Monday, 19 August 2013

Drakonas (Δρακόνας)

I was supposed to cook boureki yesterday. I had laid out all the ingredients on the kitchen worktop to be prepared to start working on it as soon as I woke up on Sunday morning. I got up, I made myself a cup of coffee, and then - I don't know how it happened, but I found myself lying on the couch, reading A Casual Vacancy (on the dichotomy of the modern western world: we are required to think in a politically correct manner without prejudices, while successful writers use them to create characters in best-sellers; I should start working on a novel about my immediate neighbours - it will shed great light on the Greek identity). Instead of busying myself in the kitchen, I was flaked out on the sofa, reading.

By the middle of August, I get tired of the sand, tired of the sea, tired of the beach, tired of tending the garden, tired of souvlaki, tired of cooking meat, and tired of cooking with aubergines. It must have been written all over my face when my husband saw me: "Let's go out for lunch," he suggested (it didn't take long to convince him, after seeing some mouth-watering photos on the internet from a friend's recent visit to a taverna).


What was special about this trip was the drive to the taverna which was located in the mountain village of Drakona, a place we had never been to, mainly because we never really needed to, and we chose to drive there using a route that we had never taken before, and we returned via a different route too, making a full round-trip. We passed roads lines with grazing goats and dry stone walls, abandoned stone houses, paths carved out of forests, dry streams waiting to fill up in winter, and μαντριά, enclosures for sheep and goats which graze there when the weather permits. The scenery was awesomely beautiful; Crete is filled with majestic landscape features which are easily accessible these days with the developed road system - there are few places that cannot be reached - yet few of us have taken all the roads there are to take on this island. It is not as though I have not seen other similarly beautiful places on my island, but I am constantly surprised at what the road hides. If Crete were a flat island, you could probably drive everywhere in a day or two - with all our mountains, it could take an hour to drive over a small hill or through a short gorge.

Even more inspiring are the people you meet along the way. The residents of these once large villages - now just tiny communities - remind you of the Cretan people's resilience to continue living the way their ancestors did. They are all inextricably linked to agriculture and a subsistence lifestyle, which is now suddenly in vogue, an attraction worth visiting: real people living in the middle of nowhere, observing how they are now able to stay where they are, however remote or old-fashioned it may seem to live in such places, isolated from all the trappings of modern life, without even a store to buy their staples. They eat what they produce, and they produce a lot, sharing a great deal of it. Drakona is only half an hour away from my home, but the two different worlds seem far apart form each other.

Tavernas specialising in old-fashioned roasts, using local ingredients and very little else, are now all the rage. These establishments are doing well, mainly due to their low costs of operation: if you raise the meat, vegetables and olive oil in the area where you run the restaurant, living and working at the same place at the the same time, your costs are going to be very low and the quality of the food (given the location and climate, in Crete, you cannot go far wrong) is going to be very high.
"According to Prof. Lindley M. Keasbey, “Europe is made up of two parts: the beer and butter civilisation of the North, and the wine and oil civilisation of the South. The beer and butter people are made up of Nordics and Alpines, the wine and oil people are predominate of Mediterranean stock.” On a global level, people have already realized the true characteristics of Mediterranean civilization, trying to adapt the wine and oil culture into their own home, region, and country." (something i helped write at work to hopefully make us the seat of UNESCO's Mediterranean Diet as Intangible Heritage in Greece)
Hors d'ouevres (grated tomato with olive oil and oregano) as a pre-lunch treat on the house, with our choice of a white house wine - it is not just the food that looks natural, but the colours too.
Home-made bread made the day before we came - my friend who had visited the same restaurant the day before took the photo of the loaves that had just finished baking in the wood-fired oven; one of those loaves was cut to form the slices of bread pictured above.
Vegetarian starters (staka dip, fried zucchini stuffed with cheese and braised greens in olive oil) ...
... and meat mains (lamb roasted over grapevine stems, rooster in wine sauce and pork cooked with cheese, all served with roast or fried potatoes) ...
... with a view of where the food and fuel comes from...
... topped off with dessert on the house (coconut cake, watermelon and tsikoudia)
We drove through the Therisso gorge on the way back home. 

 Of course the food was all very good, but if I could suggest an improvement, I would say that servings are very large, a common problem in such establishments (we ordered three mains, not four, and we left one piece of meat from each dish, after realising that we could not stuff any more down, having already force-fed ourselves on the last bite we took). For a price comparison, see how much it cost us (4 diners) to eat out (left) and how much it cost me to cook a roast meat dinner at home for 10 people, with some healthy lunch leftovers that fed another 8 people the next day only four days ago. Our little day trip recharged our batteries, so it's back to lentil soup for lunch today - and I do believe I have got back into blogging again, after a fortnight's rest...

Drakona now boasts two Eat Crete tavernas: Ntounias and Tzaneris and Arhontissa (where we went). Make sure you get there and leave from different routes - the sights are different on each side.

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