Zambolis apartments

Zambolis apartments
For your holidays in Chania

Thursday 28 October 2010

Pikilia (Ποικιλία)

One of the most popular taverna dishes all over Greece is the ποικιλία (pikilia), a variety mix of grilled or fried mezedakia (appetisers). You usually choose between fish or meat, or a mixture of both fish and meat cuts on the same platter. A meat-based pikilia will include: ribs, small lamb or pork chops, souvlaki skewers, sausages, breaded chicken, and meatballs; a fish pikilia contains: kalamari rings, shrimps, octopus chunks, freshly cooked anchovies and sardines, and fish croquettes. A pikilia is always accompanied by fried potatoes, vegetable fritters such as kolokithokeftedes, freshly cut salad vegetables like tomato and cucumber, and the well-known Greek piquant dips, tzatziki (for meat pikilia) or taramosalata (for fish).
mixed grill poikilia
Meat-based pikilia - the patties don't look hand-made, while small frankfurters are the cheapest sausage on the market

Pikilia is probably sounding unhealthy to you already, a bit like the Greek version of the triple burger and fries, but it really depends on how and where you eat it. Some tavernas use ready-to-cook mass-produced food to serve in a pikilia, while others cook everything from scratch; always remember that you get what you pay for. Pikilia is usually eaten in the evening among a παρέα, so everyone in the group is probably having a titbit here or there rather than wolfing down a whole pikilia to themselves. In fact, the menu card will state 'pikilia for 2 (or 4)'. Pikilia is usually the meal of choice for serving with ouzo (or tsikoudia, as we do in Crete), and there's always something for everyone in a pikilia, making it a good taverna choice for children.

poikilia - mixed meat grill
This pikilia was as cheap as it looks - apart from the meat cuts on the top of the dish, everything else looked mass-produced; chicken nuggets and tomato sauce give it away.

The last time I enjoyed a pikilia at a taverna with my family was last year. Due to the annus horribilis that most people around the world are facing at the moment, I didn't get the chance to do this this summer.  I thought it would be fun to cook up a pikilia at home for a Sunday lunch when we had guests coming. Keeping yourself busy makes you forget about the economic crisis, not to mention saving money.

pikilia greek  mixed grill
This pikilia was slightly better - most of the items resembled freshly cooked home-made food.

Compiling a pikilia involves cooking a large number of dishes, which isn't really feasible for the home cook. Most of these dishes have to be served as they are cooked, so again, it's not a meal you'll want to cook regularly because you won't be able to enjoy it with everyone eating at the same time. It takes a certain amount of organisation to be able to do this successfully, so that you can have your cake and eat it, too.

My pikilia contains some old favorites together with some more novel ideas:
  • chicken and pork souvlaki (old favorite)
  • spicy buffalo chicken wings (novel idea)
  • zucchini patties (old favorite) and tomato fritters (novel idea - they are a specialty of Santorini, and aren't usually served in tavernas in Hania)
  • aubergine dip and beetroot dip (novel idea, instead of tzatziki; melitzanosalata is often found in taverna menus, but batsarosalata has still not made into mainstream taverna food)
  • courgette and aubergine chips (old favorite - because I made a lot of them, I didn't do any french fries, which are always served with pikilia)
  • Greek salad (you usually find a few slices of cucumber and tomato in a pikilia)
  • any other condiments on hand: roasted peppers, feta cheese, olives, and of course, bread!
 pikilia greek  mixed grill dish
 Because I was serving this at home, I decided not to pile all the different bits and pieces onto one platter, as pikilia is traditionally served.

Here's the time plan so that you can enjoy this fiddly meal at the same time as your guests:
  1. The night before: skewer your souvlakia (I bought ready-prepared ones this time) and marinate them; prepare the chicken wings and cover them in the spice-and-flour mixture, allowing them to marinate till the next day (this way, the flour mixture will stick to the meat and create less mess when you fry them); have the sauce ready to finish off the chicken wings; make the beetroot and/or aubergine dips (and put them in the fridge in the same bowl that you'll be serving them in); prepare the mixtures for the tomato and/or zucchini patties (they need to be drained of excess liquids, which is why it's better to start them overnight). Now is a good time to put the drinks in the fridge - you will be too busy to remember to do this the next day: lukewarm beer tastes like piss.
  2. In the morning, slice your bread and place all the slices in a plastic bag (you won't be serving pre-sliced bread with this meal, will you?), slice some zucchini and/or aubergine (for the chips: calculate 1 zucchini/aubergine per guest) very thinly (I used a vegetable slicer). Salt them well, then place all the slices in a colander, and cover them with a plate. Now place a heavy object on the plate (I used a small melon that I'd left on the kitchen worktop to ripen) and allow their excess fluids to drain away.
  3. Fry the zuchhini and/or tomato patties. Don't worry that they will go cold; they can even be made the night before and placed in the fridge when cool (and reheated later) if you are pressed for time. This is what I did; the patties I served were our main meal from the day before, and they tasted just as good the next day when I heated them up and served them with the pikilia.
  4. An hour before serving time, turn on the grill and cook the souvlakia (I used the grill in my oven). While they are cooking, fry the chicken wings, heat up the sauce while the chicken is draining on absorbent paper, place the wings on the serving dish and pour the sauce over them. To keep them warm, I placed the chicken wings under the baking tray where the souvlaki were being grilled. At this point, put the zucchini and/or tomato patties on another baking tray (preferably in the serving dish) and place them underneath the chicken wings so that everything will cook/warm up at the same time. Most ovens allow up to three trays to be loaded.
  5. Drain the oil that was used to cook the chicken. Heat it up in the same pan that you used to cook the chicken (you don't need to clean it, just wipe away any crumbs). Place a few tablespoons of flour in a plastic bag and put the vegetable slices in it. Shake the bag so that all the slices get coated in flour. Then take them out of the bag and fry them in the hot oil (don't add too many slices, otherwise the oil will cool down and the chips will come out soggy - I cooked three batches to make sure that they remained crisp). 
  6. While you're doing all this, don't forget to check on the souvlakia in the oven - they will need turning to cook evenly on all sides!
  7. Drain the fried vegetable slices on absorbent paper. As each batch cooks, pile it on top of the previous batch (on the serving dish) to keep everything warm.
  8. Wash and chop the salad ingredients. Prepare the salad in its serving dish. Place any extra condiments on an appropriate serving plate/bowl. The souvlakia should now be ready, too.
  9. Shout "SOUVLAKI!" loud enough so your kids (or spouse or partner - I like to call mine 'husband') can hear, and tell them to lay the table if they want to eat any. If you don't have any kids/spouse/partner, you'll have to lay the table yourself.
  10. Sit down and enjoy the meal you just served - if anyone asks for cold drinks, remind them that they are in the fridge, and they can help themselves.
My guests loved this meal. They practically licked the plates clean, and there were few leftovers. They did complain that there were no fried potatoes (as every taverna pikilia includes them), but I reminded them that I only have two hands, and not enough frying pans.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Sunday 24 October 2010

The Lollipop Shoes by Joanne Harris (Τα Γλυφιτσουροπάπουτσα)

If you have ever stayed in a cheap hotel on a Greek island, you may remember seeing a few shelves full of mainly novels in the lobby or near the entrance to the hotel. I once stayed in a hotel where there were a set of bookshelves on every floor of the hotel (yes, I did make sure to visit every floor during my stay). Cheap hotels hold some of the best English language libraries in Greece.You will also find a good number of novels written in German, Dutch, Swedish and possibly Danish. You won't find many French books though; this shows where most of our European tourists come from. The tourists bring these books over as reading material for when they are sitting under an umbrella on the beach. At the end of their stay, they leave the books behind in the room they stayed; they obviously don't feel the need to carry them back home, where books are cheap, they buy them regularly, they pass them round to others who also read regularly, they take them to second-hand bookshops, they talk about them in reading clubs, etc, etc, etc. It's quite the opposite situation in Crete, so I'm very thankful for those tourists who leave their books behind, which gives me a chance to get my hands on cheap reading material.

On our most recent summer mini-break in Paleohora, we stayed in one of these hotels. I got may hands on The Lollipop Shoes (by Joanne Harris), which is the sequel to Chocolat, which most of you reading this blog will know from the highly successful film by the same name. This time, we find Vianne (the heroine of Chocolat) with a new identity and a new chocolaterie, living in Paris close to Sacré Cœur, which is what initially endeared me to the book, as this is where we recently spent a most enjoyable family holiday, staying near the metro station close to this spot in Montmatre. The story deals with the power of chocolate once again, mixed with spells and cantrips in the occult world, with a similar group of interesting characters as those in Harris' earlier novel. I found the 600 pages of The Lollipop Shoes more gripping than the 300 pages of Chocolat, and couldn't put it down; it was the perfect way to spend my time under a wide straw beach umbrella on Grammenos Beach.

grammenos beach paleohora

Chocolate is part of global cuisine. Nearly everyone knows it and eats it. The book was filled with tempting descriptions of chocolates of all kinds: fudge squares, coconut truffles, rum truffles, peach brandy truffles, mendiants du roi, hazelnut rolls, chocolate cake, lavender brittle, hot chilli squares, white chocolate angels, chocolate mice, coconut macaroons, violet creams, all calling out to the reader: try me, taste me, test me.

double boiler

Working with chocolate is not like cooking a family meal. Different forms of chocolate have different temperature and handling needs. The result of a chocolate project is often a work of art. I had a little bit of leftover 70% bio-chocolate from when I made Elizabeth Bard's molten chocolate cakes, which I decided to use in combination with the peel of some organic oranges from our own orange orchards. The basic recipe for the sugared orange peel is from Kiki's blog, which appears in Greek. I have adapted it to make one of the chocolates described in The Lollipop Shoes: chocolate-coated candied oranges.

orange fournes
At this time in the season, the oranges in our fields are in a bad state; Greece is too far away from Northern Europe for her high quality products to warrant attention, while she is too close to Turkey, a major producer of citrus, to compete with them for their market share.

You need:
4-5 pesticide-free oranges with a thick peel (remember, you are eating the peel!)
2 1/2 teacups of sugar for the syrup
1 1/2 cup of water for the syrup
1 more cup of sugar for rolling the peel in
100-200g of 70% chocolate (depending on whether you want to coat each individual strip of orange peel completely or only partially, so that some of the orange is still exposed)
Cut the oranges into into 6-8 segments and remove the fruit and pith. Only the peel will be used; the oranges can be juiced beforehand, or they can be eaten fresh as is or used in a salad. (Kiki says that the peels can be placed in a plastic bag and kept in the refrigerator; you can add to your peel stocks as you eat the oranges.) Cut the peel into lengthwise slices 0.5-1.0cm long.


Fill a pot with tap water and boil the orange peel 5 minutes in a pot of water just covering the slices. Then drain all the water from the pot and repeat this process twice. (This is to make the peel taste less bitter.) Once the peel has been boiled three times, lay the strips onto a piece of kitchen paper and let them dry as much as possible: the drier, the better.

Make the syrup by boiling the 2 1/2 cups of sugar with the 1 1/2 cup of water. Let the syrup boil for 5-10 minutes, and then add the orange peel. Lower the heat (this is important so as not to burn the pot!) and let the strips boil away in it until they have soaked up all the syrup. Stir with a fork, taking care not to break the peel. This will take nearly an hour.

Allow the peel to cool down. Lay a piece of greaseproof paper onto a baking tray. Tip 1 cup of sugar into a bowl. Coat the peel strips, one by one, in sugar. Lay them on the lined baking tray, well spread out to allow them to dry quickly. This will take at least 3 hours. Don't be tempted to eat them yet - you haven't coated them in chocolate!


When the strips are quite dry, shake them so that as much excess sugar falls off them. (This sugar can be re-used in any way you would normally use sugar.) Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Line a baking tray with aluminium foil. Dip the orange strips in the chocolate with a fork - don't be tempted to dip them in with your fingers, because you'll get covered in chocolate and then you'll have to lick it off, won't you? - then lift them out of the chocolate and wait until the excess chocolate stops running, then place each one on the foil to set. If you don't want to cover them completely, pick up each strip with your fingers and dip it into the chocolate until half way. Then finish the process in the same way as described previously. Allow the dipped peel strips to set; they are best stored in the fridge.


Oh, and don't wash out your double boiler just yet! Add 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup milk to the bowl and reheat, allowing the chocolate to melt in the liquids. Pour the drink into a cup and sprinkle some pepper or hot chilli flakes over it (and maybe a dash of your favorite liqueur). Now you have your hot toddy, all in one.


These delicious treats aren't very sweet at all, but they do contain a lot of sugar, so it's best to make them for sharing among many people, so that you don't feel the temptation to eat too many on your own. They are also rather fiddly and time-consuming to make, so it's best to make them to be served as a  special treat. They also look spectacular in pretty transparent jars, to be given as a present to good friends. 

A small update:
The second batch I made of these was rather different: this time, I used the whole orange cut up in slices, with some flesh remaining on the peel (I wasn't fussed about the juice that drained away - you can do this over a bowl and drink the juice) and followed the same boiling procedure as the recipe states. Then I cooked the slices in the syrup, again as the recipe states, but I didn't coat them in sugar (I wanted to purposely avoid this step, to avoid a gritty look to the final product).

I let them dry in the air for a couple of days, but they never actually got very dry. This is the effect I wanted: a soft juicy-looking fruit. Most of the flesh had melted away, but the peel was still firm enough to handle. I then coated each piece in the chocolate and let them set in the fridge. I found that these (unlike the first batch) were best stored in the freezer (not the fridge) and I took out the amount that I needed as I served them. They never really froze rock solid either, so they were either very chewy when eaten straight out of the freezer, or very soft if left to thaw. Either way, they were delicious!

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Wednesday 20 October 2010

Pear pie (Αχλαδόπιτα)

The pear trees on the hills above the village of Fournes are neglected by the owners of the fields they border. This makes them a forager's delight. The area has a sharp incline, so if you aren't much of a walker, you don't live close by, or you don't own a car, you won't be able to enjoy their fruits when in season. These pear trees are situated very close to our olive grove, so whenever we visit, we pick a few pears - a few pears from each tree, that is. Put it this way: we are doing those pear trees a favour; if we left them to their own devices, most of those fruits will drop on the ground and rot away uncherished.

pear tree

Local variety of pear - in Crete, pears are called 'apithia' (απίδια)

We picked these pears in mid-August when they were quite unripe. Stored in a dark cool place (the fridge is OK too), they slowly ripen and can be eaten over the next six weeks. After that, they started to take on a tried beaten look. Because they are de facto organic, they begin to decompose. To eat them fresh, you have to trim the brown parts off. They should preferably be peeled because the skin becomes tough. In any case, they have lost their sheen and are overly juicy.

apidia ahladia pears

I know they won't be eaten in my house, because appearances count for much more than taste in today's generation of fussy eaters. Pears are not often turned into pitas in Cretan cuisine, but I managed to turn them into a delicious sweet pie. I call it a pie because I adapted it from a μηλόπιτα (apple pie) recipe, but it comes out looking more like a cake. The basic recipe for the cake comes from an apple pie recipe, which I adapted to suit the ingredients in my kitchen.

You need:
about 3 pears - I used about 10 small organic ones, which needed to be trimmed of bad parts
2 cups of self-raising flour
a pinch of salt
2 eggs
1 cup of white sugar
1/2 cup of olive oil
1/2 cup of milk
1 vial of vanilla powder

3-4 tablespoons of brown sugar
1 sprinkling of cinnamon
a pat of butter (optional)

Peel the fruit, clear them of woody parts and chop them into small chunks. Set them aside.

In a mixing bowl, place the flour, salt, eggs, sugar, oil, milk, vanilla and eggs, and beat well to combine. The mixture will look like a batter, not a dough. Grease a round baking tin (I used an 8-inch diameter terracotta mould) - I always use olive oil for greasing pans. Pour the batter into the baking tin and drop all the fruit onto the batter. Don't worry if some of the fruit sinks into the batter. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the fruit, and then dust the top of the pie with cinammon. If you want the top of the cake to take on a crusty look (like mine), dab a few tiny pats of butter (don't melt it) over the pie. Cook on medium heat (about 180C) until the top of the cake takes on a deep golden brown colour (about 30 minutes). Insert a knife into the pie to check if the batter is cooked at the bottom of the pan; if it isn't, change the oven settings so that only the lower element of the oven cooks, and let the cake cook for a further 10-15 minutes.

ahladopita pear pie

This cake is a perfect start to autumn, when it is cool enough to start baking again after the long hot Cretan summer. The best accompaniment to this soft moist cake is a cup of good quality coffee.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Saturday 16 October 2010

Greek Food bloggers' camp (Μπλογκ)

The first Greek food bloggers' camp has now taken place. It was a meeting of like-minded people who have all been working on their food blogs without having received any payment for their efforts.

Everyone who wanted to participate in this event was able to do so from wherever they found themselves, as the event was broadcast live through livestream, and the participants could be linked to the event by skype.

The event can only be described as a wild success. After an initial presentation by the bloggers who wished to introduce themselves live at the event, some link-ups were made to distance bloggers (myself included), and the event continued with the presentations of well-known Greek professional chefs and other experts who gave their advice on topics of concern to food bloggers, such as: food photography, wine matching and presenting a recipe on television, among others.

A big congratulations to the organisers of the event, Vicky Komantou and George Detsis, and best wishes for the next year's camp!

Degustation (Γευσιγνωσία)

In honour of the first Greek food blogger camp, I am reposting my first Greek language post. The translation is found here, if you find this post all Greek to you.

The idea for this post came from a set of photos depicting a meal that a friend of mine had in a restaurant in Wellington, New Zealand. This event coincided with the screening of the Greek version of the reality cooking show MASTERCHEF. I wrote this post in Greek because that's how it came to me at the time - some of the ideas expressed in it could not be written in English in the first instance. Just before I finished writing this story, the Paul Henry incident broke out, so I rewrote some parts to include some of the ideas that generated from his remarks, which reminded me of some of my experiences during my last visit to the country that I was born in (2004).  This post also reminded me of an incident that occurred to me during the summer: I phoned up a New Zealand-born friend of mine of Greek origin who was visiting Crete. She told me I was always a New Zealander at heart. This came as quite a surprise to me, because I’ve been living in Greece for nearly two decades, and for a long time, I have had very little direct contact with the country I was born in; if it weren’t for Facebook, I probably wouldn’t have any at all.

Που να τον πάω, σκεφτόμουν μέρα νύχτα, για να φάει "καλό φαγητό", όπως μού 'λεγε ότι είχε ΄πιθυμήσει. Ένα μήνα στη ξενιτειά και δε βρήκε πράμα που του άρεσε. Έτρωγε ότι μαγείρευα, άλλα τού 'λειπαν τ' αρώματα κ' οι γεύσεις που είχε συνηθίσει απ' το σπίτι του. Εγώ το καταλάβαινα απ' τον τρόπο που βολόσερνε το πιρούνι του στο πιάτο. Σα νά 'λειπε κάτι, και δε μπορούσε να τελειώσει την τελευταία μπουκιά. Πως να του πω ότι μού 'λειπαν πολλές φορές τα χρώματα κι αρώματα των φαγητών που ήξερα απ' τα παλιά μου, αλλά δεν είχα και που να τα βρω κι εγώ εδώ κοντά μου; Πως να του εξηγήσω πως τ' αρνάκια εδώ μεγαλώνουν με το χορτάρι, και τα σφάζουν όταν έχουν γίνει στο μέγεθος του χοίρου; Πως να τον κάνω να καταλάβει ότι εδώ οι ντομάτες μεγάλωναν με την βροχή, όι τον ήλιο, πού 'βγαινε πότε πότε το καλοκαίρι και καθόλου τον χειμώνα; Και γιατί το ελαιόλαδο που αγοράζαμε απ' το Μο Ουίλσον μου καθόταν στο λαιμό και το ένιωθα σα νταγκωμένο;

The classic fish and chips meal, wrapped up in (unprinted) newsprint paper. Fish and chip shop menus have not changed much since I was living in Wellington (Photos: Sophia Economou).

"Μα που πάει ο κόσμος όταν θέλει να βγει;" με ρώτησε μια μέρα. "Δεν υπάρχουν ταβέρνες με σπιτικά φαγητά, παρά μόνο κινέζικα;" Στα κινέζικα δεν είχα πάει ποτέ, εγώ μόνο φισεντσίπς ήξερα πως τρώγανε. Του φέραμε πάουα φρίτα απ' το μαγαζί, και μού 'πε πως μυρίζει. Του φέραμε σπρινγκεκάρι ρολ και κόντεψε να πνιγεί από την κάψα. Μόνο το ψάρι του άρεσε - δεν είχε δει τόσο μεγάλα φρέσκα ψάρια ποτέ στη ζωή του. "Σαν το μπούτι μοιάζει το κάθε φιλέτο," μας έλεγε. Πράγματι, το ψάρι ήταν το κάτι άλλο. Πολλές φορές έπαιρνα ένα φιλέτο στο σπίτι και το μαγείρευα πλακί, στο φούρνο με πατάτες. Του δείξαμε όλα τα άλλα φαγητά που πουλούσαμε στο μαγαζί, αλλά δε του έκανε τίποτα μεγάλη εντύπωση. Όλο μας ρωτούσε τη προέλευση είχαν. Και που να ξέραμε κι 'μείς; Τί θαρρούσε, πως κοιτάζαμε τι ταμπέλα; Και αν τη βλέπαμε, δε ξέραμε ειντά 'γραφε, αφού ήταν όλα στ' Αγγλικά και δεν κατέχαμε κι 'εμείς να διαβάζουμε. Ο κόσμος πού αγόραζε φισεντσίπς ήθελε ένα γρήγορο φαγητό να φάει, όι μια ανάλυση της προέλευσής του.

Γι' αυτό λοιπόν, μια μέρα, έβαλα τα παιδιά να τον πάνε στο Μακντόναλ κοντά στο σπίτι μας, για να δει κι' αυτός κάτι καινούργιο. Τα φαγητά δεν ήταν της προκοπής, αλλά εμένα μου φαινόταν καθαρά, και τα μπιφτέκια ήταν πάντα μυρωδάτα. Καμιά φορά, όταν γυρίζαμ' απ' τη δουλειά και θέλαμε να ξεκουραστούμε Κυριακή το βράδυ, αγοράζαμ' ένα Μπιγκ Μακ απ' το ντράιβι, έτσι για ν' αλλάξουμε κι εμείς τη ρουτίνα μας, γιατί εδώ η ζωή τελικά μόνο ρουτίνα ήταν, αλλά δε το συζητούσαμε και πολύ το θέμα, μη μας πιάσει ο καημός.

"Ε μη μου πεις ότι αυτό 'ναι φαγητό!" μού 'πε γελώντας όταν όλοι γύρισαν στο σπίτι. ¨Καλά, ένα μαγειρευτό φαγητό, κάνα κρεατικό, με τη σάλτσα και τα μυρωδικά του, δε το μαγειρεύουν οι ντόπιοι;"

"Τι να πω, ντα κατέω κι 'γώ είντα τρών' αυτοί οι άνθρωποι, αδερφέ μου;" του απαντώ, με την σκέψη ότι έγινα ρεζίλι που τον έστειλα εκειδά στα φτηνά και όι αλλού που πληρώνεις χοντρά λεφτά με πολύ ντεκόρ. Μα που αλλού τρώει ο κόσμος, αφού κι εγώ η ίδια δε πήγαινα πουθενά αλλού, και όλη μέρα τηγάνιζα ψάρια και πατάτες στο φισεντζίδικο. Όλη μέρα μαγείρευα για άλλους, και το βράδυ όταν ερχόμουνα σπίτι, ήθελα κι 'γώ να φάω κάτι δικό μου, όι κάτι απ' όξω, μια φακή, ένα γεμιστό, χόρτα που μάζευα στο παρκάκι στο Πάρι Στριτ ή στη πυραμίδα.

wellington new zealand
My mother picked a lot of horta in her lifetime from these parks in Wellington; top-left clockwise: the Botanical Gardens, Mount Victoria (does it remind you of Lord of the Rings?), Pirie St Park, Marjoribanks Park.

Ο ερχομός του αδερφού μου μου θύμισε τα πρώτα μου χρόνια στη ξενιτειά. Τότε δεν υπήρχαν χάμπουγκα, μόνο φισεντζίπς. Αυτό ήταν το πρώτο έτοιμο φαγητό που έφαγα στη ζωή μου. Μόνο μία φορά είχα πάει σ' εστιατόριο, όταν έκλεισε το σχολιό στο Φίλντι όπου καθάριζα τα δωμάτια και τη κουζίνα για τα 'σιόκλειστα παιδιά. Μας είχαν πάει στο εστιατόριο ως αποχαιρετισμό. Εγώ δε κάτεχα να διαβάσω το μενού κ' έτσι άφησα τους μπόσσηδές μου να παραγγείλουν για μένα. Μού 'φεραν μια μοσχαρίσια μπριτζόλα γεμάτη αίμα, και παρόλο που την έβλεπα και μου 'ρχόταν να κάνω 'μετό, δεν είπα πράμα, γιατί ντράπηκα τον Μίστα Μάιζ, ήταν τόσο καλός άνθρωπος, και δεν ήθελα να νομίζει πως έκανε κακή επιλογή. Εξ' άλλου, ούλοι τρώγανε το ίδιο φαγητό γύρω μου, οπότε έκανα κι 'γώ το ίδιο. Σκέφτηκα ότι δε θα πρέπει νά 'τανε κακό, αφού όλοι φαινότανε να το απολαμβάνουνε.  

Μετά που παντρεύτηκα, δεν έφαγα ποτέ ξανά σ' εστιατόριο. Που και που το συζητούσαμε με τον άντρα μου να πάμε, άλλα όλο βρίσκαμ' αφορμή και δε πηγαίναμε. Τη μια ήμασταν καλεσμένοι σε γάμο, την άλλη σε βαφτίσια - αλλά ποτέ σε κηδεία: στα παλιά χρόνια δεν υπήρχαν λύπες, μόνο χαρές. Είμασταν όλοι νέοι, οι αποθαμοί ήρθαν αργότερα. Πάντα πηγαίναμε σε όλους τους χορούς που οργάνων' η ελληνική κοινότητα. Σ' αυτούς τους χώρους, μαθαίναμε για τα φαγητά που τρώγανε οι ντόπιοι, αφού οι μάγειρες δεν ήταν Έλληνες. Όλα τους τα φαγητά ήταν ομορφο-φτιαγμένα και εμφανίσιμα, νόστιμα αλλά όχι γευστικά σαν τα δικά μας. Δε βάζαν λάδι στη σαλάτα, βάζαν μαγιονέζα. Τα κρέατά τους μοιάζαν σα βραστά. Το μοσχάρι το σερβίρανε με μια παχύρευστη μαύρη σάλτσα φτιαγμένη απ 'το ζουμό του κρέατος, στο αρνί βάζαν από πάνω του μαρμελάδα! Ε, αυτό κι' αν ήτανε! Σάλτσ' από ντομάτα δεν είδαμε ποτέ. Όλα φαινότανε καλοψημένα, αλλά τα βρίσκαμε άνοστα, σα νά μην είχαν άρωμα. Τα γλυκά τους όμως ήταν όλα νόστιμα, και δεν ήταν ποτέ πολύ γλυκά. Εμένα μου άρεσε πιο πολύ το τράιφο, έτσι μού 'λεγαν τα παιδιά πως το λένε, και το 'φτιάξαμε μια φορά στο σπίτι από μια συνταγή που βρήκ' η κόρη μου απ' την εφημερίδα.

The Green Parrot Cafe is a classic icon in the food business of Wellington (Photo: Sophia Economou).

Με λίγα λόγια, έτσι τρώγαμε στο σπίτι μας, δε κοιτάζαμε τι έκαν' ο ξένος κόσμος. Τρώγαμε καμιά τηγανιτή πατάτα στο μαγαζί, αλλά πάντα μαγείρευα στο σπίτι το πρωί πριν πάω στο μαγαζί, και πάντα με το τρόπο που θυμόμουνα τη συγχωρεμένη τη μάνα μου να μαγειρεύει, και δε μας είχε μπει ποτέ στο μυαλό να κλείσουμε τραπέζι να φάμε έξω. Και τι να παραγέλναμ' έξω; Πόταχαους στέκι με πατάτες και βραστά λαχανικά, μού 'πε ο άντρας μου πως έφαγε όταν πήγε με την παρέα του ένα βράδυ στο Γκρι Πάρο, που το 'ξεραν όλοι, μέχρι και στην εφημερίδα το διαφημίζανε, και γράφανε καλά λόγια για τον ιδιοκτήτη του που ήταν 'Ελληνας. Καλό ήτανε, μου είπε, αλλά τα ίδια πιάτα που βλέπαμε στα μενού στο δρόμο τα έθιαχνα και στο σπίτι, βάζοντας τα μυρωδικά που δίνανε την γεύση που ξέραμ' απ' το τόπο μας. Εδώ στη ξενιτειά, άλλος είν' ο κόσμος που τρώει έξω, και άλλος είν' αυτός που τρώει μέσα, και δε συμβαδίζουνε.

Μα ο αδερφός μου ήρθε μια φορά να μας δει, και ξέρω ότι δεν είναι καθόλου εύκολο να ξανάρθει πάλι στο σπίτι μου. Οπότε, ήταν μια ευκαιρία να βγούμε ούλοι μαζί σ' ένα καλό μαγαζί, αφού τον φιλοξενούσαμε, μη πάει πίσω και πει σε κάνα γνωστό ότι δε τονε περιποιήθηκε η αδερφή του. Έβαλα τα παιδιά να κλείσουν τραπέζι σ΄ ένα εστιατόριο. Τους είπα να διαλέξουν ένα ακριβό μαγαζί κοντά στο 'Ρίντομπέι, κάπου να βλέπουμε θάλασσα, και ν' αποφύγουμε τα μέρη όπου συχνάζει η πολλή νεολαία μαζί με τους μεθυσμένους στο Κόρτε Πλέις, κάπου πιο πέρα απ' τσι μπιραρίες και τα καφενεία με τα σκοτεινά δωμάτια...

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Μια ταβέρνα τους είπα να βρούνε, λες και δεν είχαν ξαν' ακούσει τη λέξη! Με πήγαν σ' ένα μαγαζί σε μια πολύ όμορφη περιοχή. Το μαγαζί ήταν κοντά στη θάλασσα. Απ' τη μια μεριά ήταν η παραλία, κι απ' την άλλη το βουνό. Αν δεν ήταν καταπράσινο, και τα σπίτια δεν ήταν ξύλινα, δεν θα διέφερε πάρα πολύ απ' τα Χανιά. Θα μου άρεσε κι 'μένα νά 'μενα σ΄έν' απ' αυτά τα πολύχρωμα σπιρτόκουτα που δέσποζαν το καταπράσινο λοφάκι. Δεν συγκρίνεται με τις πέτρες που βλέπουμε 'μείς στο χωριό. Η πόλη του Ουέλλιγκτον είναι όμορφη, και έχει ένα ιδιαίτερο Αγγλικό χαρακτήρα. Αν εξαιρέσει κανείς τον καιρό, εδώ μπορεί ο καθένας άνετα να ζήσει, χωρίς άγχος, χωρίς φασαρία, χωρίς βρωμιά. Ούτε η σκόνη δε καθόταν για πολύ καιρό πουθενά, αφού η βροχή την έσερνε στις αποχετεύσεις. Της Θεανώς το σπίτι φαινόταν πάντα καθαρό. Πάντα μύριζε φρεσκάδα ο αέρας, αλλά το καλοκαίρι θύμιζε - στη καλύτερη περίπτωση - άνοιξη.

Wellington NZ-cablecar-topview
The classic Wellington shot (Photo: Wikipedia)

Υπήρχαν καρέκλες και τραπέζια στο πεζοδρόμι, αλλά που να κάτσει κανείς έξω, αφού δεν μπορούσες να προβλέψεις πότε θ' άρχιζ' ο αέρας κι η βροχή. Ήταν ένα Σάββατο του Φλεβάρη, υποτίθεται ότι τέλειωνε το καλοκαίρι στις Αντίποδες, μα που όλες οι εποχές παρουσιάζονταν κάποια στιγμή μεσ' την ίδια τη μέρα! Τώρα που δεν φυσούσε ήταν καλά, αλλά ο βροχή έπεφτε σταγόνα-σταγόνα, σαν τη τεχνητή βροχή κάτω απ' τα μπεκ στις πορτοκαλιές όταν δεν έχει πίεση το νερό. Οι εποχές ήταν ανάποδες και δεν θυμίζαν καν εποχές.

"Τι τ' αφήνουν τα τραπέζια έξω," λέω στ΄ ανίψια μου, "λες να κάτσει κανείς με τέτοιο καιρό;" Πολλές φορές τα έβλεπα να φορούν κοντό μανίκι, ενώ εγώ τουρτούριζα. Αυτά επέμεναν ότι είναι καλοκαίρι, και αν δε βάλουν το κοντό μανίκι τώρα, πότε θα το βάζανε!

"Το ρεστοράν είναι στο πάνω φλορ," με πληροφορεί η ανιψιά μου η Στέλλα, που είχε κάνει την επιλογή του μαγαζιού. Κάποιες λέξεις τις έλεγε στα ξένα, αλλά το νόημα ήταν σαφής. Γελούσα όταν έλεγε το αυτοκίνητο 'κάρο'. Έτσι τό 'λεγε κι ο Μπάμπης.

Πρώτη φορά ανεβαίνω σκαλιά για να πάω σε 'στιατόριο. Πως πιάνουν τους πελάτες τους, χωρίς να μπορεί να δει κανείς τι κάνουν μέσα πριν μπούνε! Με το που μπήκα όμως, κατάλαβα αμέσως πως το μαγαζί ήταν κυριλάτο. Το πρώτο πράγμα που μού 'πιασε το μάτι όταν μπήκαμε ήταν τα τραπέζια. Φαινόταν λουσάτη η διακόσμησή τους, αν και πολύ λυτή, με κάτασπρα τραπεζομάντηλα, κολονάτα ποτήρια και γυαλιστερά μαχαιροπήρουνα που άστραφταν. Υπήρχαν τόσα μαχαιροπήρουνα στο κάθε σερβίτσιο απ' ότι είχα δάκτυλα στα χέρια μου! Μα... γιατί δεν υπήρχε κανείς άλλος πελάτης στο μαγαζί;.

"Καλά δεν έλεγα, Στέλλα, ότι έκλεισες τραπέζι για πολύ νωρίς;" αναρωτιέται η Θεανώ.

"Τέτοια ώρα τρών' εδώ, μαμά, και το ξέρεις." Ο άδειος χώρος δεν έπηζ' ούτε 'μένα. Οι υπάλληλοι όμως ήταν στο πόστο τους, σα να μας περιμένανε να έρθουμε ακριβώς αυτή την ώρα. Ένας πολύ καλοντυμένος κύριος μας καλοσώρισε στο μαγαζί με το Μαούρικο 'Κι όρα', που για κάποιο λόγο μου θύμιζε 'Κακιόρα' όταν τ' άκουγα να το λέει η παρουσιάστρια του καιρικού δελτίου στη τηλεόραση. 

Δεν μπορούσα να συνηθίσω την σκοτεινή ατμόσφαιρα. Ο φωτισμός ήταν ανεπαρκής. Μου θύμιζε λιγάκι τις φωτογραφίες που έβλεπα στα ένθετα περιοδικά των εφημερίδων που παρουσίαζαν γνωστά Αθηναϊκά εστιατόρια. Οι ζωγραφιές στο τοίχο δε με προσήλκυσαν. Ήταν άγνωστα τοπία για μένα, και είχα άγχος για το πως πρέπει να συμπεριφερθώ σ' ένα τέτοιο χώρο. Ελάφρωσα λιγάκι όταν ο καλοντυμένος υπεύθυνος, φορώντας μαύρο σακάκι και γραβάτα, μας οδήγησε σ' ένα τραπέζι δίπλα στα παράθυρα. Αν και δε φαινότανε καλά, η θέα της θάλασσα με ηρέμησε, αφού αυτό θα έβλεπα αν έβγαινα για φαγητό το καλοκαίρι στο τόπο μου (αν κι εκεί ήταν τώρα ο βαρύτερος μήνας του χειμώνα). Έδινε μια πιο οικεία εικόνα στην καινούργια μου εμπειρία.

Based on this degustation menu, if something similar were to appear in the standard Cretan dining experience, then I suppose it would start off with sea urchins served with frothy lemon mousse surrounded by the seaweed they came entwined in, and maybe it would end off with some mizithra decorated with seasonal fruit, served with paximadi (Photo: Vera Lingonis).  

Η περιποίηση που πρόσφερε το μαγαζί ήταν εξαιρετική. Οι υπάλληλοι λάμπαν από καθαριότητα, όπως και ο χώρος. Τo γκαρσόν που ήταν υπεύθυνο για το τραπέζι μας μας έσυρε τις καρέκλες για να κάτσουμε, μας είπε τ' όνομά του, φορούσε 'να πλατύ χαμόγελο όλη τη νύχτα, και ποτέ δεν ύψωνε την φωνή του. Όταν μας έφερε το μενού, έμεινε για κάμποσα λεπτά στο τραπέζι μας και μίλησε με τ' ανίψια μου, τα οποία μετά μας έκαναν μετάφραση τι τους είπε. Ήταν μεγάλη η 'περηφάνιά μου να βλέπω τα παιδιά της αδερφής μου να μιλάνε τόσο άνετα δύο γλώσσες. Δεν είναι το ίδιο πράγμα να κυριαρχεί μια άλλη γλώσσα από την Αγγλική στους νέους σήμερα, όπως στα δικά μου παιδιά που έμαθαν της ξένες γλώσσες στα φροντιστήρια. Ακόμα τα μαθαίνανε, κι' ας είχαν τελειώσει το σχολιό πριν τ' ανίψια μου, όλο κάποιο χαρτί τους έλειπε για να προοδέψουν. Απορώ όμως πως δε έμαθαν κι οι γονείς τους να μιλάνε. Ολόκληρη επιχείρηση λειτουργούν κι ακόμα έχουν μείνει στα παλιά...

Κάποια στιγμή έφυγε το γκαρσόν, την ίδια στιγμή που έφερν' ένας άλλος μια κανάτα με νερό.

"Λοιπόν," αρχίζω, έχοντας πεινάσει απ' αυτά που άκουσα ότι υπήρχαν στο μενού. Μου είχε ανοίξ' η όρεξη. "Έχετε αποφασίσει τι θα πάρετε; Στη πατρίδα, το μοσχαρίσιο κρέας δεν είναι πάντα μαλακό, οπότ' εγώ γουστάρω αυτό το πιάτο με το--."

"Μα θείο," με διακόπτει ο ανιψιός μου ο Μιχάλης. "Δεν πρέπει να παραγγείλουμε. Θα μας φέρουν όλα τα φαγητά  που μας είπε το γκαρσόν." Καλά, έμεινα με το στόμα ανοικτό. Δε μπορούσα να πιστέψω τι άκουσα. Πάπια, χοιρινό, στρείδια, μοσχάρι, μέχρι και χελώνα άκουσα, και θα τα τρώγαμ' όλα μαζί την ίδια νύχτα;

"Κοίτα που μας έφεραν τα παιδιά," λέει η αδερφή μου, σα να μην καταλάβαινε ούτε κι' αυτή τι γινότανε.

"Δε σας τό 'χα πει, ρε παιδιά;" Τώρα μπήκε στη συζήτηση κι' ο μπατσανής μου ο Μπάμπης. "Έπρεπε νά 'χαμε πάει στο Παπαγάλο."

"Η Στέλλα διάλεξε το μαγαζί," πετιέται ο Σπύρος, ο δίδυμος αδερφός του Μιχάλη "δε φταίμ' εμείς!"

Δεν εννοούσα να δημιουργήσω φασαρία. Ότι έγινε ήταν για να με ευχαριστήσουνε, κ' εγώ τους έβαλε να τσακωθούνε μεταξύ τους!

"Μα ποιός είπε ότι δεν είναι καλό το μαγαζί," τους λέω, σε μια προσπάθεια να τους καθησυχάσω. "Πιο ωραίο εστιατόριο δεν έχω ξαναδεί ποτέ στη ζωή μου!"

"Είναι από τα καλύτερα σε όλη τη πόλη, θείο," λέει η Στέλλα που φάνηκε κάπως ντροπιασμένη. Η Στέλλα ήταν δευτεροετής στο πανεπιστήμιο. Την είχα ρωτήσει τι σπούδαζε και μου είπε ότι διάβαζε Γλωσσολογία.

"Και τι θα γίνεις όταν τελειώσεις με αυτό το πτυχίο;" την ρώτησα μια φορά.

"Δεν ξέρω ακόμα," μου απάντησε. Αυτό δεν μπορούσα να το διανοηθώ, να σπουδάζεις χωρίς να ξέρεις που θα σε οδηγήσει στην ζωή. Δεν απασχολούσε ούτε τους γονείς της, αφού δεν μπορούσαν ούτ' αυτοί να μου το εξηγήσουν. "Αλλιώς είναι τα πράγματα εδώ, και αλλιώς στη πατρίδα," μού 'λεγε η αδερφή μου. Ο Μιχάλης κι ο Σπύρος τελειώνουν το γυμνάσιο τούτο το χρόνο. Ακόμα βοηθούσαν όλα τα παιδιά τους γονείς τους στο μαγαζί. Είχαν μοιράσει τις μέρες που πηγαίνανε, έτσι υπήρχε ένα παιδί στο μαγαζί κάθε μέρα, ενώ τη Δευτέρα δεν ήταν ανοικτά. Όλοι κουραζόταν μαζί - έδειχναν επιτυχημένη οικογένεια.

"Εδώ κάνουμε κάτι που λέγεται degustation," συνέχισε η Στέλλα.

"Σα να μου φάνηκε ότι είπες 'ντισκάστι'," λέει η μητέρα της, γελώντας.

"Δεν κατάλαβες την λέξη, μαμά," την αποδοκίμασε ο Σπύρος. 

"Ντε-γκα-στέι-σιεν, μαμά." Η Στέλλα της συλλάβισε την λέξη. "Ο σεφ θα μαγειρέψει όλα τα καλύτερα φαγητά που έχει δημιουργήσει αυτός, και... δεν είναι συνταγές από βιβλία, ... και θα μας φέρει λίγο από το κάθε φαγητό στο πιάτο, για να τα δοκιμάσουμε όλα." Μου έδειξε το μενού - δεν το είχε πάρει πίσω το γκαρσόν - και μέτρησα κοντά δέκα πιάτα. Άρχισε να μου αρέσει η ιδέα. Θα γινόμουν και γευσιγνώστης!

Wellington generally has a cold and wet climate. Although sunny days do exist, they are not a frequent occurrence. Living in Crete for so long, I take the sun for granted these days, but I do miss a good rainshower every now and then (Photos: Sophia Economou).

Η θέα απ' το παράθυρο σκίαζε την χαρά που θα πρέπει νά 'νιωθα αυτή τη στιγμή. Είχε σκοτεινιάσει, αλλά η θάλασσα διακρινόταν απ' τα κύματα που είχαν εμφανιστεί στην επιφάνειά της. Ήταν η πρώτη μου φορά που είχα δει τη θάλασσα να μοιάζει στο χρώμα του σαπουνόνερου και ο ουρανός βαμβάκι! Είχε αρχίσει να φυσάει πάλι. Ένας άντρας έτρεχε στο δρόμο φορώντας σορτσάκι και φανελάκι. Κρύωνα μόνο που τον έβλεπα.

Κάποια στιγμή εμφανίστηκε πάλι το γκαρσόν. Άνοιξε ένα μπουκάλι κρασί κ' έβαλε λίγο σ' ένα ποτήρι. Το πρόσφερε στον Μπάμπη, ο οποίος δεν έδωσε και πολύ σημασία και το 'βαλε κάτω στο τραπέζι.

"Δοκίμασέ το, μπαμπά!" του ψιθύρισε η Στέλλα, και αμέσως το πήρε πάλι στο χέρι του και τό ΄πιε.

¨Γκουντ, γκουντ," λέει στο γκαρσόν, μ' ένα κούνημα του κεφαλιού του, σα νά 'δειχνε ευχαριστημένος, οπότε το γκαρσόν άφησε το μπουκάλι μέσα σ' ένα ασημένιο γκουβαδάκι κι' έφυγε.

Αυτή τη στιγμή ακούστηκαν πατημασιές στη σκάλα. Είχαν φτάσει κι' άλλοι πελάτες στο εστιατόριο. Για κάποιον λόγο που δε μπορώ να εξηγήσω, ένιωθα πιο άνετα τώρα που ήξερα πως υπήρχαν κι άλλοι άνθρωποι στο μαγαζί. Είχαν έρθει δυό άντρες. Ένα άλλο γκαρσόν τους οδήγησε στο τραπέζι τους. Έκατσαν στην άλλη μεριά του μαγαζιού, κοντά στον τοίχο όπου υπήρχε ένα τζάκι.

"Γιατί δεν έκατσαν κοντά στο παράθυρο;" ρώτησα τους άλλους. Παραξενεύτηκα που δε προτίμησαν τη θέα και θέλανε ν' απομονοθούνε.

"Θα είναι ρεζερβέ όλα τα τραπέζια εδώ," μου απαντά. "Εγώ έκλεισα πριν δύο εβδομάδες για να βρούμε τραπέζι σήμερα."

Δυο 'βδομάδες! Θα με είχαν φέρει στο καλύτερο μαγαζί της πόλης!

Το δικό μας γκαρσόν εμφανίστηκε πάλι και άρχισε να ξεδιπλώνει του καθενούς μας την λευκή πετσέτα στο σερβίτσιό μας, και την τοποθετούσε στα πόδια μας, σα νά 'μασταν παιδιά και μας φρόντιζε η μαμά μας να μη λερωθούμε! Όλ' οι μεγάλοι γελάγαμε, ενώ το γκαρσόν μας κοιτούσε παράξενα. Τα παιδιά προσπαθούσαν να κρατάνε σοβαρό ύφος, άλλα ξεσπάσανε κι αυτά στα γέλια όταν έφυγε. Αναρωτιόμουν μήπως τον προσβάλαμ' επειδή δε καταλάβαινε τι λέγαμε. Οι Ευρωπαίοι έχουν τον τρόπο τους να συνονοούνται κι' ας μη κατένε τη γλώσσα του αλλουνού, αλλά είναι απίθανο να μη καταλαβαίνουν καμιά λέξη. Πολλές φορές, οι σχηματισμοί του προσώπου τα λένε όλα. Εδώ όμως κατάλαβα ότι όλα έπρεπε να είναι φανερά και ξεκάθαρα. 

Μόλις τέλειωσε, βγήκε από τη πόρτα της κουζίνας μια νεαρή κοπέλα, ψηλή, ξανθιά, ντυμένη με τα ίδια χρώματα που φορούσε και το γκαρσόν, με μια μεγάλη μαύρη ποδιά. Έσπρωχν' ένα τραπεζάκι με ρόδες, σαν αυτά που βλέπουμε στα νοσοκομεία όταν οι νοσοκόμες έρχονται με τα φάρμακα. Μας έφερνε το πρώτο πιάτο. Το γκαρσόν μας σέρβιρε ένας-ένας, πάλι με τις πολλές εξηγήσεις του και το καλλιεργημένο χαμόγελο, ενώ η κοπέλα απλά του έδινε τα πιάτα χωρίς να μιλήσει. Τότε με περίμενε η πρώτη έκπληξη της βραδιάς: στο πιάτο υπήρχ' ένα μοναχικό στρείδι, στο κέλυφός του, πάνω σ' ένα στρώμα από φύκια!

Live Tio Point Oyster with citrus soy pearls (Photo: Vera Lingonis).

"Πρόσεξε, θείο," λέει ο Μιχάλης, "είναι ζωντανό!" Μα τι ήταν αυτό το πράγμα! Μόνο που δε κουνούσε!

"Τα φύκια τά 'χουν βράσει;" Ενώ εγώ αναρωτιόμουν αν υπήρχε ελαιόλαδο στο τραπέζι, οι υπόλοιποι γελούσαν.

"Αυτά είναι μόνο για εφέ, θείο!" λέει ο Μιχάλης. "Δεν τα τρώνε. Και εγώ δεν τρώγω όιστας!"

"Ούτε 'γω!," λέει ο Σπύρος.

"Ε, δώσ' τα μένα," λέει η Στέλλα.

"Καλά, όιστα θα μας φέρουν," λέει η Θεανώ, "ότι πουλάμε κι' ΄μείς στο μαγαζί;" Όπως κοίταζε τη Στέλλα, κουνούσε το κεφάλι της, σα να τη μάλωνε.

"Άψητα θα τα μαγειρέψει ο μάγειρας;" ρωτάει ο Μπάμπης. "Σου τό 'πα πως θά 'νε όλα ράπες εδώ!" Οι τόνοι είχαν ανεβεί. Από 'κει που καθόμουν, είδα τους κύριους στην άλλη μεριά να γυρίζουν τα κεφάλια τους προς τη μεριά μας. Εν τω μεταξύ, έμπαινε κι 'άλλος κόσμος στο μαγαζί. Άρχιζα να σκέφτομαι ότι είχα δημιουργήσει μπελάδες για όλους τους. Εγώ έφταιγα που βρισκόμασταν α' αυτό το χώρο. Κάτι έπρεπε να κάνω να ηρεμήσουν τα πνεύματα. Έπιασα το κέλυφος και ρουφώ το στρείδι σε μια χαψιά. Το στρείδι έιχε την γεύση ενός αλμυρού ζελέ. Στην αρχή μου 'ρχόταν να ξεράσω, αλλά η γεύση που μού 'μεινε στο στόμα μετά που το κατάπια ήταν αυτό που αισθάνομαι μια ανοιξιάτικη μέρα κοντά στο γιαλό, αυτό το ελαφρύ δροσερό αεράκι που έρχετ' από την θάλασσα. 

"Θείο!" σφυρίζ' η Στέλλα. "Έπρεπε να χρησιμοποιήσεις το ειδικό πιρούνι!"

Ειδικά πιρούνια! Μόνο ένα πιρούνι ήξερα εγώ, και στρείδια δεν είχα ξαναφάει ποτέ στη ζωή μου!

"Στέλλα," της απαντώ, "πρέπει να σου μάθω κάτι που ίσως δε το ξέρετε εδώ στη Νέα Ζηλανδία. Κάποια πράγματα θέλουν χέρια οπωσδήποτε."

Η Στέλλα μάλλον δεν κατάλαβε τι εννοούσα, αλλά ο πατέρας της χαμογέλασε.

"Λίγες φορές νομίζω ότι οι τριγύρω μου έχουν χάσει το τρένο," λέει μ' ένα λυπητερό τόνο στην φωνή του, ενώ ακουγόταν να γελάει. "Άλλα έθιμα έχουν αυτοί, και άλλα εμείς." Κατάλαβα αμέσως πως του έλειπε η πατρίδα. Αυτή τη στιγμή, μού 'λειπε κι 'μένα. Το μαγαζί άρχισε να γεμίζει με ξένους άνθρωπους, ξένες γλώσσες, ξένες γεύσεις, ξένα βλέμματα. Δεν έμοιαζαν ούτε με τους τουρίστες που είχαμε συνηθίσει να βλέπουμε στο χωριό τα καλοκαίρια.

Το γκαρσόν είχε γυρίσει πάλι με την ίδια κοπέλα, και άρχισε να παίρνει τα πιάτα από το τραπέζι. Τούτη τη φορά τοποθέτησε διαφανή ποτήρια στο τραπέζι αντί για πιάτα. Δεν μπορούσα να μαντέψω τί θα μας σέρβιραν σ' αυτά τα ποτήρια. Μόνο καφέ μου' ρχόταν στο μυαλό. Ρωτάω την Στέλλα, η οποία έδειχνε να μην δείχνει σημασία στο χαμένο βλέμμα των γονέων της, που μέχρι στιγμής φαινόταν σα να μην είχαν ιδέα που βρισκόταν, εκτός χρόνου και τόπου.

"Τώρα ήρθε η σούπα," μου εξήγησε, και μου έδειξε το μενού. "Λέει πως είναι από χελώνα... mock χελώνα..." Εδώ μπερδεύτηκε με την έννοια της λέξης. Αν και είχε καλύτερη γνώση της Ελληνικής γλώσσας απ' τ' αδέρφια της, είχε έλλειψη λεξιλογίου. "H λέξη 'mock' σημαίνει 'ψεύτικη', οπότε δεν είναι στ' αλήθεια χελώνα."

"Ε τότε, γιατί τι λένε χελώνα;"

"Δεν ξέρω, θείο," μου απαντά, και γέλασε λιγάκι. "Η μαμά μας μαγειρεύει μόνο Ελληνικά φαγητά στο σπίτι. Έχω ακούσει για αυτή τη σούπα, αλλά δεν ξέρω τι είναι. Μια φίλη μου στο πανεπιστήμιο μου λέει ότι τη φιάχνει η μαμά της."

"Και δε τη ρώτησες πως τι φτιάχνει, για να τη δοκιμάσεις κι' 'σύ;"

"Ε... ντράπηκα, μήπως πει ότι είμαι... "

"Αμαθή," της λέω. "Δηλαδή, δεν ξέρεις," της εξηγώ κι' 'γω, για την βοηθήσω, κι 'αυτή κούνησε το κεφάλι της σα να μου λέει ότι έτσι είναι. Αυτή τη στιγμή κατάλαβα τη στενοχώρια της. Ποτέ δε φανταζόμουνα τα παιδιά της αδερφής μου ως Νεοζηλανδάκια, μόνο σαν Έλληνες, αφού όλοι οι προγονοί τους είναι Έλληνες. Απλά είχαν την τύχη να έχουν γεννηθεί σε μια χώρα που μπορούσε να τους δώσει πιο πολλές ευκαιρίες. Τώρα σκέφτηκα ότι ίσως θα μπορούσαν νά 'ναι και κάτι άλλο, με αυτή τη κουβέντα που είπε η Στέλλα. Κάτι άλλο μπήκε στο νου μου αυτή τη στιγμή: Ποιοί ήταν πράγματι οι Νεοζηλανδοί; Το χρώμα του προσώπου δεν έπαιζε κανένα ρόλο. Ο πρωθυπουργός ήταν λευκός, ο αντιπρόσωπος της βασίλισσας σοκολατένιος. Μαορί, Άγγλοι, Κινέζοι, Έλληνες, όλοι λένε πως είναι Νεοζηλανδοί. Μπορείς να είσαι Νεοζηλανδός  Έλληνας, ή Νεοζηλανδός Κινέζος, Νεοζηλανδός Ινδός. Θα ήθελε όμως ένας Κινέζος (ή ένας Ινδός ή ένας Άγγλος) να πει ότι είναι και Έλληνας; Αυτό θα μπορούσα να το φανταστώ μόνο με τους Αλβανούς που αναζητούν Ελληνική υπηκοότητα και γίνεται για άλλους λόγους.

Heston's mock turtle soup (Photo: Vera Lingonis).  

Αυτή τη στιγμή, το γκαρσόν έβαλ' ένα φακελάκι στο ποτήρι μας, σαν αυτά του μαύρου τσαγιού, και περίχυσε ένα ζωμό από πάνω. Ήταν όλο ευωδία. Μύριζε σαν καλό κρέας. Τα δίδυμα πάλι μουρμούριζαν ότι δεν τους άρεσε.

"Μα δε τό 'χετε δοκιμάσει!" τους λέω. Η Θεανώ δεν έδειχνε ενθουσιασμένη, αλλά ο Μπάμπης είπε ότι του θύμισε φρεσκοψημμένο κατσικάκι, και πιστεύω πως είχε δίκιο. Μου άρεσε η ζεστασιά του ζωμού όπως κατέβαινε στο λαιμό μου. Απ' το παράθυρο έβλεπα τι βροχή που έπεφτε, και η σούπα με παρηγόρησε. Κι' άλλοι πελάτες είχαν έρθει στο μαγαζί, αλλά δεν ήταν γεμάτο, όπως θα ήταν μια ταβέρνα ένα Σαββατόβραδο. Οι πελάτες ήταν όλοι μεσήλικοι. Δεν έιχε φέρει κανείς παιδιά μαζί τους, κανείς δε φαινότανε να ήρθε οικογενειακώς. Για τόσους ανθρώπους μέσ' το μαγαζί θα περίμενα να γίνεται πιο πολύ φασαρία. Μόνο η δικιά μας παρέα ήταν κάπως θορυβώδη. 

Ο σερβιτόρος ερχόταν που και που να μας ρωτήσει αν όλα ήταν τις αρεσκείας μας. Δεν μπορώ να πω πως δεν μου άρεσε τίποτα. Ήταν όλα πολύ διαφορετικά απ' ότι είχα συνιθίσει στην πατρίδα μου. Αναρωτιόμουν πως δεν είχε συνηθίσει εδώ τη ζωή η Θεανώ, αφού έμενε τόσα χρόνια εδώ. Αν ήμουν στη θέση της, δεν θα είχα μείνει.

Ήταν δύσκολο να παρακολουθήσω τη ροή του γεύματος. Δεν φαινόταν νά 'χει μια λογική σειρά. Πρώτα μας έφεραν ένα ψαρικό ορεκτικό, μετά μας έφεραν κρεατόσουπα, τώρα μας φέρνουν ένα μεγάλο πιάτο, πάλι με ψαρικά: θαλασσινά με κρέμα ψαριού, συνοδευόμενο με σάλτσα πορτοκαλιού και σταφίδες. Το φαγητό ήταν σε πολύ μικρή ποσότητα, ενώ το πιάτο φαινόταν άδειο. Η εμφάνιση του πιάτου έπαιζε μεγάλο ρόλο. Αντί για λάδι, υπήρχαν πολύχρωμες σάλτσες, με φρουτένια αρώματα που δεν είχα συνηθίσει να συνδυάζονται με κύρια πιάτα. Τα ψαρικά μπερδευόταν με τα κρεατικά, τα αλμυρά με τα γλυκά. Μέχρι και η αφή των φαγητών ήταν εντελώς άγνωστη για μένα. Κάπου έχανες την σειρά των πραγμάτων.

Την ώρα που μας σέρβιραν το χοιρινό (μ' ένα ζελέ που ευτυχώς ήταν τοποθετημένο στην άλλη άκρη του πιάτου, γιατί ούτε τζίντζα ούτε λάιτσι, όπως μου τα εξήγησε η Στέλλα, κάτεχα ειντάταν, κι 'γω προτίμησα να το φάω σκέτο), ακούστηκε ένας δυνατός κρότος απ' την άλλη μεριά του χώρου. Είχε πέσει ένα μπουκάλι απ' το τραπέζι των δυο κύριων κοντά στο τζάκι, και είχε γίνει χίλια κομμάτια. Αμέσως εμφανίστηκ' ένα γκαρσόν και το μάζεψε. Από 'κει που καθόμουν, ήταν εύκολο να τους παρατηρώ, χωρίς να το κάνω σκόπιμα. Τους είχα δει να ταΐζει ο ένας τον άλλο, και όταν δεν έτρωγαν, είχαν συνέχεια τα κεφάλια σκυμμένα, ο ένας πολύ κοντά στον άλλο, σαν να φιλιούνταν. Σαν πολύ δεν κουνιότανε;

Above: Seared scallops, smoked herring puree, fennel, date and orange salad - Free range cured pork belly, ginger and lychee jelly, cashew nam jim. Below: Sous-vide duck, orange kumara mash and mandarin - Angus beef fillet, fried scampi, Worcestershire spatzli, young carrots, oxtail juice (Photos: Vera Lingonis).  

Δεν μπορώ να πω πως δε μου άρεσαν τα φαγητά. Απλά δεν θα περίμενα πως το καλό φαγητό θα περιλάμβανε τόσα μπερδεμένα συστατικά. Ψάρι, χοιρινό, πάπια και βοδινό, όλα σε μια νύχτα. Αρνάκι Νέας Ζηλανδίας ακούμε συνέχεια, αλλά μπουκιά δεν πέρασαν απ' τα μάτια μου! Δεν ήταν μόνο αυτό: το πιο ενοχλητικό ήταν οι σερβιτόροι. Μας μοίραζαν πιάτα, μετά μας σέρβιραν σαν μικρά παιδιά, συνέχεια μας γέμιζαν τα ποτήρια μας, μας εξυπηρετούσαν σαν δούλοι, δεν είχαμε σχεδόν καμία δυνατότητα να κάνουμε κάτι μόνοι μας, μέχρι και πια μπουκιά να βάλουμε μέσ 'το στόμα μας μας έλεγαν! Αυτό το παπάρισμα ήταν εντελώς περιττό, παπομοίως και το ανόητο χαμόγελό τους, που δεν εμπιστευόμουνα πια για κάποιο λόγο, σαν νά 'θελαν να μας ξελογιάσουν. Η ώρα του δείπνου είναι μια προσωπική στιγμή για μένα. Δεν σεβάστηκαν αυτή την ιερή στιγμή. H υπερ-περιποίηση απ' τη μια πλευρά μου έκοβε την όρεξη, κι άπ' την άλλη μου αποσπούσε την προσοχή. Άρχιζα να μπερδεύω τις γεύσεις.

Palate cleanser (Photo: Vera Lingonis).  

"Γι' αυτό μας φέρνουν σορμπέ ανάμεσα στα πιάτα," μας εξήγησε η Στέλλα, όταν μας σέρβιραν ένα βαθύ μπολ περικυκλωμένο απ' ατμούς, σαν την ομίχλη που έβλεπα έξω απ' το παράθυρο στα τριγύρω βουνά. "Για να καθαρίσει το στόμα μας από τις πολλές γεύσεις." Πάγο στο πάγο, με άρωμα σαπουνιού! Που κολλούσε το τριαντάφυλλο, δε κάτεχα ούτ' εγώ! Για άλλη μια φορά, η οπτική εντύπωση μετρούσε πιο πολύ απ' τη γευστική.

Τότε συνειδητοποίησα ότι πέρασα ολόκληρη βραδιά χωρίς να φάω ψωμί! Ούτε που το είδα στο τραπέζι, αλλά και να 'φέρνανε, τι θα το κάναμε, αφού σάλτσες δεν υπήρχαν, μόνο αυτές οι πολύχρωμες κρέμες που έμοιαζαν με μαγιονέζες!

Η νύχτα είχε πέσει πάνω στη πόλη, σαν ένα μαύρο πάπλωμα, γεμάτη γυαλιστερά κουμπιά. Από το παράθυρο βλέπαμε τα όμορφα φώτα που στόλιζαν το κτίρια. Η βροχή τώρα έπεφτε σε πολύ ψιλές σταλιές, άλλα έδενε με την ατμόσφαιρα μέσα σ' αυτό το σκοτεινό μαγαζί, με τα πλαστά χαμόγελα και το βαρύ γεύμα. Όλα ήταν ξένα για μένα, άλλα τους ταίριαζε η θέση τους εδώ, σα να ήταν ο σωστός τους τόπος, στο τέρμα του κόσμου, όπως περίγραφε την Νέα Ζηλανδία η Θεανώ, γιατί αν συνέχιζε το αεροπλάνο, θα πετούσε πάνω από τον Ειρηνικό, και θα χρειαζόταν άλλες εφτά ώρες για να δει πάλι κανείς ήπειρο.

Παρόλο που δε χωρούσε τίποτ' άλλο στο στομάχι μου, ήρθε η ώρα για το επιδόρπιο. Ο Μιχάλης που καθόταν δίπλα μου είχε καταλάβει τι γινόταν στο τραπέζι με τους δυο άντρες, και τό 'χε ψιθυρίσει στον Σπύρο, που τό 'πε στη Στέλλα.

"Και τί σας νοιάζει τί κάνουν;" τους απάντησε αυτή. "Μην γυρνάτε να τους βλέπετε, θα καταλάβουν ότι τους κοιτάζετε.."

"Μπα," κάνει ο Μπάμπης, "φλώροι είναι. Σα τα παγόνια κάνουν, όταν ανοίγουν τα φτερά τους!"

"Αφήστε τους ήσυχους," λέει η Θεανώ. "Μα χειρότερα συμπεριφέρονται τα ζευγάρια πού 'ρχονται στο μαγαζί. Πρέπει να τους δεις την ώρα που φεύγουν απ' τη μπιραρία, τύφλα στο μεθύσι, κι' έρχονται να παραγγείλουν φισεντζιπς! Θυμάσαι Μπάμπη τη γυναίκα που ήρθε με το παντελόνι της ανοικτό, κι' ο μποϊφρέν της την κρατούσε αγκαλιά;"

"Ε, μα κι' αυτοί εδώ είναι μπερδεμένοι πάλι μ' άλλο τρόπο," λέει ο Μπάμπης. "Πολλές φορές δε ξέρω πια 'ν' η γυναίκα και ποιός ο άντρας. Λέω 'Γες σερ', και μου απαντά 'Άι αμ λέντι'." Το μαγαζί τους στεγαζόταν σε μια περιοχή όπου σύχναζαν οι τραβεστοί. Ο Μπάμπης κι η Θεανώ, μαζί με τα παιδιά τους, είχαν δει πολλά πράγματα στην καθημερινή τους ζωή που εγώ θά 'πρεπε να τα ψάξω καλά να τα δω στο 'τοπο μου. Η ζωή τους ήταν δημόσια, είχαν να κάνουν μ' ανθρώπους απ' όλους τους τομείς, ενώ εγώ στο χωριό, τους ίδιους έβλεπα κάθε μέρα, και δε θ' άλλαζε πολύ η σύνθεση της κοινωνίας μέχρι ν' αποθάνει κάποιος.

Μας έφεραν ακόμη και τυρί πριν τα επιδόρπια, πάλι με την ίδια βαβούρα που μας σέρβιραν και τα άλλα γεύματα. Το τυρί ήταν μαλακό και τού 'χαν πασαλείψει μια κομπόστα πάνω του, οπότε πήγε χαμένο για μένα. Το ίδιο θά 'λεγα για την γλυκιά κρέμα, που ήρθε βυθισμένη σ' ένα πιάτο που έμοιαζε σαν το καπέλο που φοράν' οι Μεξικάνοι στ' Αμερικάνικα έργα. Οι σοκολάτες με το παγωτό ήρθαν σ' άλλο ένα πιάτο που μου θύμιζε γυαλότουβλα. Εγώ τα δοκίμασα όλα, αλλά δεν τα έφαγα. Όλ' οι άλλοι έγλειψαν και το πιάτο. Εγώ ήθελα μόνο μια τσικουδιά να χωνέψω, τίποτ' άλλο! Δέκα πιάτα μας έφεραν, επί έξι άτομα, δηλαδή εξήντα πιάτα χρησιμοποίησαν μόνο για το δικό μας τραπέζι! Φανταζόμουν τη δουλειά θά 'χε η λαντζιέρα απόψε!

Above: Over the moon brie, blushing pear, house cracker; Creme caramel. Below: Textures of chocolate - Ristretto (Photo: Vera Lingonis).  

Αντί για τσικουδιά, εδώ πίνουν οι άνθρωποι καφέ στο τέλος τους γεύματος. Παρόλο που ήταν πολύ πικρός, ταίριαζε μετά 'πο τόσα γλυκά. Πάλι, μια γουλιά μας έφεραν - ούτε το μισώ ποτήρι δε γέμιζε! Μα ήταν και πολύ αργά. Πως κοιμούντ' οι άνθρωποι όταν πίνουν καφέ τέτοια ώρα;

Τη στιγμή που μας έφεραν το καφέ, βγήκε πάλι η ξανθιά μ' έναν άλλο σερβιτόρο και κρατούσαν κάτι που φαινότανε σα μια μικρή τούρτα στους ομοφυλόφιλους στην πέρα γωνιά. Ήταν διακοσμημένο με ράβδους βεγγαλικών πού 'βγαζαν έναν ήχο σαν τα τηγάνια που τσουκνίζουν. Μάλλον γιόρταζε ο ένας τους γενέθλια. Οι υπάλληλοι ήταν όλο χαμόγελα και όλοι έδειχναν χαρούμενοι.

"Χάπι ανιβέσαρι τους ευχήθηκε," λέει η Θεανώ, που είχε ξεσπάσει στα γέλια. Ο Μπάμπης άρχισε να γελάει, αλλά τα παιδιά δεν έδειξαν κανένα αίσθημα.

"Ειντάν' αυτό το πράμα πάλι;" τη ρώτησα, και μου εξήγησε ότι σημαίνει επέτειος γάμου. Τώρα και μερικά χρόνια, η Νέα Ζηλανδία ήταν απ' τις πρώτες χώρες που έδωσε το δικαίωμα στους πολίτες να παντρεύονται ομοφυλόφιλοι.

"Μη μιλάς δυνατά," την μάλωσε η Στέλλα, που έδειχνε ενοχλημένη με τη συμπεριφορά των γονέων της. "Νομίζεις πως δεν καταλαβαίνουν οι άλλοι γύρω μας τι λες, επειδή μιλάς Ελληνικά;" Τα δίδυμα δεν εκφράσανε γνώμη. Απλά κοιτούσαν απ' τον ένα στον άλλο, αλλά ήταν σαφή τι σκεφτότανε - κάποια πράγματα που είναι επιτρεπτά στη γενική κοινωνία δεν είναι επιτρεπτά ή δε συζητούνται στο σπίτι. Μόνο που η Στέλλα ήταν πιο ελευθερωμένη σαν φοιτήτρια και δεν δεχόταν πια την αδικαιολόγητη συλλογιστική με την οποία την είχαν μεγαλώσει οι δικοί της. 

Παρόλο που γεννήθηκαν και μεγάλωσαν στη Νέα Ζηλανδία, πάντα θεωρούσα τ' ανίψια μου Έλληνες. Τα χαρακτηριστικά τους ήταν Κρητικά, δεν διέφεραν απ' εμάς. Μόνο η γλωσσικές τους γνώσεις ήταν ελλειπείς κι αυτό δικαιολογούταν. Μάλιστα θα μπορούσα να πω ότι ήταν και πιο Έλληνες απ΄ τους Έλληνες. Δε χάναν ούτε μία Κυριακή απ' την εκκλησία, χόρευαν Ελληνικούς χορούς καλύτερα κι' απ' τα δικά μου παιδιά, ανυπομονούσαν ν' ακούσουν το εβδομαδιαίο Ελληνικό πρόγραμμα στο ραδιόφωνο, έβλεπαν Ελληνική τηλεόραση με τους γονείς τους, γνώριζαν καλά την Ελληνική κουζίνα. Είχαν απ' ευθείας σύνδεση με την Μητέρα Ελλάδα, σα να ζούσαν εκεί, με τα ηλεκτρονικά μέσα που υπάρχουν σήμερα. Αλλά γιατί να πάν' εκεί να ζήσουν, αφού εδώ όλα τά 'χανε στα χέρια τους: παιδεία, μόρφωση, δουλειά. Εδώ υπήρχ' ελπίδα να βγάζουν το ψωμί τους μόνοι τους, ενώ στην Ελλάδα θα ήταν εξαρτημένοι μέχρι ένα σημείο στους γονείς τους. Συνέχεια έλεγαν οι γονείς τους να γυρίσουν πίσω στην Ελλάδα, αλλά εγώ δεν μπορούσα να το προβλέψω. Είχαν συνηθίσει στις ευκολίες, ευκολίες που είναι ανύπαρκτες στο χωριό. Εξ' άλλου, τι να κάνουν εκεί; 

"Θά 'χεις πολλά να πεις στον κόσμο, αδερφέ μου, όταν γυρίσεις στη πατρίδα." Η Θεανώ είχε πάψει να θυμάται το χωριό. Τώρα θυμόταν τον τόπο της ως ένα σύνολο, και όχι το μοναδικό αποσπασμένο κομμάτι που γνώριζε όταν ζούσε 'κεί. "Όλα τα παρδαλά που δε θα περίμενες να δουν τα μάτια σου και ν' ακούσουν τ' αυτιά σου τά 'δες εδώ."

"Αυτό είν' αλήθεια μέχρι ένα σημείο," της απαντώ, "αλλά έχω δει και πολλά ωραία πράγματα που δε θα ξεχάσω εύκολα."

"Τί σου άρεσε πιο πολύ, θείο;" με ρώτησε ο Σπύρος. Αυτή η ερώτηση ήταν εύκολη για μένα ν' απαντήσω αμέσως.

"Όλα μ' άρεσαν, παιδί μου," του λέω, "αλλά... αυτά που μου άρεσαν το πιο πολύ είν' αυτά που ξέρω ότι δε μπορώ νά 'χω στη πατρίδα. Μου αρέσουν οι φαρδοί σας δρόμοι, η ευκολία της κίνησης με τα μεταφορικά μέσα, τα παλιά πετρόχτιστα κτίρια του πανεπιστήμιου που δίνουν ένα ιδιαίτερο χαρακτήρα στη πόλη, και τα όμορφα ξύλινα σπίτια, όλα μου δίνουν την εντύπωση ότι η ζωή εδώ μπορεί να κυλίσει ήρεμα και ήσυχα, χωρίς άγχος και ταλαιπωρία." 

Αυτά που τους έλεγα δε θα μπορούσα να τα περιγράψω σε κανένα στο χωριό, γιατί ποιός θα με πίστευε αν τους έλεγα ότι έζησα μέσα σε μια μικρή παράδεισο, και την ίδια στιγμή αναζητούσα τον τόπο μου; Κάποια πράγματα δεν είναι εύκολα να τ' αποχωρήσεις. 

I'm a Greek-New Zealander. I'm also a New Zealand-born Greek. Sometimes, I don't know which one of the two I am more of; the passing of time and the location I find myself in often influence this factor. I may once have been a New Zealand Greek, but I don't think this is the case any longer. Other times I drop the hyphen and one of the parts, according to which way the wind is blowing at the time. Some of us live most of our lives in the twilight zone, while others prefer to keep one of the hyphenated parts in the closet.  I still hold on to both passports, though (and so do my children); they're precious items in the times we live in.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Friday 15 October 2010

Degustation - Part 2 (Γευσιγνωσία - Μέρος 2)

This post is a translation of my previous post, which was written in the Greek language. But it isn't the same as the original; some ideas are lost in translation, while others need more explanation when written in another language.

The idea for this post came from a set of photos depicting a meal that a friend of mine had in a restaurant in Wellington, New Zealand. This event coincided with the screening of the Greek version of the reality cooking show MASTERCHEF. I wrote this post in Greek because that's how it came to me at the time - some of the ideas expressed in it could not be written in English in the first instance. Just before I finished writing this story, the Paul Henry incident broke out, so I rewrote some parts to include some of the ideas that generated from his remarks, which reminded me of some of my experiences during my last visit to the country that I was born in (2004).  This post also reminded me of an incident that occurred to me during the summer: I phoned up a New Zealand-born friend of mine of Greek origin who was visiting Crete. She told me I was always a New Zealander at heart. This came as quite a surprise to me, because I’ve been living in Greece for nearly two decades, and for a long time, I have had very little direct contact with the country I was born in; if it weren’t for Facebook, I probably wouldn’t have any at all.

Where should I take him, I was thinking about this day and night, where could we go that would serve us ‘good food’, as he kept telling me, saying that he missed ‘a good meal out’. He ate whatever I cooked, but the aromas and tastes that he was used to from home were always missing. I could tell by the way he’d push his fork around the plate, as if something was amiss, so that he couldn’t finish the last bite on the plate. How could I tell him that there were many times that even I missed the tastes and aromas of the food of my past, but I didn’t actually have any place I could go to that was close by to me to find them? How could I explain to him that in this country lambs were raised on grass, and they were slaughtered when they had become the size of a pig? How could I make him understand that, here, tomatoes grew in the rain, not the sun, which would come out every now and then in the summer, and not at all in the winter? And why the olive oil we bought from Moore Wilson made me choke if it sat on my throat for too long, and I thought it tasted rancid?

The classic fish and chips meal, wrapped up in (unprinted) newsprint paper. Fish and chip shop menus have not changed much since I was living in Wellington (Photos: Sophia Economou).

“But where do people go, if they want to go out for dinner?” he asked me one day. “Aren’t there tavernas with home-made food, are Chinese takeaways all you have here?” I hadn’t even been to the Chinese takeaways myself, I only thought of fish and chips as the meal people ate when they were eating ‘out’. We bought him paua fritters from the shop, but he said they smelt bad (we actually loved them ourselves). We also bought him spring and curry rolls, but he almost choked on the heat of the curry. He did like the fish though – he said he’d never seen such large fresh fish in his life. “Each fillet is like a joint of lamb,” he told us. Indeed, the fish was quite special here. Many times, I would take a large fillet home and cook it in the oven, in tomato sauce with potatoes. We showed him all the other food we sold at the shop, but nothing  made a really great impression on him. He’d constantly be asking us about the origins of everything. What did we know about this ourselves? What was he thinking, that we were reading the labels? And even if we did look at them, we didn’t really know what was written on them, since it was all in English, and we didn’t know how to read the language. People who bought fish and chips wanted something quick to eat, not an analysis of the origins of the product.

That’s why, one day, I got the kids to take him to the McDonalds close to our house, so he can get a chance to see something different. The food wasn’t really anything special, but it looked clean enough to me, and the hamburgers were always quite tasty. They smelt strongly of herbs and spices. Every now and then, when we were returning home from work on a Sunday night, we’d buy a Big Mac from the drive-in, just so we too could change our routine a bit, because here, life is just a routine, which is a topic we never really talked about, because we’d regret it and the thought of home would overwhelm us.

“Well, don’t tell me you call that food!” he said, laughing, as they all returned home. “But really, doesn’t anyone go out for a cooked meal, like a roast or something, with a bit of homemade saltsa? Don’t the locals cook food like that?”

“Well, what can I say, do you think I know what those people eat, brother?” I answered him, with the thought that I had just made a ridicule of myself by sending him to that cheap fast food place, and not some place else where you pay big bucks just for the décor. But where else do people eat, since I myself don’t go anywhere else? All day long, I fry fish and chips at the shop. All day long I cook for others, and at night, when I come home, I too want to eat something I like, I don’t want a takeaway meal, I want some lentils, maybe some stuffed vegetables, or wild greens that I picked myself from the park in Pirie St, or up at the tops of Mt Victoria.

wellington new zealand
My mother picked a lot of horta in her lifetime from these parks in Wellington; top-left clockwise: the Botanical Gardens, Mount Victoria (does it remind you of Lord of the Rings?), Pirie St Park, Marjoribanks Park.

The arrival of my brother reminded me of my first years in this country, when everything was new to me. There were no hamburgers then, only fish and chips. That was in fact the first ready meal that I ever ate in my life. I’d only been to a restaurant one time, when the boarding school in Fielding where I cleaned the rooms and kitchen had closed for the summer. We’d been taken to a restaurant as a farewell meal. I couldn’t read the menu, so I let my bosses order for me. They bought me a beef steak full of blood, even though they said it was well cooked. Despite wanting to vomit as I looked at it, I didn’t say anything, because I was too embarrassed to say anything. I didn't want to upset Mr Miles. He was such a good man. I didn’t want him to think that he’d made a bad choice on my behalf. But everyone round me was eating the same thing, so it was a case of ‘do as the Romans do’. I thought that it can’t be that bad, since they were obviously enjoying what they were eating.

After I got married, I never ate a restaurant again. Now and again, we’d think about going out for a meal, just me and my husband, but we always seemed to find a good reason not to. We might have been invited to a wedding, or maybe a baptism – but never a funeral: in the good old days, there were no sorrows, only joys. We were all young and healthy, death came along much later among the community members. We’d always go to all the dances that the community organized. It was at such functions that we’d discover the food that the locals were eating, since the cooks there weren’t always Greek. All the food was always plated beautifully and had an appealing appearance. It was tasty too, but not in the same way as our food. They didn’t use oil in salads, they’d use mayonnaise. Their meat dishes all resembled boiled meat. Beef was served with a thick brown sauce made from the meat juices, while lamb was accompanied by something like green marmalade! It was all just too whacky for us, but we ate it. We never saw thick tomato sauces on anything except macaroni. Everything looked well-cooked, but we never really found it delicious, it was as though the food was lacking in taste somehow. Their sweets were always delicious though, and they were never really sweet, either. I was particularly fond of trifle, as my children called it, and we made it once at home from a recipe my daughter found in the newspaper.

The Green Parrot Cafe is a classic icon in the food business of Wellington (Photo: Sophia Economou).

In other words, this is how we ate at home, and we rarely tried to find out what other people were doing in their homes. We’d eat the odd fried potato at the shop, but I’d always cook at home in the morning before I went to work, and always in the way that I remembered my dearly beloved and departed mother doing. It had never occurred to us to book a table and have a meal out. And what would we eat out anyway, if we did go out for a meal? Porterhouse steak and chips with boiled vegetables, that’s what my husband told me he ate one night at the Green Parrot, when he went out with his friends. Everyone knows that place, both Greeks and non-Greeks, they advertise it in the newspaper as one of the best restaurants in town, and they always have a good thing to say about the Greek owners. He said it tasted really good, but I was cooking the same meals at home that we’d see on their menus, and I’d cook them with the herbs and spices that would get them as near as possible to that special taste we knew from home. In the foreign land that we find ourselves, there’s a big difference between the people that stay home and cook their meals and the ones that go out to eat, and the two groups don’t always see eye to eye on most things.

But my brother had crossed three continents for the first time in his life, just to see us, and I know it isn’t easy at all for him to come back to visit me. So this was a chance for all of us to go out together to a good restaurant. Since we were his hosts, we had to show him a good time, lest he go back home and tell everyone that his sister didn’t pay him much attention when he came to visit her. I got the kids to book a table at a restaurant. I told them to choose an expensive place close to Oriental Bay, somewhere where we can have a view over to the sea, and to avoid the places where the loud youths and drunks hung around in Courtenay Place, somewhere a bit further away from the pubs and the cafes with the dark interiors…

*** *** ***

I simply asked to go out to something like a taverna, and they acted as if they hadn’t heard of the word before in their life! They took me to a restaurant in a very picturesque area close to the sea. Both the beach and hills were visible. If it weren’t so green, and the houses weren’t made of wood, then it wouldn’t have looked too different from the village. I would have liked to live in one of those pastel-coloured little boxes myself. The green hills don’t compare at all with the stones and rocks of  the village. Wellington is really quite a beautiful place, with a particularly English feel to it with its Victorian houses. If you don’t take the weather into account, you could build yourself an easy life here, without stress, noise or dirt. Not even the dust settles here for long, since the rain washes it away in the gutters as soon as it falls. Theano’s house always looks clean. The air always smells fresh, but summertime – in the best instance – is like a cold Greek spring.

Wellington NZ-cablecar-topview

The classic Wellington shot (Photo: Wikipedia) 

There were some chairs and tables on the footpath, but who would want to sit outside in this weather, since you can’t always predict when the wind will start blowing or when it will start raining. It was a Saturday afternoon in February, or evening as they call anything after 6pm here. It was still supposed to be summer in the Antipodes, but all the seasons appear at some time in the same day! Now that the wind wasn’t blowing so hard, the weather was quite bearable, but the rain was falling in fine drops, like the drip irrigation under the orange trees when the water was lacking pressure. The seasons were upside down, and sometimes they didn’t resemble real seasons at all.

“Is there any point in leaving the tables and chairs outside?” I asked my niece and nephews. “How likely is it that anyone would want to sit outside in this kind of weather?” Many times I would see them wearing their short-sleeved clothes, even though I was shivering from the cold. They would insist that it is summertime now, and if they don’t wear short sleeves at this time, then they’d never get a chance to wear them!

“The restaurant is on the first floor,” my niece Stella informed me. She was the one that had chosen the restaurant. First time I see myself climbing steps to go to a restaurant! How on earth does the business attract customers if no one can see what’s going on inside before they enter! As I entered, however, I immediately understood  that this place was of a different class than the average restaurant. The first thing that caught my eye as we entered the large room was the tables. The decor looked luxurious, even if slightly minimalist, with ice-white tablecloths, stem glasses, and bright shiny cutlery. There were more knives and forks at each place setting than there were fingers on both my hands! But… why was there no one else in the restaurant?

“I told you so, Stella,” muttered her mother. “You booked way too early.”

"People have dinner at this time, mum, and you know it.” The empty room did not convince me, either. But the staff were at their posts, as if they had been waiting for us to come at exactly that moment.

“Kia ora”. One of the staff - a very well-dressed man - welcomed us into the restaurant with a Maori greeting. I had first heard that phrase from the weather lady at the end of the television news broadcast, and it always sounded to me as if she was saying ‘kakiora'. I couldn't get used to the dark atmosphere of the restaurant. The lighting seemed inadequate, more appropriate for a bar than a restaurant. It reminded me of those photographs in the Greek newspaper supplements that showcased well-known Athenian restaurants. The paintings hanging on the walls did not impress me. They showed unfamiliar landscapes for me. I felt some anxiety about how I should behave in a place like this - and some relief when another well-dressed man wearing a blazer and tie led us to our table, which was right in front of the windows. Despite the poor visibility, the view of the sea had a soothing effect on me; the sea is the kind of view I look forward to when I go out to eat at home. Although it did lend an air of familiarity to my new dining experience, just at that moment, it occurred to me that the Mediterranean would not look too different now from what I was seeing outside the window, even though the seasons were supposed to be in reverse. Crete was wrapped in the midst of winter, while the tail end of the New Zealand summer was not much different.

Based on this degustation menu, if something similar were to appear in the standard Cretan dining experience, then I suppose it would start off with sea urchins served with frothy lemon mousse surrounded by the seaweed they came entwined in, and maybe it would end off with some mizithra decorated with seasonal fruit, served with paximadi (Photo: Vera Lingonis). 

The attention that the restaurant was paying to detail was exceptional. The staff seemed to be glistening in cleanliness, just like the restaurant itself. The waiter responsible for our table pulled out our chairs for us to sit down, told us his name, wore a wide smile all evening, and never raised his voice. When he brought the menu card, he remained for a few minutes at the table to explain it to us. My niece then translated everything to me. It was a really proud moment for me to see my sister's children speaking fluently and with such ease in both languages. It's just not the same thing to have another dominant language other than English these days, especially in young people today, like my children who learnt foreign languages at the afternoon language schools. They're still learning them even now that they're grown up, they always seem to be needing a certificate or something in order to get on in life. I wonder how it is that my sister and her husband haven't really learnt the English language. They run a whole business, but can't seem to move along with the times in their new homeland...

The waiter left at some point, just as another waiter brought us jugs of water.

"Well," I began, feeling slightly hungry from all the menu choices that I had just heard about. My appetite was beginning to open. "Have you decided what you're going to order? In the village, beef is always a little too tough for my liking, so I feel like--."

"But, theio," my nephew Mihali interrupted me, "we don't need to order. They're going to bring us everything the waiter told us about!" I was bowled over, I could hardly believe what I had just heard. Duck, pork, seafood, beef, even turtle - we'd be eating it all in the same night!

"Look where the kids brought us," my sister spoke in a reprimanding voice, as if she herself had no idea what was going on.

"Didn't I tell you, kids?" Babis had now joined into the conversation. "We should have gone to the Green Parrot!"

"Stella chose the restaurant, not us," Spiros jumped to defend himself. "Not my fault, Dad!"

I could now see that I was creating trouble. They were doing all this to make me happy, and I had just started a family argument among them!

"Hey, who said there's anything wrong with this place?" I said, in an attempt to appease them. "I've never been to a more appealing restaurant in my life!"

"It's one of the most recommended in town, theio," said Stella. I discerned a sense of embarrassment in her voice. Stella was in her second year at university. I had asked her once about what she was studying and she told me it was something called Linguistics.

"And what are you going to do when you finish with these studies?" I asked her.

"I still haven't decided," she answered. This is something I couldn't very well understand, to be studying without knowing where your studies will eventually lead you in life. It didn't seem to worry her parents, since they couldn't explain it to me, either. "It's a different country here," my sister would remind me when I compared my new experiences with my home life. Mihali and Spiros were finishing college this year. All the children helped their parents at the shop. They had shared out the days amongst themselves, so that one child was always present at the shop with them every day. Everyone in the family toiled and tired together - they were deemed a successful family.

"What we're doing here is something called 'degustation'," Stella continued.

"I thought I just heard you say 'disgusting'." My sister was laughing.

"You didn't hear right, mum," Spiros chided her.

"De-gus-ta-tion." Stella syllabified the word for her parents' benefit. "The chef's going to cook his best dishes, which he's created himself, and... these recipes aren't found in books, ... and he's going to bring each one of us a plate of each of these foods, so that we can try them all." Stella showed me the menu card - the waiter hadn't taken it back - and I counted nearly ten dishes, which Stella told me were called 'courses'. I began to like the sound of this - I was going to become a taste connoisseur!

Wellington generally has a cool wet climate. Although sunny days do exist, they are not a frequent occurrence. Living in Crete for so long, I take the sun for granted these days, but I do miss a good rain shower every now and then (Photos: Sophia Economou). 

In the meantime, the view from the window did not bring the good tidings that I should have been enjoying at that moment. The sky had darkened, but the sea was still distinguishable from the waves that had appeared on its surface. It was my first time seeing the sea looking like the colour of soap water, sitting below a cotton-wool sky! The wind had started up again. It began to sound like an aeroplane taking off from the tarmac; the sound it made felt like an earthquake brewing without the houses moving. A man was jogging on the street, looking slightly drenched from the rain and sweat. He was wearing shorts and a T-shirt; I felt the cold ripple through me.

The waiter turned up at this point, opening the bottle of wine that Babis - or more likely Stella - had ordered, and poured a little into a glass. He offered it to Babis, who didn't pay much attention to it, and promptly placed the glass on the table without having a sip. 

"Taste it, Dad," Stella whispered to him, and he immediately picked up the glass and drank it.

"Good, good," he said, gesturing towards the waiter with a nod of his head, who interpreted it as a sign of satisfaction. The waiter placed the bottle of wine in a little silver bucket and left the table.

The sound of footsteps could be heard in the staircase leading to the restaurant. Some more customers had arrived. For some reason that I cannot explain, I felt more comfortable now that I knew that there were more people in the restaurant. Two men had entered the room. Another waiter - not ours - led them to their table at the far side of the restaurant, close to the wall where there was a fireplace.

"Why didn't they come to sit by the window?" I asked out loud, not really expecting an answer to my rhetorical thoughts.

"The tables here must all be reserved," Stella replied. "I booked this table two weeks ago so that we can be sure of having it today."

Two weeks! They must have brought me to the most popular restaurant in town!

Our waiter appeared again by our table and began to unfold each of our napkins and place them on our laps, as if we were young children, and our mother was taking care of us lest we soil our clothes!

It didn't take long for all of us to start laughing in turn, while the waiter had an annoyed look on his face. He did not find our amusement funny! I wondered whether it was because he didn't understand what we were saying as we were laughing. Europeans have their own way to make themselves understood, even if they don't know each other's languages, although it's practically impossible not to find a few words in some common languages that are universally known. Many times, facial gestures say a lot. Here, though, I understood that everything had to be clear and upfront.

When he finished laying our napkins, a young woman appeared from the door separating the kitchen from the dining area, dressed in the same colours as the waiter, with a large black apron covering her clothes. She was pushing a little trolley table like the ones we see in hospitals when the nurses come round to administer medication. The first course was about to be served, with so much fanfare! The waiter served our plates, one-by-one, again with his many explanations and his cultured smile, while the girl simply passed the plates to him without speaking. That was when I got my next big surprise for the evening: on the plate, there was one lone oyster in its shell, sitting on a mattress of seaweed!

Live Tio Point Oyster with citrus soy pearls (Photo: Vera Lingonis).

"Careful, theio," Mihali cautioned. "It's alive!" The whole plate looked like a work of art - still life that was almost moving!

"Is the seaweed cooked?" I asked my sister. I was looking around for a little bottle of oil on the table, as is customary in Greek tavernas; at that point, everyone burst into laughter. 

"That's only for decoration, theio!" said Mihali. "And I don't eat oysters!"

"Me, neither!" said Spiros.

"OK, pass them over to me," said Stella.

"So, they brought us oysters," said Theano with a huffed voice. "We're going to eat what we sell in the shop, right?" She was looking at Stella and shaking her head as if berating  her.

"Is the cook serving all his food raw tonight?" quipped Babis. "I told you everything here would be a load of rubbish!" Tempers were rising. I was starting to think I was the reason why my family was fighting, since I was the reason that they found themselves here. In the meantime, other people were arriving at the restaurant. From where I was sitting, I could see the two men who had arrived after us staring our way. I had to do something to calm things down. So I grabbed the oyster shell and slurped the oyster in one swallow. The oyster had the taste of a salty gel. At first I wanted to throw up, but the taste that stayed in my mouth after I had swallowed it was what I'd felt on a spring day sitting by the beach, that light fresh salty breeze that comes from the sea.

"Theio," Stella was practically whistling, "you should have used the appropriate fork!"

The appropriate fork! I only knew how to use one fork, the same one everywhere!

"Stella," I turned to my niece, "I have to tell you something that perhaps you don't know here in New Zealand. Some things need hands - without a doubt."

Stella looked at me quizzically, without registering what I had just said, but her father laughed.

"There are times," he said, "when I think that everyone around me has missed the train." He spoke in a regretful tone, even though it sounded as though he was laughing. "We have our own customs, while other people have their own ones." I understood immediately that he felt homesick - he yearned for the mother country he had left behind. The shop was now quite full - full of foreign people, foreign sounds, foreign languages, foreign tastes, foreign looks. Nothing felt familiar to me, nothing resembled anything I knew of life up to that point. I could not relate it even to the foreign tourists that I was used to seeing in the village during the summer.

The waiter had returned with the same young woman, and began clearing the plates away from our table.  This time, he placed a transparent mug at each setting instead of a plate. I couldn't for the life of me imagine what was going to be poured into it, apart from a hot tea. I asked Stella, who behaved as if nothing was amiss. Theano and Babis looked lost - they were out of place, out of time. 

"It's time for the soup," Stella explained as she pointed out the item on the menu card. "It says that it's made from turtle..., mock turtle..." She looked confused as to the translation of the word in Greek. Even though her knowledge of the Greek language was better than her brothers', she lacked the appropriate vocabulary. "The word 'mock'," she continued, "means 'fake', so... it's not really turtle."

"Well, why does it say it's made from turtle?" I asked her.

"I don't know, theio," she answered, with a slight laugh. "Mum cooks only Greek food at home. I've heard of this soup before, but I don't know what it is. A friend of mine at university tells me her mum makes it."

"And why didn't you ask her how it's made, so you can try making it and see for yourself what it's all about?"

"Well..., I felt a bit embarrassed, because I thought, that maybe she'd think I was... "

"Ignorant," I finished off her sentence. She nodded her head in agreement.

At that moment, I understood her worry. I had never imagined my sister's children as New Zealanders, I only thought of them as Greeks, since their ancestors were all Greeks. They simply had the luck to be born in a country that could give them more opportunities in life.  Now I thought that maybe they could be something else too, with what I just heard Stella saying. Something else entered my mind at that moment: Who were the real New Zealanders? The colour of one's face does not play any role. The prime minister is white, the queen's representative is chocolate. Maori, English, Chinese, Greek, they all say they are New Zealanders. You can be a New Zealand Greek, or a New Zealand Chinese, or a New Zealand Indian. But would an Indian (or someone who is Chinese or English) be able to say that they are Greek too? Would they want to? I could only imagine that in the case of the Albanians who wanted to gain Greek citizenship; it was being done with a purpose in mind. I am an Albanian Greek, I am a Greek Albanian; they would only be able to say it to themselves - a public announcement of this sort would instigate a fight.

Heston's mock turtle soup (Photo: Vera Lingonis). 

At that moment, the waiter placed a small pouch into our glasses, it looked just like a teabag. Then he poured a hot brown liquid over it, whose hefty aroma lingered in the air. It smelt meaty. The twins were once again mumbling that they didn't like it. "But you haven't tasted it!" I said to them. Theano didn't look too keen, but Babis said it reminded him of the freshly cooked goat he last ate in the village a few summers ago. He was right - it did taste of young meat. I liked its warmth as it travelled down my throat. From the window, I could see the rain as it was falling, and the soup brought me great comfort. There were now many other customers in the restaurant, although it wasn't entirely full, like a taverna would be on Saturday night. The customers were all middle-aged. No one had bought along any children, no one looked as though they had come on a family outing. For so many people in the restaurant, it was awfully quiet. Only our table was sounding kind of loud.

The waiter would often come back to the table while we were eating and ask us if everything was to our liking. I can't say that I didn't like anything. It was all very different to what I was used to from home. I wondered why Theano hadn't got used to the New Zealand lifestyle, she had been living here for long enough. If I were in her place, I would not have stayed.

It was difficult to follow the flow of the meal. It didn't seem to have a logical order. First they bought us a fish appetiser, followed by meat soup, now they were bringing us a huge plate, again with fish, some kind of seafood with a fishy-smelling sauce, accompanied by - I swear! - an orange-flavoured cream with raisins. The food was all served in very small quantities, and the plate looked empty. The appearance of the finished dish  played a very great role. Instead of oil, there were many colourful sauces and creams with fruity scents, which I wasn't really used to eating with my main meals. The fish were being muddled up with the meats, the salty with the sweet. Even the texture of the foods was entirely novel for me. It was easy to get lost in the conglomeration of the tastes.

Just as the pork was being served (with a jelly that was thankfully placed on the other side of the plate, because I really had no idea what ginger or lychee was, as Stella explained to me that it contained, and I preferred to eat mine plain), the crashing of glass was heard on the other side of the room. A bottle had fallen off the table of the two gents near the fireplace, and had shattered into smithereens. A waiter immediately appeared and cleared up the mess. From where I was sitting, it was easy to observe the two men, without even meaning to do it. I had seen them feeding each other, and when they weren't eating, they had their heads huddled together, as if they were very close to each other, practically kissing. I suppose they were batting for the other side.

Above: Seared scallops, smoked herring puree, fennel, date and orange salad - Free range cured pork belly, ginger and lychee jelly, cashew nam jim. Below: Sous-vide duck, orange kumara mash and mandarin - Angus beef fillet, fried scampi, Worcestershire spatzli, young carrots, oxtail juice (Photos: Vera Lingonis).  

I can't say I didn't like the dishes. I just didn't expect that good food would involve so many muddled ingredients. Fish, pork, duck, beef, all in one night. We often hear about New Zealand lamb, but I didn't get to taste one bite that night! It wasn't just that: the most annoying thing for me was the waiting staff. They'd distribute the dishes, then they'd serve us, as if we were children, constantly filling up our glasses,  at our service like slaves. We had no opportunity to do anything for ourselves, they even told us which bite to eat first, and what we should follow it with! This pampering was entirely unnecessary, likewise with their foolish-looking smiles, which I stopped trusting after a little while. It felt as if they were trying to pull a fast one on us, which I suppose would have come at the end of the evening, in the form of the bill. The hour of food is a very personal one for me. They did not respect that sacramental moment. On the one hand, this over-fussing made me lose my appetite, while on the other, it simply distracted me. I began to mix up the tastes in my mouth.

Palate cleanser (Photo: Vera Lingonis)

"That's why they bring us a palate cleanser in between meals," Stella informed me as we were being served a deep bowl  steaming cold air out of it, like the fog that I could see from the window that was settling over the hills, slightly obscuring them. "To cleanse the tastebuds," she continued. Ice on ice: the white crockery coupled with the scent of rose reminded me of a bathroom! I really couldn't work out why this dessert had to be rose-scented - wouldn't orange have seemed more natural? For one more time, the optical impression counted more than the taste.

Then it suddenly occurred to me that I had spent the whole evening without eating a slice of bread. I didn't even see it on the table, but even if it had been brought to us, what would we have done with it, since there were no sauces, only multi-coloured creams which looked and felt like mayonnaise.

The city lights looked muffled by the fog. A heavy dark cloak draped the city, speckled with shiny buttons. From the window, we could discern the pretty lights on the buildings, which gave the town a festive look. The rain was now falling in very tiny drops, but it suited the atmosphere well; it matched the plastic smiles of the waiting staff and the heavy meal we were enjoying. It was all Greek to me, as the children had explained the joke to me, but it looked so appropriate, right here in its place, at the end of the earth, as Theano often described New Zealand. If you travelled past it, you'd think the earth had disappeared, and you'd need another seven hours flying time over the Pacific Ocean to see a land mass once again.

Just when I thought I could fit nothing more in my stomach, along came the dessert. Mihali, who was sitting next to me, had caught on to what was happening on the other side of the room, and he told Spiros, who told Stella.

"What do you care what they are doing?" she replied to them. "Don't keep turning round to look at them, they'll catch on to what you're doing, you know it's rude to stare."

"Oh, lay off," said Babis, "they're just poofs. They're acting like peacocks spreading their feathers!"

"Leave them alone," said Theano. "I've seen worse behaviour from the couples that come into the shop. You should see the state they're in just before the shops' closing time as they leave the pub, they're practically blind drunk, and they walk into the shop trying to order fish and chips. Babi, remember the woman who came in once with her trousers undone and her boyfriend was hugging her, saying "It wasn't me!"

"Yeah, well, these ones are just a bit confused, but in another way," said Babis. "Many times, I don't know who's the woman, and who's the man. I say 'Yes, sir,' and they reply to me 'Can't you see I'm a lady?'" Their shop was located in the red light district. Babis and Theano, together with their children, had seen a lot of things in their everyday life that I would have to specifically search for to see where I lived. Their life was very public, they had to do with people from all sectors of life; in the village, I would see the same people every day, and the synthesis of the community would not change much until someone died or gave birth. 

We were treated to some cheese just before dessert, again with the same fuss and bother that they served us all the other dishes. The cheese was soft and it was covered in some kind of pear compost, so its appetising smell was kind of lost on me. The same could be said of the sweet cream that came drowned in a hat like the sombreros that Mexicans wore in American films. The chocolate and ice-cream came on a plate that reminded me of glass building bricks. I sampled everything, but I didn't eat them all. Everyone else licked their plate. I just needed a raki to ease my indigestion, nothing more! They brought us ten courses in all, multiply that by six people, in other words, sixty plates just for our table! I imagine the dishwasher would have been working overtime to get through all this!

Above: Over the moon brie, blushing pear, house cracker; Creme caramel. Below: Textures of chocolate - Ristretto (Photo: Vera Lingonis).  

Instead of raki, people drink coffee here at the end of the meal. I found the one they served us quite bitter, but it was perfect after such a lot of sweet treats. Again, they bought the cup half empty - it contained just one swill! But it was also very late; how do people sleep when they drink coffee at this hour?!

As the coffee was being brought to us, the blonde girl came out of the kitchen, along with a waiter. She was carrying a cake with sparklers fizzing away on it, making the sound of a sizzling pan, while the waiter had a bottle of champagne in his hand. They headed towards the homosexuals' table. I thought that maybe one of them was celebrating a birthday. The staff was smiling and laughing as they cheered them on with their good wishes.

"Happy Anniversary - is that what I just heard them say?" Theano, who was practically laughing now, was asking for confirmation from her children. Babis also started to laugh, but the children remained neutral, obviously to cover up their parents' outburst.

"What's that all about then?" I asked them, not understanding the phrase myself. I was told that this was a wish often used to celebrate the years of marriage, and New Zealand was one of the first countries in the world that allowed same-sex marriages, which they call 'civil unions'.

"Don't speak so loudly," Stella berated her. She was obviously annoyed with her parents' behaviour. "Do you think that the people around us don't understand what you're saying, just because you're speaking in Greek?" Τhe twins seemed to show no emotion. They simply stared at each other, but it was clear what they were thinking - some things that are acceptable in the general community are not necessarily acceptable in the home environment, and are not discussed. But Stella was more open-minded as a young university student, and she was not prepared to put up any longer with the unjustified reasoning that she had been brought up with.

I never thought of my sister's children as New Zealanders, although they were born and raised in New Zealand; I always thought of them as Greeks. Their facial features were Cretan, they did not differ from other villagers. In terms of Greekness, only their knowledge of Greek was deficient, which was understandable given the situation. I could even say that they were Greeker than the average Greek. They never missed a Sunday at church, they danced Greek dances better than my own children, they eagerly awaited to hear the weekly Greek radio program, they watched Greek television programs with their parents, they knew the Greek cuisine well enough through their mother's cooking. They were in constant touch with Mother Greece, as if they were living there, via the modern electronic means that young people use these days. But why should they go and live there, when they had everything they could possibly conceive they needed right here at their fingertips: schooling, education, work.

Here, there was a real chance that they could make a living independently, while in Greece, this was not the case, they would have to rely a lot on their parents to some extent, who often talked about going back to Greece to retire, but I couldn't see that happening easily. They'd miss the comforts that they enjoyed here, comforts that would either cost an arm and leg to get in the village, or maybe they wouldn't exist at all. In any case, what would they do there?

"You'll have a lot to tell the world when you go back to Greece, brother, won't you?" Theano had almost forgotten the village. She now remembered her homeland as an unbreakable part of a whole, rather than the unique detached part that she knew when she lived there. "It's like 'pick'n'mix here, isn't it? You'll have seen and heard everything that you didn't expect you would."

"That's true, but only up to a certain extent," I replied, "because I've seen so many good things here that I won't forget easily."

"What did you like most of all, theio?" Spiros asked me. This was not such a difficult question to answer as it may sound.

"I liked everything, Spiro," I said, "but... what I liked most of all are those things that I know I can't have back at home. I like your wide roads, the ease with which you can move around here with the transportation system, the pretty old brick building at the university, and the lovely-looking wooden buildings..., they all give your city a particular character all of its own, they all give me the impression that life here can just roll on in peace and quiet, without stress or anxiety."

I knew I wouldn't be able to describe what I was telling them to my fellow country people, because no one would believe me if I told them that I had just found a small paradise that I didn't want to live in, because, at the same time, I was yearning to go back home. Some things are not easy to part with.

I'm a Greek-New Zealander. I'm also a New Zealand-born Greek. Sometimes, I don't know which one of the two I am more of; the passing of time and the location I find myself in often influence this factor. Other times I drop the hyphen and one of the parts, according to which way the wind is blowing at the time. Some of us live most of our lives in the twilight zone, while others prefer to keep one of the hyphenated parts in the closet. I may once have been a New Zealand Greek, but I don't think this is the case any longer. I still hold on to both passports, though (and so do my children); they're precious items in the times we live in. 

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