I took this photo on one of the many outings to my local haunt, a tiny street-corner cafe. It’s an old house turned coffee shop, or kafeneio. In the proper Greek fashion they serve coffee in the mornings, but come lunch the kitchen opens, offering some of the most delicious traditional dishes like ntolmadakia, tiropitakia, seafood nibbles and grills – you name it – until late into the evening.
Perhaps you already know this, but eating out in Greece doesn’t really conform to the 3-course menu. Everyone will choose a couple of plates and then we all get to share. It’s mezze dining, pretty much tapas style, only the servings are best described as a little more than generous… We often start with the best of intentions, just a small bite to nibble over a glass of wine, but it always ends up as a feast!
At Katerina’s cafe, I went last with a friend from London who was visiting and managed to tempt him with a dish that’s quite hard to find: snail stew! Rich tomato sauce, shallots and bay-leaves, yum! It was absolutely delicious, made in a home-cooked style, accompanied by an equally homely omelette with Cretan smoked ham, called apaki, and kolokithokeftedes (courgette fritters). We washed it all down with a jug of their crisp house white, which kept the conversation going for hours. And guess what came up: local food and sharing habits!
When traveling I’m always on the hunt for local delicacies, a regional specialty, or an ingredient I haven’t tried before; be it a herb, spice or exotic dish I wouldn’t normally find at home. By far my best food travel memories are those shared at friends’ houses. For instance, last year I visited Madrid, spending a day out in the countryside with a very special group – a small farm cooperative called Huerta La Madre Vieja. Founded by two talented agricultural engineers, they have taken on a small holding and started planting local seasonal vegetables. The group distributes a weekly box of the freshest produce to subscribers whose support keeps the venture going (if in Madrid you can find them here). They invited us over to have a look at the field and help out a bit. Yes, I spent a couple of hours weeding, but enjoyed myself immensely in the sunshine and it was well worth it, because we also had a picnic, all 20 of us, with paella and calçots fresh from the field! It goes without saying that the paella was exceptional. But what took me by surprise were the weird, over-sized spring onions: calçots! These Catalan spring onions are extremely sweet when grilled and mouth watering when dipped in the red pepper & almond sauce known as romesco. A true seasonal delicacy!
Madrid was probably one of the tastier holidays I have ever had. All thanks to the guys who invited this Greek girl over, showed me around and shared their amazing food. The truth is, such an experience is not so easy to find. Memories of the trip pricked my curiosity and I couldn’t help doing a little googling. Now I’m glad I did, because I found a very interesting platform that promises to offer exactly this type of immersive cultural experience no matter where you are: Cook With A Local!
A few talented people from Copenhagen started the platform last December (2014) with a view to connecting the world through food and drink. The concept is simple: you look up the city you are in, see what courses are on offer and connect with a local cook. It’s an absolutely genius idea, not only do you savour some of the local food, you get to meet people who live in the city and experience a little local colour over dinner. So, say, you find yourself in London, you had fish & chips, tried delicious menus in quite a few pubs, by day 5 you crave home cooked food; what better than a Sunday roast with a Londoner!
As you can tell, I am excited about Cook With A Local. I will certainly be participating here in Athens, as I don’t just enjoy cooking, I love sharing my food and connecting with people over a meal. I can’t wait to see all the everyday kitchen heroes emerging on this platform!
So what do you think, will you be hosting or tasting?
PS: In case your are into home-cooked snails when in Athens you can visit the little restaurant, to kafe tis Katerinas at Kanari 68 & Str. Makriyanni, Moschato