Monday, 28 July 2014

The Greek Collection: Achilleas seafood taverna (Αχιλλέας ψαροταβέρνα, Νέα Χώρα)

I begged for a day off from cooking last night, longing for something tasty which I hadn't cooked myself. At my suggestion, we went for Sunday lunch to a seafood lover's paradise located very close to our home, the seaside suburb of Nea Hora, which means 'new country'. On the recommendation of a friend, we decided to try Achilleas taverna.
Nea Hora was the first western suburb of the town to be built outside the old walled town, ie the original 'old town', to accommodate the growing population around the turn of last century. Before that, Nea Hora was where the Jewish and Muslim cemeteries of a mainly Christian population were located. It's now a highly congested residential area mainly full of apartment blocks, stretching from the coastal road which has a few hotels and rooms - it is naturally very popular among tourists, since it borders the coastline - to the main arterial routes of the town. Nea Hora's beach is very pretty, with very safe waters for family fun in the sea. And this is all within walking distance from the town, so this beach is highly accessible to the majority of the town's residents.

The coastal road of Nea Hora is lined with cafes and tavernas. It is one of the most picturesque places of the town, well-loved by both locals and tourists. Most of these eateries stay open all year round; Nea Hora is busy throughout the year with locals. This is in contrast to the area of the old Venetian port (only 600m or so away from here), which takes on a closed-down look after the summer season. That shows the basic difference between the two areas: the latter is for tourists, while the former is mainly for the locals.

My husband lived in the town centre in rented accomodation until his mid-30s. He went swimming in Nea Hora every day throughout the summer, with his friends, as soon as school closed. His mother would sometimes come here with neighbours, and they picknicked on the beach in any shady spot they found. When his uncle from Ohio came to Crete on holiday, he would often take my husband for lunch here with him and his wife. In fact, they would often eat at the very restaurant where we sat today. It is ironic that we don't do this ourselves, regarding an outing at a seafood restaurant as a rare treat.
The restaurant has changed ownership over the years. In my husband's youth, it had outdoor seating space that reached the other side of the kerb. (The indoor seating area is only used in the winter.) There was no road in front of the restaurant in his youth, and there were few cars then at any rate. And of course there were no umbrellas for hire in his day.
Lazaretta island on the right, Thodorou island in the distance on the left. My father used to swim out to Thodorou island, which is close to the beach in Platanias, where he lived, until he left Crete and went to live in Athens, before emigrating to New Zealand.
As we watched some people swimming out to the rocks, he told us that he used to do that too. He'd also swum out to the little island of Lazaretta, and he recalls a funny story that was talked about for quite a few days after the event. A fishing boat ran into some problems near Lazaretta, and radioed for help. But most locals would often swim out to Lazaretta from the coast. So it sounded hilarious that a fisherman would ask for help at such close distance to the shore. The 'Lazaretta shipwreck' was a common joke in his day, alluding to a low level of skills among the fishermen concerned.

We had a delicious seafood meal at Achilleas: fried calamari,
shrimp pasta,

fried skate with skorthalia (bread and garlic dip),

freshly fried potatoes, a green salad

and some ice-cold beers served in ice-cold glasses, as is customary in Greece: they are kept in a freezer all of their own, in order to keep the beer very very cold as long as possible.

When we asked for a second beer to be brought to us, we were told it was on the house, treated to us by the owners. I don't know why they did this; I can only suspect it was because I was taking so many photos.
Bracelet: from the Aegean Collection, by Nancy Chadis - eperocha
Upcycled Greek symbols denim shorts bag: the tassels were made by my mother on a Cretan loom. They initially decorated a hand-woven body towel. 

You see, every time we go somewhere new, I take items from The Greek Collection with me, to photograph them in a nice setting.

That's what I was doing before the meal, until the plates started arriving, and the table started to get oily. To get a good idea of how much olive oil a Cretan family gets through per day, look at the bottle in the photo below.
Among the four of us, we used all the olive oil missing from this bottle. Some was drizzled over the bread slices, and the rest went into the salad. This amount does not include the olive oil used to cook the meals we ordered. This olive oil tasted really good - not that our olive oil doesn't taste good, but this stuff tasted 'even better'.
We finished the meal with some melon bought to us on the house. And you can see from the bill that the whole meal didn't cost the earth - it roughly worked out at €13.50 per person.

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