Zambolis apartments

Zambolis apartments
For your holidays in Chania

Friday, 27 November 2009

Kumquat (Κουμκουάτ)

"Hey guys!" My American-Greek colleague had just come into the office after taking summer leave for two weeks. "Guess where I've come back from!"

Eirini had been planning this trip for a long time. She had decided not to tell us where she was going, but promised us, in that good Greek manners style of hers, that she would bring us a little something back from her trip, something that could be used to help us guess where she spent her summer holidays.

"And I didn't forget that present I promised!" she laughed cheerily. This is what everyone in the office loves about Eirini: despite her curly 'r' sounds, she has remained true to her bloodlines - her sense of hospitality never fails to impress us.

"But just before I show you, does anyone want to hazard a guess about where I spent my vacation?"

"In or out?" Yiorgos offered.

"In, of course, Yioryi!" cried Eirini. "You know I can't afford a holiday abroad!"

"Island or mainland?" asked Carmen.

"Oh, you already know the answer to that one!" shrieked Eirini. "Who on earth would spend their summer on the mainland?"

"But there are so many Greek islands to choose from, Eirini!" Eleni complained. "Can't you at least help us out?"

"OK, OK," Eirini replied appeasingly. "Here's a little something I bought back for you."

She dug into her bag and bought out a little box. She lifted the lid of the box carefully so as to hide any words on the packaging that may provide clues of the contents. Inside it were little orange glaced balls, individually wrapped, each one sitting in its own little cushioned hollow casing, looking like precious gems.

"Bet you can't guess what these are!"

She passed them around to all of us. We all began to unwrap the morsels, ready to dig into them.

"Marzipan?" Yiorgos guessed first.

"Wrong!" Eirini laughed.

"Jellied egg yolks?" Carmen's attempt was welcomed with a few 'yeuws'.

"Baby mandarins?" Eleni hazarded.

"Close!" replied Eirini.

"Did you actually go to Kerkira, or did you just buy these from a souvenir shop?" I offered.

"Oh, Maria, you clever lass!" exclaimed Eirini. "I thought I'd catch you out on this one, but it seems you really DO know everything about Greek food." How well she knows me.

"Kerkira?" My colleagues looked bewildered. "What do they have there that we don't have here in Crete?"


"Oh, no," I replied. "Don't misunderstand me! We have kumquats here, too, but we just don't eat them!"

*** *** ***

Back in my bachelor (sic) days, I used to tend my own garden in my own house. When the fiance came along, he stared glaringly at it.

"What can you do with flowers apart from look at them?" he scoffed. Then I showed him the kumquat tree I had bought from my local nursery, the only place I bought plantlets from at the time - which shows how much I knew about gardening in my unmarried days!

"Hurrumph. And how many kumquats do you need to squeeze, to get a glass of juice, then?" was his reply. Cough, cough, splutter, splutter.

my flower garden
Can you see the kumquat tree? Click to view a larger photo with notes. There are no kumquats on the tree because, as you all know, I am not a gardener, and my husband only maintains a garden with real food...

I have also seen one more (very large) kumquat tree in Hania. It's located on an urban side street (photo to come as soon a I get into town again), close to a main road. The local nursery that sold me my kumquat tree (now alas chopped down by the tenants) had advised me that this species is hardy, highly tolerant of Cretan weather conditions, and makes for a pretty ornamental. And that's pretty much where the kumquat stayed: as a pretty tree for a pretty garden that does not require much maintenance. Another Corfiot oddity to be introduced by the British, during the few years they spent in Kerkira, along with gingibira, poutinga and kriket. And there they stayed.

cruciferous vege patch dung mounds
My husband's idea of a beautiful garden: dung mounds and cruciferous vegetables. Below is what he deems to be a pretty flower.

For more wild guesses about what the little orange globes were, click on my facebook page where I originally posted the kumquat photo.

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  1. Very cute story! My neighbor went there and brought back a bottle of kumquat liquor...I have yet to taste.

  2. Kumquat. I have a bottle of Kumquat liqueur, brought back from Kerkyra in 1988. It's still full, but for a few sips taken.

  3. Για το κουμκουάτ έχεις δίκιο. Ηταν παντελώς άγνωστο στην υπόλοιπη ελλάδα μέχρι τη δεκαετία του 80 και μόνο ορισμένοι γνώριζαν το λικερ, όταν τους το έφερνε κάποιος πεσκέσι. και στις κάβες δύσκολα το εύρισκες. Στις εκθέσεις τροφίμων ακόμα και σήμερα οι κερκυραίοι προσπαθούν να το κάνουν γνωστό.

  4. anonymous: thanks for the comment; i feel it verifies my belief that kumquat has never been viewed as a greek food item

    one thing the British left behind in Kerkira (aka Corfu) was good marketing strategies for tourist development, which have never been taken very far by greeks, as the recent example of 'greek statistics' has shown...

    here is a comment from my facebook entry to this post:

    "One of the ugliest aspects of traveling through Europe (and Greece) is seeing the eateries that cater blatantly to tourists. The endless fish & chip shops in Corfu was appalling."

    i think it is a valid addition to the present discussion - in hania, we have many british tourists, but surprisingly, we do not pander to their fancies by establishing fish and chip shops for them, although i am unsure of what is happening further east of crete (i have heard that there is even a curry house in iraklio!)

    i am still wondering if the local corfiots eat fish and chips along with the tourists - or are they clearly tourist establishments in the same way that we have similar places in hania (eg by the old port), which close down as soon as the tourist season closes down, and nobody hankers for their wares in the interim periods?

    in any case, it is obvious that the kumquat is clearly a commercial venture by the corfiots: they may not consume many themselves, but see the kumquat as a value that they can export - the 'something different' that tourists often seek when they visit a foreign place.

    check out sam sotiropoulos' post (the link is provided in rachel laudan's link in my post) which clearly explains that the kumquat cannot be found anywhere in greece but corfu - which happens to have the largest kumquat orchard not just in greece, but in europe. the introduction of the kumquat to corfu by an english lord was probably for ornamental reasons: the corfiots, greek at heart, decided to make something out of it, in a similar manner to the way they once embraced the english bread and butter pudding - poutinga uses up stale bread. but they could never convince any other greeks to take up this food habit of theirs - hence, in corfu they stayed...

  5. I'm fairly certain we drove by a curry joint in Hania, but I imagine it's the only one in town!

  6. a curry house in hania that i dont know about? send me the address!

  7. I learn something new (more often than not) when I read your blog :)

  8. OMG!! How i follow your blog? No followers 'section.I found you through Liz' blog.Making cupcakes.
    Please help me out!!

  9. I like your husband's favourite flower! Pretty flowers are nice too though :)

  10. I love kumquats! They are so fragrant and tasty.

  11. A friend of mine made the best ever marmalade from kumquats, so I recently planted a tree. I'll be adding the first little harvest (about 5 of them) into a starfruit chutney.

    As far as foreign restaurants, I remember my favorite one in Hania was Tamam Taverna,in a former Turkish bathhouse. Arabic music playing. I think some of the best Indian food I've eaten, in a restaurant, was in Dublin. People migrate all over and often open eateries.