage, thyme and Cretan oregano, ) and a bottle of sambal oelek, a fresh chili paste which I had bought on one of my past trips to Evripidou Street. Although I don't own a wok, the low pan I used with a heavy metal base was perfect for all the quick mixing required so that nothing stuck to the bottom of the pan.

apaki singlino cretan smoked preserved pork smoked preserved pork cretan singlina
Both packets contain smoked preserved pork made in Crete. Singlina (left) are made according to a Haniotiko tradition, while apaki (right) comes from Rethimno, the neighbouring province to Hania.
pad thai.

Fusion cuisine suits the globalised world we live in to a tee, so my creation - using traditional Mediterranean flavours and ingredients to produce an Asian-style dish - would make this an excellent example of MediterrAsian cooking, using the two healthiest cuisines in the world, according to the figures for longevity in the countries where these or similar cuisines (Crete and Japan) are commonly practiced.

Then again, pad thai singlina could simply be a case of salmon kleftiko...

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Coffee at Koum Kapi (Καφέ στο Κουμ Καπί)

I was recently afforded the luxury of spending a relaxing free hour on a cold Sunday afternoon in an inner city suburb of Hania close to the sea, where I pored over some food magazines while enjoying a coffee (it was surprisingly good) at a cafe at Koum Kapi...

a relaxing coffee at koum kapi

... with a great view of the eastern bulwark which once formed part of the fortifications of the Venetian town of Hania.

koum kapi in the winter

Read more about Koum Kapi.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Lichnarakia (Καστρινά καλιτσούνια λυχναράκια)

Travel is a luxury these days for most people. Some people can't scrape up enough money, others can't find the time, while some others can't leave behind people (or animals) who depend on them. I don't travel much out of Greece myself. Come to think of it, I don't travel much out of Crete. It's probably a mixture of the above reasons. Apart from a short Athenian trip, I don't think my time will be spent much away from Hania in the coming year.

So I think myself fortunate that my job gives me the opportunity to travel, even if it is to a neighbouring Cretan town. I can't examine English students in my own town for obvious reasons, so when I'm called up to interview and assess students of English sitting internationally recognised examinations, I'm sent to Iraklio, the capital of Crete, located in the northern mid-point of the island (~140km from Hania), or Rethimno, another town in Western Crete, situated mid-way between Hania and Iraklio (~60km from Hania).

Just before Christmas, I was sent to Rethimno. To get there from Hania (if you don't want to use the motorway), just keep the coast to your left as you drive. Even the motorway offers one of the most scenic routes in Western Crete. There are many picturesque villages tucked away behind the mountains along this route, while the longest stretch of beach guides your path.

hania rethimno motorway hania rethimno motorway
The flora borders the Hania-Rethimno motorway, which skirts along the northern coastline of Western Crete.

In less than an hour of driving, Rethimno comes into view. This isn't a long distance in modern terms, but less than 50 years ago, the road system in Crete was still undeveloped. In the average Haniot's mind, leaving his own province would have felt like crossing the ocean, as he rode his donkey along the bendy coastline; it was this reason that the main centres of Crete (from west to east: Hania, Rethimno, Iraklio, Mires, Ayios Nikolas, Sitia, Ierapetra) all developed semi-autonomously, no one depending on the other for services and facilities. To a certain extent, this continues. There is a friendly animosity between competing towns in Crete (mainly Hania and Iraklio) for the opportunity to keep certain pan-Cretan services within their own jurisdiction. For example, the Court of Appeal in Crete used to be located in Hania (the former capital of Crete), but is now located in Iraklio (the capital of Crete since 1971), which is the most populated town in the island, with 150,000 residents (compared to Hania'a 60,000).

On first sight, Rethimno town looks just like Hania. In fact, Rethimno is the bonsai version of Hania. It's located on the coast,

Left: Koum Kapi in Hania; right: approaching Rethimno town as you leave the motorway

spread out amongst the remains of a walled town,

Left: an old gate built in the old walled city in Hania; right: an old gate built in the old walled city in Rethimno.

bordered by a Venetian fortress,

hania fortezza rethimno fortezza
Left: the 'fortezza' in Hania; right: the 'fortezza' in Rethimno.

with a centrally located municipal park,

Left: the municipal park in Rethimno; right: the municipal park in Hania.

a couple of minarets,

minaret in hania minaret in rethimno
Left: a minaret in Hania; right: a minaret in Rethimno.

and the remains of a mosque, remnants of the former Ottoman rule.

rethimno former mosque.
Left: a former mosque in Hania; right: a former mosque in Rethimno.

This fact makes it all the more amazing to discover that Rethimno cuisine is actually different in certain respects to the Haniotiko cuisine. We're talking about similar towns in similar locations on the same Mediterranean island, who don't always understand each other's culinary terms. Despite their relative proximity, the towns of Crete all maintain their own unique traditions and customs, and this includes special dishes and cooking techniques.

apaki singlino cretan smoked preserved pork
Left: singlino from Hania (specifically the region of Sfakia); right: apaki from Rethimno (speificially the region of Anoyia) - both of these are preserved smoked pork. They are made slightly differently using different herbs in each case, but in essence, they are the same thing: the traditional way to preserve pork indefinitely, pre-refrigeration .

Over the years, the distance between Hania and and other main centres in Crete has decreased with modern road and communications improvements, but if a Hanioti and a Cretan from another part of the island met up with each other 50 years ago, their conversations concerning food would have sounded like Chinese whispers.

Rethimnioti talking to a Hanioti:
Boureki? What's that?
Mizithra? Shouldn't it be sweeter?
Kalitsounia with spinach? Beg your pardon?

Hanioti talking to an Iraklioti:
Tzoulamas? Is that flora or fauna?
Spaghetti at a wedding? Don't you make pilafi?
Kalitsounia with sugar? And yeast in the pastry?

Now that Cretans are more mobile, and with intermarriages between different regions of the island, most people in Crete can enjoy regional cuisine from other parts of the island without even realising that these dishes are not often made locally. One of my favorite Cretan non-Haniotiko foods is sweet kalitsounia, a specialty from Eastern Crete, which is why these kalitsounia are often referred to as 'kalitsounia kastrina'; 'kastro' (κάστρο) means 'castle', and in Crete, the biggest Venetian fortress (castle) is found in Iraklio. These kalitsounia use a sweeter kind of mizithra cheese than what is made in Hania, and the pastry used to make them contains yeast. But they are also widely available in sweet shops (zaharoplasteia) and bakeries in Hania.


When I bought my regular fortnightly supply of freshly made filo pastry, the store owner treated me to a little gift of puffy flaky pastry, ready cut in rounds. It's not a pastry I buy (at all), but it reminded me of the sweet kalitsounia I bring back for my children when I'm working in Iraklio or Rethimno, where they are more commonly sold. These kalitsounia are in the shape of what is known as 'lichnaraki' (little lamp), because they look like the lamps once used in village houses before Cretan homes were electrified.

lichnarakia lichnarakia and anevata
My lichnarakia didn't hold their shape as well as the store-bought ones, due to the pastry I used. The square pastries - called 'anevata' - are made with the same ingredients as the lichnarakia, and are also an Eastern Crete specialty.

Although the pastry used to make sweet kalitsounia is different from the buttery pastry that I used to make these lichnarakia, the filling is pretty much standard: mizithra (a kind of ricotta cheese), egg and sugar are mixed to a paste, which is used to fill the pastry shells, with cinammon sprinkled on top. The result is a warming aromatic kind of cheese pie with a tempting sweet taste. And they are so easy to make if you use ready-made pastry.

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