It’s no surprise to any reader of this blog (or to any reader of the Greek Detective books) that I’m a huge fan of Greek island food. A large part of the pleasure of travel in Greece – as Rick Stein recently demonstrated – is discovering new dishes, or new takes on familiar dishes, or simply enjoying old favourites. After all, doesn’t everyone come home raving about Greek salad – the taste of tomatoes with the warmth of the sun still on them, the crisp sweetness of the peppers, the salty sharpness of the feta? And you can’t get food any simpler or more familiar than that.
As our boat docked in Alonissos, it was heartening to see a harbour-front lined with characterful tavernas, and more heartening still to see every one of them doing brisk trade. In the interests of research (it’s a tough job), I did my best to try them all, as well as eating further afield (in truth there were more beaches involved than fields).
Alonissos was once famous for its wine, and now it’s famous for its tuna. I was told an interesting story about the tuna which I’m keeping up my sleeve for now, since I intend to include a version of it in Something I’m Writing At The Moment. More about that another time. The most common tuna you’ll find is the white tuna – it’s on every restaurant menu in salad or with pasta, and the supermarkets sell it bottled so you can bring a jar or two home. If you feel inclined to try it (and it is excellent), you can buy it from various outlets on the internet. Much rarer is the red tuna, which sadly we didn’t get to try.
But there was plenty of other fish – some of the biggest pipefish I’ve ever seen, bream, mullet… In my last blog, I mentioned the grilled dorado we ate at Costas’s transit-van cantina in Gerakas, which was certainly memorable, but his lunch was run a close second by a taverna in the hamlet of Steni Vala – a place little more than a long jetty with a line of moored fishing boats, faced meters away by tavernas waiting to serve whatever catch the boats bring in. Late in the season, the place was sleepy to the point of torpor. We chose seats by the water in a taverna where we were the only customers, ordered a cold beer, sardines and a plate of chips and watched a fisherman preparing to put to sea whilst the charcoal was lit. There was a wait for lunch, but it didn’t seem to matter.
The following day, back in the port of Patatiri we found an ouzeri away from the harbour-front where the mezedes menu was tempting. The place was scruffy, boasting of having been open since the 1980s, and the decor matched that era – dusty conch shells hanging from drapes of old fishing nets, amateurish mermaids painted on the walls. It was easy to believe too that the clientele had walked in on the day the ouzeri opened and never left: ageing men sprawled at a table littered with newspapers and cigarettes, chewing the fat with the owner, a one-time Lothario long past his sell-by date. As we made our choices, lorries thundered past on a road running too close to our table and a barefoot man parked his battered scooter at the kerbside and wandered in to join his friends. (As an aside, my brother-in-law rarely wore shoes during the summer; the soles of his feet were so hardened and calloused, his party trick was to stub out cigarettes on his heels).
The ouzeri’s ambience was lacking, but the food was another matter. We enjoyed aubergine dolmades – sliced aubergine rolled with ham and cheese and baked to oozing softness – hummous lifted to a new level by the addition of (I think) basil, and tender stewed octopus with garlic and oregano. As we were leaving, Lothario gave us his lupine smile and invited us to Greek music night later that week. We nodded politely and took our leave.
If you saw Rick Stein’s From Venice to Istanbul, you’ll doubtless remember the episode involving the pies – gargantuan chicken and horta (wild greens) pies expertly made by a mother and daughter in northern Greece. With those pies in mind, I was delighted to receive a tip-off that there was a place on Alonissos where the home-made pies were pretty good.
After a hard morning’s relaxing – here’s our coffee order, delivered to our sunbeds
- it was time for lunch at Ms Eleni’s.
We chose beetroot humous to start,
feta and onion pie as a main course
and dessert was on the house.
Then back to the sunbed to sleep it off.
Just one more thing. Sometimes, it’s nice to keep it simple and make a meal of Greece’s nutritionally perfect superfood, the humble gyros. At the harbour’s end in Patatiri, there’s a little place called Georgio’s, with tables overlooking the beach and chilled retsina by the jug. A toasted round of soft pitta bread with flavoursome pork, juicy tomatoes and garlicky tzatziki, enjoyed with a view of the moon rising over the sea – if there’s a better way to round off a hard day at the beach, I have yet to find it.
Author of the Mysteries of the Greek Detective, books with a touch of mythology set in almost-contemporary Greece, and featuring lots of fabulous Greek food.