Karathona and Nafplio

Karathona and Nafplio

By
Lyndey Milan
Contains
16 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742702704
Photographer
Chris Chen

Nafplio is a picturesque town of cobbled streets, alleyways and squares to sit in for a quiet coffee or a little ouzo. Visiting the nearby Karonis distillery gave us a chance to learn more about ouzo from the multi-generational family who ran it. With an ouzo or two inside him Blair was ready to set himself the challenge of running up the 999 steps of the famous Palamidi Fortress, which could be seen above the town. He did it in record time with Ben, the cameraman panting behind. I took the bus. From there the view up and down the coastline was stunning.

The next day we went to Karathona beach for lunch. By the time we got there Blair was ravenous and ended up ordering one of nearly everything on the menu. Soon Blair had his first experience of wakeboarding in Tolon. Maybe there was something lost in translation from his instructor as it wasn’t his greatest triumph but he good naturedly kept trying until he got up. Again I took the quieter option and learned how to make a proper cup of Greek coffee. We were both fascinated by the museum of worry beads. Then we were supposed to cook at a waterside tavern but the best laid plans .... don’t always work out. We walked around the town to find somewhere to cook and finally got lucky when we met Harris who agreed to take us to his taverna nestled in an alleyway. This was to be one of the highlights of our trip, meeting his mother Fani, a fantastic authentic cook and sister Chryssa. What luck!

Meze and ouzo

In Greece, ouzo and meze are inextricably linked. Noone drinks in Greece without something to eat and, if you order ouzo, it will always come with a mezedes (small appetiser). Ouzo is an anise-flavoured spirit, distilled with anise and other flavourings and best drunk fresh or no longer than 6 to 12 months after distillation. It is either poured as a measure into a small highball glass or served in a 200 ml bottle called a karafaki (carafe), which is placed on the table with a jug of water and an ice bucket. As ice and water are added to the ouzo, it turns cloudy. Glasses are clinked and the collective toast, ‘Yiamas!’ (Health!) is shouted as everyone takes a drink. It creates a great atmosphere, which is known as ‘kefi’ in Greece.

As ouzo is considered a social drink, it is enjoyed in the company of others, and the accompanying food, meze, reflects this as it is designed to share. Meze comprises little dishes or tidbits known as mezedes, which are eaten when accompanied by ouzo or its cousins, tsipouro, raki, tsikoudia, wine or retsina. Meze can be enjoyed anytime from about 11 a.m. Before that you’d be drinking coffee.

The dishes that make up meze are generally high in fat or oil and are salty, such as feta, olives, fried fish and marinated fish. As Yiannis at the Karonis distillery explained to us, ‘It is like a game of balance inside your taste.’

A typical plate might include any of the following: olives, either a local cheese or feta, some keftedes (little meatballs) some slices of tomatoes if in season, a few fried fish such as anchovies, some sliced bread cut and dipped in olive oil, tzatziki on bread, local sausage (loukaniko), local cured pork (pasto), deep-fried calamari, grilled octopus or some sort of fried vegetable balls. In the tavernas where meals are being cooked for the day you may be lucky to get some belly pork (pancetta) cooked in the oven or a few giant beans in tomato sauce.

Though there are some general similarities in the type of food offered as meze around Greece, there are regional differences. For instance, if you are in a simple village ‘kafeneion’ (coffeehouse), meze might just be the odd slice of tomato, cheese and a couple of olives, but if you are on the seafront it could be a pile of prawns fried in olive oil, fresh mussels and grilled octopus. Meze can be specific dishes or, if you are in a taverna, little servings of a bit of everything that’s being cooked for that day. The dishes are served in small quantities that tickle your tastebuds and complement the drink of choice.

The domain of meze used to belong to men who would gather at an ouzerie (traditional Greek tavern that serves ouzo), but now you’ll see mixed groups of ‘parea’ or company on Sundays after church, on days of celebration or name days, out enjoying meze. Naturally, tourists to Greece love it as well.

There’s an art to meze – it is savoured, and definitely not rushed. When the food arrives on the table it is surveyed and not touched. Eventually, one person will take an olive or a piece of feta and maybe others will follow suit or wait for a while. It’s not cool to hurry. Usually if another round of drinks are ordered, so is more food. You can order a larger meze known as a ‘pikilia’ if there’s a bigger crowd or you would like more variety.

During fasting times in Greece you would get a ‘nistisimo’ or fasting meze with no meat and no fish although shellfish is allowed as it has no blood flowing through its body.

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