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Thursday, 29 September 2011

Soft drinks (Αναψυκτικά)

Tune in every second day this week to see how we spent our family holiday in Central/Northern Greece.

Greeks are very regional when it comes to their food sources. Regionalism (τοπικισμός - topikismos, and the people τοπικιστές topikistes) is a source of pride. They like to eat/drink according to their own region's traditions and products. This may sound narrow-minded, or maybe even prejudiced, but I think it just shows how demanding Greeks are when it comes to making nutrition choices, even in what sounds like a simple choice concerning soft drinks.

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Moving away from Coke and Sprite: a large range of  made-in-Greece soft drinks awaits you at cafes around the country. Click on the photo to enlarge it and read the accompanying notes.

We all know soft drinks are bad for you because they contain a lot of sugar, which makes you fat, while your teeth rot. That's a good reason to not keep them in the house when you have a young family. It's not kids' fault that they can't control their intake when soft drinks are easily available; we save soft drinks for party times and once-in-a-while when we feel like treating ourselves (try keeping them on a high shelf). During our recent summer trip, we treated ourselves more often than any other time. By ordering soft drinks at cafes and tavernas around Greece, we also became familiar with the variety of soft drinks available on the Greek market.
gazoza

Soft drinks are produced by a number of different companies around Greece. Each soft drink company is regionally based and is drunk more in that area than other places around Greece. Tavernas in Hania, for example, always offer Gerani or Temenia soft drinks, usually alongside Coke and Sprite. Due to the high reputation of some of these regional soft drinks, they have travelled further afield. In particular, the soft drinks produced by EPSA, originating in Volos, and Loux, originating in Patras, are available in most supermarkets as well as many tavernas and cafes all over Greece, and they each offer a similar range of refreshments.

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EPSA (above, in the coastal village of Horefto in Pilio) was widely available wherever we travelled. My favorite flavours are sour cherry, lemonade and lemon cola. The orange-ade isn't too bad, either (they sell it with or without 'gas', ie carbonated or not carbonated), and they also make gazoza, as does Loux. During our holiday, after leaving Ioannina, we stopped in Arta at a riverside cafe to have a drink under a huge oak tree by the old bridge, which is associated with the historical legend of the Protomastora (the Chief Builder - a cafe is named after him) and his wife's sacrifice: Ολημερίς το χτίζανε, το βράδυ εγκρεμιζόταν. Sadly, we didn't have enough time to visit Arta's castle ruins - the prefecture of Epirus is well worth a re-visit.
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The most common soft drinks flavours are portokalada (orange-ade), lemonada (lemonade) and gazoza* (a clear soda-like drink tasting like a mixture of cream soda and Sprite). Vissino (sour cherry) is less commonly offered but often sold in supermarkets. A more unusual flavour in soft drink offered throughout Crete (but I don't think I've seen it anywhere else) is 'biral' (in Greek: μπυράλ), which has a cola flavour.


There is also another choice available in the form of old-fashioned cordial: fruit-based syrup mixed with water. When our orchards' orange season is over, we buy ΒΙΟΧΥΜ (VIO-HIM) orange cordial made in Hania. The same company produces a range of other mainly citrus syrups, such as mandarin, lemon and sour cherry, but orange is by far the most popular. ΒΙΟΧΥΜ orange concentrate is nearly always found in the cafes of Hania, especially in the small village kafeneia - ask for it by name. It's less sweet than pure orange juice, and you can water it down as much as you like.

A more unusual cordial is kanelada (cinnamon-ade), made of cinnamon sticks boiled in sugar and water. This is common in Eastern Crete (it's available occasionally in Western Crete). Soumada, made of almonds, was also a popular drink in the past; even though it rarely surfaces these days, these old-fashioned drinks are making a surprise comeback, given the emphasis these days on buying and eating Greek. Kanelada and soumada can be drunk cold or warm, like tea, depending on one's preference. Make sure you ask if the kanelada is alcoholic or not, because it may be confused with cinamon-infused raki!

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During the 1st Symposium of Greek Gastronomy, fellow Greek food blogger Vicky Koumantou made some soumada, using almond puree. Not wishing to be wasteful and throw out the almond meal after using it to make the drink concentrate, she sweetened the mixture and filled some pastry rolls with it, which were then fried and dusted with sugar.

Finally, there are also plenty of choices in carbonated mineral water, αεριούχο νερό (aeriouho nero), all produced in Greece (click on the first photograph to enlarge it and read the accompanying notes). There's no need to ask for expensive imported stuff like San Pellegrino or Perrier, since you can get something more local and less mass-producced. Just ask the waiter which Greek-made 'aeriouho nero' they offer.

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As we were travelling in the summer, by far the most popular time of the year for foreign tourists to travel around Greece, we constantly needed a re-vitality boost. If you aren't keen on fizzy sugary drinks and prefer something more natural, there are also the following two possibilities to refresh yourself. For a start, local roadside springs offer cool refreshing tasty water, often straight from mountain sources - best of all, they are free.

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If you prefer just plain old water, look out for a source of running water on the roadside - in mountainous areas, these sources supply clean cold refreshing drinking water; if there is a cafe nearby, you can be sure that the cafe is using that water to fill your glasses.

And in hot weather, instead of ordering a drink, why not order a spoon sweet (γλυκό του κουταλιού), like the ones being sold at almost all local-produce stalls? Most cafes have spoon sweets available, often home-made using local fruit, which are always served with a refreshing glass of cold water. Finally, there is the sugary children's favorite, something we call 'vanilla' or 'ipovrihio' (υποβρύχιο = submarine). Most cafes stock this - and not just for the kids!

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I usually ordered a spoon sweet when we sat at cafes to refresh ourselves: vissino (sour cherry) on the left, and damaskino (plum - orange) and siko (fig - green) on the right. Below: ipovrihio, vanilla-flavoured sweet.
 submarine ipvrihio vanila

If I were a foreign tourist in Greece, I'd want to believe I got a taste of Greece wherever I went, and not just some globally inspired tourist food. You just need to know the correct way of asking for what you want.

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*Wikipedia states: "In Greece, the term Gazoza is used to refer to clear lemon-lime soft drinks such as 7-Up or Sprite. This term, however, has become outdated. Today, in everyday speech, soft drinks are referred to as 'anapsyktika' (αναψυκτικά), which means 'refreshers'." I need to add this to my next round of myths and legends revolving around Greek cuisine: 'gazoza' is still used in many places (Crete, for sure); if you simply ask for an 'anapsiktiko', you will be asked to state which flavour you want, but if you say 'gazoza', you will be given a clear soda-like drink. 

©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 September 2011

18 hours in Ioannina (18 ώρες στα Γιάννενα)

Tune in every second day this week to see how we spent our family holiday in Central/Northern Greece.

During this year's summer holiday on the Greek mainland, we clocked up a total of 1700 kilometres; the northernmost points we reached were Meteora and the university town of Ioannina (say: YIA-ne-na) with a School of Medicine in the prefecture of Epirus, only 65 kilometers away from the Albanian border. Yiannena  is the common way to pronounce the name of the city, but not the common way to spell it: it's usually written as 'Ioannina' or even 'Janina'. It wasn't on our itinerary; we needed to overnight somewhere, after having driven from Pilio to Meteora. We were now weary overheated travellers in need of food, water and rest. We chose Yiannena, because the city is built around a lake, and the idea of being close to a mass of water sounded appealing.

limni Ioanninon 1913limni Pamvotis Ioanninon
Former mosques adorn each corner of the castle - the black and white photo shows the castle 100 years ago; this is where we parked our car, unaware of what was above us, as the road by the lake is now lined with trees. The Nisi (Island) has a settlement on it - 250 people live there permanently and all trade is mainly tourist-oriented.

On entering the town in the mid-afternoon, I spotted a sign with directions to a 'κάστρο' (castle), so we headed there, thinking there might be rooms in the area. Its tall stone-built walls bordered the lake (whose common name is pronounced: 'Limni Ioanninon', the second oldest lake after Lake Ohrid in Europe); to Cretans, the moment of approaching water after a long absence resembles Xenophon's Thalatta! Thalatta! We were finally off the main city road: urban arteries leading into Greek cities are often tired-looking dusty places, making the area look polluted, congested and unappealing.

We were very lucky to find a good place to park; it turned out to be opposite the ferry dock: boats take people on a ten-minute trip every half hour (the 2 ticket is pricey!) to the island in the lake, simply called 'Nisi' (= 'island'). The sound of the clarinet greeted us as we came out of the car - Ipirotes (people from the prefecture of Epirus, which Ioannina belongs to) are very proud of their musical heritage, in the same way as the Cretans. They also display a similar sense of local pride in their customs, especially their cuisine - another point where Crete and Epirus converge. Our short stay on the Nisi was one of the highlights of our trip. Due to time constraints, it was difficult to stay on the Nisi for a long enough time to have a meal there (the last ferry returns to the mainland at 10pm), especially since I was intrigued by the menu choices on the eateries' placards: trout, eel, cyprinid and frogs' legs! I did manage to pick up some sweets: Yiannena is very well known for her unique high quality sweets (known as Yianniotika) all over Greece. Her syrup-drenched pastry styles are often reproduced by many zaharoplastes (confectioners). 

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Trout, eel, cyprinid and frogs' legs - and Yianniotika sweets: the further up north you travel in Greece, the less Mediterranean the cuisine (and the environment) feels. The colours and flavours of the food change, but the focus is still very much on the same Greek pride that dominates food, which is local produce. The sweets convey a sense of former times, during Ottoman rule. I could imagine Ali Pasa gorging on these with Vasiliki or Frosini sitting by his side and a silver musket hanging from his waist in his refuge on the island (see below), digesting it all with a puff on the nargile.

Because of my foreign education, my knowledge of modern Greek history has huge gaps often filled in by my husband. As we walked around the Nisi (very touristy, hawkers everywhere, vehicle-free, with about 250 permanent residents all involved in the tourist/food industry, no accomodation facilities), he told us all about the legend of Ali Pasa and his connection with Ioannina and the Nisi. Ali Pasa was not the nicest of rulers, but he had a soft spot for Greece. Of his many wives, his favorite was the Greek one, Vasiliki (his other Greek favorite was Frosini, his son's mistress). Because of his close Greek associations, he got into trouble with his superiors (the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire), so he sought refuge in a monastery on the Nisi, when he was killed in 1822. The place of his murder is now a museum holding artifacts reminiscent of the time Ali Pasa lived in the house, at about the time Greece began shaping herself into a modern independent state.


Nisi Island of Ioannina - this slideshow approximates my own photos of our trip to Ioannina, Ήπειρος, Ελλάδα, created by TripAdvisor.

http://00357.info/com/index/atlas/images/biger/epirus.jpgAli Pasa was an Albanian Moslem from Tepelene; in other words, he was from the prefecture known in Greece as Epirus, which was much larger in pre-WW2 times. In Greece, people born in the Greek prefecture of Epirus are called Ipirotes, while Greek-speaking Christians born in southern Albania, which borders Epirus, are called Vorio-Ipirotes in Greece, which means Northern Ipirotes, referring to the former Greek territory. North Epirus and South Epirus are now located in different countries, and North Epirus goes by a different name. Ioannina is also a favoured town for Albanian immigrants living and working in Greece - it has a cheap market with all sorts of goods available at reasonable prices for Albanians crossing the border back into their homeland, to see relatives or for a holiday.

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In the late evening, we ate souvlaki for dinner, after strolling around Perama on that warm summer's evening. The area was buzzing with the noise of children on bikes, gypsies in vans, people on verandahs and balconies and cars whizzing up and down the road. A note on souvlaki in central and northern Greece: your choice of meat (pork or chicken, sausage or kebab, sometimes beef) rolled in a pita with tzatziki, fries, onion, tomato, mustard and ketchup (the latter two are never added to souvlaki in Crete, but I've noticed that the newer souvlatzidika offer them at the tables). It pays to know this so that you can ask to omit anything you'd prefer not to have included!

We had to get back to the car and find a hotel for the night (there is no tourist accommodation on the island). I found a text message from a friend: "Try Perama for rooms." As we drove through this very family-oriented busy noisy suburb bordering the lake, we saw a sign giving directions to a cave (Spilia Peramatos). Perama turned out to have many cheap rooms available (we got two doubles, 20 euro each per night, ie 40 euro in total, no breakfast), most taken up by foreign tourists. The cave and the lake district attract hikers, trampers and nature lovers from all over Europe.

Perama is a strange place for these people to meet up, what with its typical haphazard Greek development: the rooms consist mainly of houses and apartment blocks that were initially made to house the locals and were later turned into rooms to meet the demands of the tourist industry. They sit side-by-side with the tourist stores consisting mainly of silverware merchants - the trade of the silversmith in Ioannina has its origins in the Byzantine era. Add to that the general melee of stores making up a Greek neighbourhood (baker, confectioner, frontistirio, mini-market, grocery, butcher, etc), and you get the picture. It's the strangest place to see foreign tourists, yet here they are, combining the unique biotope of the lake district of Iaonnina with grass roots Greek culture.

STALACTITES IN A HUGE ROOM
The cave is intact, and no part has been damaged for tourism, except at one point when some stalactites were trimmed to make a suitable tourist pathway. A natural possible exit of the cave has been left as it was discovered (it isn't open), unbroken in order to keep the cave in pristine condition, and another exit has been formed in the rock for people to exit the cave without walking the same route back to the main entrance. The photo below shows the point where a few stalactites were cut: stalactites (growing from the ceiling) are hollow and grow from the outside, while stalagmites (growing on the ground) are compact and grow as the minerals drop onto the floor. My photos are taken without flash - check out the cave on this site.
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The next morning, we breakfasted on the juice of the last remaining oranges we had carried with us from home and headed to the cave, which we realised is regarded as a very significant one in Europe. The cave of Perama was discovered accidentally in WW2 when the locals were trying to hide from the Nazis. It has formed over a period of 2 million years (according to the density of one of the stalactites) by the receding lake waters (Limni Ioanninon was much bigger in pre-historic times). It has many large open chambers (not claustrophobic at all!) filled with stalactites and stalagmites of different shapes and sizes. The tour lasted one hour (with a pricey ticket - 7 euro per person, 3 euro for children).

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This photograph has been taken at a high point at the cave's exit - the lake would have extended up to this point in pre-historic times.

By midday, we were back on the road again, heading down to Central Greece, to complete the circle that we had started four nights earlier. Eighteen hours was not enough to see much, but what we did manage to see in that short period we spent in Ioannina made a great impression on all of us. What will remain in my mind most of all is the locals' hospitality and their interest in us on hearing that we were from Crete, exactly what one would expect from the Greek notion of filoxenia.

Not all photos are my own: I have used some common-licence photos from the web

©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.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Northern Pilio (Βόρειο Πήλιο)

Tune in every second day this week to see how we spent our family holiday in Central/Northern Greece. 

Summertime means holidays by the beach - but not necessarily for islanders like ourselves. As Cretans, living close to the sea near some of the best beaches* on Earth, we like to take our summer holidays in cooler climates and higher terrain. This year's summer holiday took us to Central Greece: the first part of the trip began in Northern Pilio**.


We had briefly visited Pilio on a previous road trip, but did not have enough time to explore it properly. The Pilio peninsula is noted for its ski resorts in the winter and beaches* in the summer. This mountainous region is heavily forested, and the architecture of Northern Pilio (unlike the southern part of the peninsula) still preserves a traditional building style: stone-built houses with wooden frames and slate-tiled roofs. Many villages in Northern Pilio are perched on a steep incline: a main road runs through each village, but the houses and shops above and below that point are usually only accessible from the stone-built pathways (kalderimia - καλντερίμια) - some resembling steps, others footpaths built on an incline - which have become shiny and slippery from over-use. The main crop grown in the area is apples. Logging also forms an important industry in Pilio given its dense forests, but the main industry of the area is now tourism-related in the form of hotels, restaurants, cafes and locally produced packaged fruits. This is the reason why meat raising and crop growing went into serious decline in the area, and have now virtually been eradicated: people prefer to make money in more easy ways. Tourism brought about an unexpected prosperity to the residents of Pilio.

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Above: The Pilio ski resort is home to a number of animals, both wild and domesticated; the local breed of little brown cow can be seen here, living in forest where wolves, bears and wild boars still roam. Below: Father and son in the logging business - the forestry service marks the trees they are allowed to chop (basically, to keep the forest manageable) and they use no less than eight horses (and four labourers, mainly immigrants) to carry the chopped logs up to the road to be loaded onto a truck.
kissos pelion

Not only does Pilio's tourism sector work all year round (unlike Crete's), but Pilio's tourism, with its variety of activities available in both the summer* and winter seasons, is not directed towards foreigners (like Crete's): it is predominantly domestic, possibly due to a lack of infrastructure - foreign tourists like easily accessible roads and large hotel complexes with swimming pools. The hotels/rooms are mainly composed of small units due to the terrain, which makes the area rather inaccessible without wheels or good walking shoes. To see as much of Pilio as possible on a single visit, you need to drive a car on steep narrow roads with many bends. It's not easy to stay in one place and drive around the area - you need to move on from one hotel to the other, like we did. Unlike Crete, most of the hotels in Pilio are open throughout the year. For many years, Pilio used to be the place to go in the winter for well-heeled Athenians, who would block the narrow roads with their huge utes (the ones they can no longer afford to drive due to increased expenses, taxes and petrol costs), especially at Christmastime, conjuring images of snow and log fires. But domestic tourism is in serious decline: one of the first things you reduce or cut out altogether during an economic crisis is holidays.

apple orchard pelion
An apple orchard in the village of Zagora, known for its apple cultivation, especially the Zagorin label: no one will reprimand you (at  least, in Crete, I am sure of this) if you pick a (ie one) piece of fruit off a tree to try it; good walking shoes are recommended at all times in Pilio - the stone pathways (kalderimia) running through the villages are slippery. A regular rail service used to run from the west coast of Pilio through the more mountainous villages right up to the village of Milies, but this has now been discontinued.


On our first night, we stayed in a hotel in Tsagarada. The owner's 14-year-old son gave us what looked like a small but comfortable room (one double-bed and two sofas that open out to become beds) quoting 60 euro as the price for the one night we were to stay there. I asked to pay up immediately so that we would be ready to leave the next day. He then quoted a price of 65 euro per night if we wanted breakfast. OK, I thought, why not, so I paid 65 euro. The next morning, we called into the reception area for breakfast. This time, the owner was there. He told us we had only paid for the room (father and son obviously have a communication problem). When we (meaning both me and my husband) insisted that this was not the case, he said: "OK, I'll serve you two breakfasts." When I complained, he started ranting: "Do you know how much money I've lost over your room charge? That room is normally rented out at 75 euro a night without breakfast!" That really wasn't my problem, was it? Nor was it my problem that the rooms were only a year old and that the owner had opened them during the economic crisis, so he probably still had debts to pay, or that he had invested a lot of time, effort and money in decorating them tastefully, only to rent them out cheaply to impoverished tourists. His actions go against what is understood as filoxenia (Greek hospitality); taking food out of a guest's mouth to save on expenses is a shameful act. The owner's attitude really isn't going to help Greece in the long run, is it?

lambinou pelion
Lambinou beach (left) is a very small pebbly cove formed by a river that pours into the sea at this point; Horefto beach (right) was also very pebbly, whose depth dives suddenly after only a few steps in the water. By enlarging the photo, you can see the village of Pouri perched on the mountainside. Springs with refreshingly cold water can be found along all the roads - no need to buy it, just carry a bottle and fill it up as you travel.

On our second night in Pilio, we ate at a seaside restaurant in the coastal village of Horefto, the only place where we went swimming during our road trip. At some point, we had misplaced a pouch bag, and tried to contact the restaurant to see if they had found it on their premises. I took out the receipt I picked up from the restaurant (which of course I had to ask for, otherwise I wouldn't have got it - that's not helping Greece in the long run, is it?) which stated what looked like the name of the owner of the restaurant (a certain Petros Liantis), the business's tax identity number (what is known in Greece as ΑΦΜ), the date and the cost of the transaction. It did not have a contact phone number, so I called a directory service - to be exact two of them; neither could help me: "I'm sorry madam, but this name or restaurant does not exist for the area you have quoted." The receipt was a fake; in other words, this was a clear case of tax evasion. How long has this been going on? Who is allowing this to happen? That's not helping Greece in the long run, is it?
PS: We stayed at Hayiati Hotel at Horefto, which offered us the same price as the young boy offered us at Villa Nicolaou in Tsagarada for both room and breakfast (we chose a no-breakfast option: only 45 euro for our sole night there).

horefto pelion
At Horefto, we enjoyed a variety of home-style meals, typical of the area: Pilio aubergines (aubergine slices baked with white cheese and tomato), kleftiko (lamb and herbs/vegetables cooked in parchment), lemon-flavoured braised pork and a pot of yiouvetsi (orzo rice is called 'manestra' here: in Crete, it's called 'kritharaki'). The little bottles contain the local version of firewater - in Hania we call it tsikoudia, up north it's called tsipouro, and it goes by the generic name of 'raki'. Regional variations taste different. Typical Pilio architecture: slate tiled roof and woodwork; older houses were made of stone and nearly all the traditional homes have characteristic chimneys with a pointy top. This style is unknown in Crete and it would be difficult to find someone here that knows this trade.


On our third night, we decided to stay in Makrinitsa, in the same rooms that we had stayed in on our last visit to Pelio, which were located just a few metres away from the main square of the village, making them a peaceful place for a quiet getaway; to our dismay, we found it closed. The owners told us that they could not find enough staff to run it (or maybe there is an economic crisis...), but they did have rooms available elsewhere in the village, so we stayed there. We wanted to stay the night at Makrinitsa so that we could have a long leisurely breakfast while enjoying one of the most breathtaking views in the area, at the Pantheon cafe, the focal point of Makrinitsa's main square. Well... let's just say they don't serve breakfast any more. When we asked what was on the menu, the waiter told us that they had only hortopita, something like spinach pie - it really doesn't go pair well with a coffee in the morning! "Do you have any bread?" I asked. "No." "No honey and butter, either?" I pleaded, remembering the chunks of fresh yellow butter and the little honey pots from our previous visit. "No." We settled on a couple of tiropites (cheese pies) from the local bakery instead...
PS: Theofilos Arhontiko offered us two double rooms for 70 euro (no breakfast), in a renovated character home exuding an air of the area's past affluence. Despite the steps (no lift) and lack of car parking facilities (Makrinitsa is a vehicle-free zone), Theofilos Arhontiko remains one of the most memorable and inspiring hotels I have ever stayed in.

tiropsomo makrinitsa pelion apple spoon sweet on yoghurt hania pelion
Tiropita (cheese pie) and tiropsomo (cheese bread) - the latter is a Pilio speciality; the apple spoon sweet tasted like a mixture of quince and honey - it was spooned over yoghurt and served at the end of the meal. The views from Theofilos Arhontiko were quite stunning; traditonal architecture, city and mountain, sea and islands all rolled into one. Makrinitsa is, by far, the most picturesque village in Pilio.

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Bullshit artistry and declining professionalism aside, we had a good time in Pilio. We toured a part of the country that was new to us, and enjoyed the dense look of the forested mountains of the area. The best time to visit Northern Pilio would be in cooler weather, when you can take walks in the forests - there are very well sign-posted nature trails covering the mountain and forested regions. My main grievance with Pilio is the complete lack of professionalism, integrity and recognition of the Greek reality shown by some businesspeople in the area. No wonder there were more 'For Sale' signs (for land sections, not houses) in the area than I saw elsewhere on our road trip - certainly many more such signs than I see on our roads here in Crete (this suggests that people seems to be wanting to get rid of property because it's less useful than money these days.) The Greeks themselves make jokes about how they can't or won't or simply refuse to change; maybe that's why they sometimes get what they deserve. My experiences above should be used as advice on how to avoid such situations, rather than as guidelines on what actually happens in Greece. I know of peole who often holiday in Pilio and they know exactly how to avoid these bad bits (always rely on good sources; it pays to ask). But TripAdvisor has been informed of some of these shenanigans and that certainly won't help Greece in the long run, will it?

baked beans with sausage hania pelion spoon sweets makrinitsa pelion
Baked beans and sausage at the Hania - Greek cuisine (gigandes) is very recognisable wherever you travel in Greece; the spoon sweets here are made from all sorts of fruit and vegetables, including carrot, tomato, quince and watermelon rind. Below: an architectural detail of the (renovated) roof and chimney of a typical house in Northern Pilio.


For more photos of Pilio, click here and here: it hasn't changed much since I was there last.

*It is not an overstatement to claim that Crete has some of the best beaches in the world - probably the best in Europe.
**You will also find the area referred to as Pelion or Pelio - I prefer to keep things simple.

©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, 20 September 2011

Happy (belated) blogoversary: Seven (Χρόνια Πολλά με τα Επτά)

Magda, from My Little Expat Kitchen, has invited me to take part in a little game called Seven. Since I am not good at remembering my blog's (or anyone's) birthday, but I am good at connecting ideas, I can now take the time to congratulate myself on entering my fifth year of food blogging, and to thank you all for tuning in to read me.

Here's my list of 7:

1. My most beautiful post
Generally speaking, I have always combined food stories with photography from my town. The island of Crete is closely related to the island's food. For this reason, I have chosen Taste Crete as my most beautiful post, because I showcase the best in food that my region has to offer, and possibly some of my best food photography.

lefka ori covered in snow fournes hania chania
My food blog writing can be summarised in this photo: a view of Lefka Ori from the olive groves in the village.

2. My most popular post
I never expected to be a fasolada expert - admittedly, it's one of my husband's favorite dishes and I even manage to make it to number 1 from time to time in Google's page-1/top-10 search results. So I guess my fasolada must be pretty good...

papara
And this happens to be one of the most popular photos of fasolada on Google - a certain little boy eating his mother's home-made fasolada.

3. My most controversial post

I'm generally regarded as a controversial Greek food blogger, not because of my recipes, but because of my ideas about the Greek food scene in general. I refuse to sacrifice my integrity for the sake of covering up fallacies about Greek food, both within Greece and abroad. Although the comments in my Greek food myths and legends post were very positive, the ideas I have expressed are like a slap in the face to other Greek food writers who do not take into account the modern changing times, are too regionally based in their generalisations, and/or are generally speaking in cliches.

souvlaki
Since writing my myths and legends post, the Wikipedia entry for gyros at the time has been greatly altered, but still manages to make mistakes: "In Greece, the meat is typically pork or lamb, but can occasionally be chicken or veal." WRONG! In Greece, the meat is typcially PORK or CHICKEN (never lamb), and occassionally BEEF."

4. My most helpful post
Another surprise for me: following closely after fasolada, my most popular post is all about how to freeze aubergine. We grow a lot of eggplant in our garden, which prompted me to find ways to freeze it. I was also prompted to write this post because I was constantly being told (by ignorant people) that aubergine can't be frozen (?%&*$!).

eggplant aubergine
Don't discard them if they seem to shrivel - eggplants taste even better when their moisture diminishes.

5. The post whose success surprised me
My favorite chocolates are Roses made by the Cadbury company, which don't feature in my life these days at all (they aren't available in Hania, and if they were, they'd be super-expensive), but they were a very integral part of my youth in New Zealand. I wrote a story about Roses chocolates, and I believe that this post became very successful because Roses are a very special kind of chocolate, wrapped in a unique way, with different fillings and flavours replacing older ones over the years, which is the main reason why people google them. For similar reasons, my post on natural cake icings is becoming very popular, as people look for more natural alternatives to decorate their food.


roses chocolates
Roses wrappers are not as charming as they once were, and they never carried warning signs like "Contains nuts or soya products" like they do now.

6. The post that didn't get the attention it deserved
I can't find just one post that didn't get the attention it deserved; there are quite a number of them. I believe that this happens because people come to my blog for different reasons, among which are for my stories about Greek/Cretan life, tourist information about Hania, and recipes associated with a Greek festival or a regional Cretan dish. This last reason is the one that brings most readers to my blog: in other words, they came here by accident (ie Google sent them, hence my popularity in making fasolada or freezing aubergine). To do my blog justice, one needs to read the stories associated with my food. The recipes are only a cover-up of something deeper.

kids
Had these two children been born in Hania under similar circumstances 100 years ago, they would both most likely have been victims of infant mortality.

7. The post I am most proud of
Until I decided to write about koliva, a recipe that is very important in a Greek person's life cycle, I had never made it before. A Greek cook cannot call themselves accomplished (at least in my opinion) if they have never made koliva.

chickpea flour and roasted seasme seeds koliva ingredients
koliva koliva

*** *** ***
A part of this game involves asking other bloggers to take part in the Seven game, presenting their own sevens list. My blog has taken me to places I never expected to go to, and I have met many good people through my writing. For this reason, I'd like to introduce you to some bloggers who, for various reasons, have shown interest in my work:
1. Heidi (she has visited Crete and she writes in Danish - use a translator tool!)
2. Carrie (she make beautifully decorated cakes)
3. Vicky (she writes in Greek - use a translator tool)
4. Mia Mara (she writes a bilingual blog with her friend)
5. Anna (she gives Greek food a new lease of life in the US)

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