Monday, 26 April 2010

Fish taverna (Ψαροταβέρνα)

From: Angela
To: George
Sent: Sunday, April 25, 2010 8:00 AM

Dear George,
I can't get though to your cellphone.
Please get back to me urgently.
Yours, Angela
From: Angela
To: George
Sent: Sunday, April 25, 2010 8:30 AM

When you get my message, please get back to me asap.
From: Angela
To: George
Sent: Sunday, April 25, 2010 9:00 AM

George, are you there???
From: George
To: Angela
Sent: Sunday, April 25, 2010 4:00 PM

Dear Angela,
I just got your message. My apologies for answering back so late, but it is Sunday after all, and most people do sleep in on this day in our country, after a tiring working week. I don't know if the weather has something to do with it: today, it was overly warm for spring, with a dull cloud hanging over the sky, so the climate was a little damp and muggy, one of those days when you don't know what clothes to wear, if you get my gist. I even contemplated taking an umbrella when we left the house.

We didn't have a Sunday roast today. My wife asked me if I didn't mind going out for lunch, because she had had a busy week at work and home. She had been cooking fresh meals for all of us every day on top of that, and even though I had offered to cook the meal myself today, she still insisted that we go out. "Just for a change," she said.

"And where shall we go today?" I asked her, and she replied that it isn't mother's day yet, so I could choose the location myself.

"No," I replied, as I have been down that track before - you know what women are like! - and told her to choose herself, which she duly did, so we packed the kids into the car and went to Kalives.

I've been to Kalives on business many times, but I've never stopped in at the eateries there, so I thought I'd phone up my friend Dimitri who's from the area; insider information always gets you the best deals. Have I mentioned Dimitris to you before? I can't remember. Anyway, he's a millionaire, but he lives a very simple life out in the country in his πατρικό*. He's still a working man (don't ask me what he does; clearly he's doing it well), but never on a Sunday, and on a more relaxed pace. And because he lives by the sea, he always goes for a swim every day - yes, even in the winter - and has a midday snooze before going back to work in the afternoon.

Well, enough about Dimitris. Thankfully, he answered the phone - unlike naughty me, Angela! - and told me of a few places where we could have a nice lunch. So off we went to Koumandros, a fish taverna by the beach at Kalives. As we drove out there, the sun became brighter, and the day warmer; we needn't have taken our jackets after all. Spring and summer sometimes get confused here in Crete!

koumandros taverna kalives
Koumandros taverna, Kalives, Hania, Crete

Koumandros has a very traditional feel to it. The family-owned restaurant was the first in the area, and the father of the father of the father of the owner (I am not sure about the accuracy of the number of generations that I just mentioned) started the business in 1867.

koumandros taverna kalives
An old family photo adorns the wall of the taverna.

When we arrived, we were the only customers. I was a bit worried, because, you know what I mean, what with the economic crisis and all that, but I needn't have worried. While we were having our meal, more and more and more people came in, and it was really good to see some tourists too (they were German).

We sat by an open window to enjoy the sea breeze, and watched the tourists sunbathing by the hotel pool, which we thought was funny because the sea was right behind them! Each to his own, though, Angela; it's a free country, as the saying goes.

The waiter came over very promptly (well, we were the first there), and told us what was on the menu today: "Well, today we've got pretty much everything," he began, "oktapodi on the grill, soupies in wine sauce, fried kalamari (fresh or frozen), fried maritha and atherina, gavros in the oven, grilled fangri or tsipoures, galeos with skordalia, fresh fried garida, frozen lemon garida, baby koutsomoura fried, filleted sardeles with lemon sauce, fried bakaliaro, saganaki midia, er...." he pondered there for a moment, trying to remember what he'd missed, "oh, yeah, and ahinous."

galeos shark and skordalia fresh or frozen squid?
cuttlefish in wine soupies krasates

It's amazing how much the Mediterranean sea offers us in the way of food, especially when you hear a line-up like that. The kids wanted some fried squid, I chose the shark (I absolutely adore the garlic dip it comes with - I'll warn you if we're at a meeting together and I've just had some!) and my wife chose the cuttlefish in the wine sauce. We also ordered two plates of those chunky freshly cut fried potatoes, and for our salad, we chose beetroot, because it's traditional with seafood, and greenhouse tomatoes and cucumbers don't quite do it for me at the moment (better to wait until they are being picked in the open; they have more taste then, you see, something like a mixture of sun and sea mist, which brings out their flavour), and to wash it all down, we ordered some local white wine and let the kids have a fizzy sodas - just for a change, again.

Click on the link to see the slideshow of what we ate at the taverna.

While we were having our meal, Dimitris popped into the restaurant, and sat down with us. He had told his wife to put his meal on hold, because he wanted to go out and see his friend George, which I thought was really nice of him, don't you think, Angela, a millionaire dining with the hoi polloi, like us?! Anyway, we were in the middle of our meal, and I felt a bit embarrassed because we had practically wolfed down most of it - it was just SOOOOOooooo good. He hadn't told me he would be coming, and I didn't think of asking him on the phone if he would like to join us. But Dimitris didn't seem to mind at all. In fact, he knew the staff at Koumandros very well, and he called them over, as if they were his own children, and ordered his meal: bream on the BBQ, stuffed vine leaves, fresh sea urchins, beetroot salad (great minds think alike, don't they, Angela) and a small bottle of ouzo. It may seem like Dimitris ordered too much all for himself, but he works it off in the sea every day, don't forget, and he looks really good for his age too.

Time passes quickly, and the children were getting scratchy bum syndrome, if you get what I mean, Angela. They had been quite good at the table during the meal, but now they had started throwing the bread out of the window into the river below, where a few ducks were wading. I pretended to go to the bathroom so that I could pay our bill (which came to 42 euro for the four of us), because I knew Dimitris would want to pick up the tab for all of us himself. For a millionaire, he's really generous; he kept offering us some of his meal, but we were too stuffed to eat any more than we had already eaten, so out of politeness, I got the kids to try sea urchins, but they weren't too impressed (it's kind of an acquired taste), and we all had some dolmadakia because they taste really good now that the vine leaves are very tender - the wife's made them a few times this year already.

When Dimitris finished his meal, he asked for the bill (his alone came to 40 euro - can you imagine how annoyed he got when he realised that I had already paid my share!), and the waiter brought us the customary on-the-house dessert and some ice-cold tsikoudia. The children, being the fussy modern Greek kids that they are, having not quite developed a taste for the true Cretan cuisine of their roots, didn't try any of the yoghurt or pergamon spoon sweet that we were offered, so Dimitris bought them an ice-cream at the kiosk by the sea, just down the road from the taverna.

Dimitris invited us over to his house for coffee, but I thought it best that we let him relax at home, because the kids were now tired and becoming all the more of a nuisance as the afternoon wore on. So we thanked him for his παρέα and φιλοξένια. "What hospitality?" he glared at me, with an angry tone in his voice, "μου την έκανες!" he said, reminding me that I shouldn't have paid the bill in secret.

I just came back home, and thought I'd have a little siesta myself on this lazy Sunday, when I noticed your urgent emails. I am available and at your service - phone me whenever you like. I am not sure if you take a siesta yourself, and as I do not  want to disturb you (in case you are indeed in the middle of taking a forty-winks break), I await your call.

Greetings from a warm and sunny spring day in Hania,

*** *** ***

I personally don't know any millionaires (this is a story, remember), but I don't need to be a millionaire to be able to afford to eat a cheap meal at an outdoor eaterie in my country. You can eat your choice of fish and any other Greek delicacy at a simple cheap taverna by the sea, where you won't know if the people at the table sitting next to you are package holidaymakers, or locals or millionaires; they will have come to the same place that you did for the same reasons, and chosen their meal from the same menu card that you did. And even if you are not a millionaire, you will feel like one even if you chose the cheaper cuts, as you sit by the sea, enjoying your meal without anyone hurrying you away, with the waves lapping the shore close to your feet, under the warmth of the Mediterranean summer sky.

evening meal by the beach
This photo was taken at the tail-end of last summer, at a cheap seaside taverna near my house.

And no one can take that away from us, economic crisis or not, unless they can harness the sun and keep her up in the north, and dry up all our sea to transport it up to their country to flood their canals and build cafes and bistros on their river banks, just to get a feel of that lazy lifestyle that they think we live in Greece.

the daily spud
And if anyone thinks I sent the kids off to school this morning, and spent my time writing silly stories on my day off from work, you can see how else I spent my morning: getting two days' worth of freshly cooked home-made meals ready for my family. Lick that.

* πατρικο: the house of one's forefathers

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