All posts filed under: stories

Extra Virgin Green Olive Oil, cold pressed

Every autumn Popi recruits workers, volunteers  and semi-volunteers to harvest the olives. When it comes to olive oil she is a perfectionist. The green olives have to be combed down from the trees gently, inspected one-by-one and carried to the oil press within a strict schedule. Luckily for all in the last years she has settled for one of the presses half an hour drive away, a big improvement over the long drives of the past, when she had confronted and discarded every facility in the prefecture. This year someone suggested to use harvest machines for speed. When we arrived the device was flat on the ground, Popi looking down to it in disgust and explaining that is was a really bad idea, the way it hurt the fruit.  Popi goes around, inspecting how all are performing,  and explaining what great fun it is to gather the olives: ‘It is not at all tiring, only a great opportunity to exercise, and that only for the first day, then it is not even a challenge’. As sunset approaches she intensifies her rounds of disks full of meatballs and …

Singapore: beyond the chilli crab

You can try to understand Singapore by eating and making sense of it. The options (at least in cookbooks) are categorized as per ethnic group: Peranakan ( descendants of early Chinese migrants who settled in the Straits and married the native Malays), Teochew, Hokkie, Indian, Eurasian ( English influenced or Kristang – the Portuguese variety). As you would expect to happen in a city-state with a big expat community the influences keep criss-crossing all the time: fish head curry (created by Singapore’s Indians from Kerala with some Chinese and Malay influences) or afternoon tea with mooncakes are local favourites.  Have one bite and it’s like having watched three hours of BBC documentary. The options are overwhelming, and the quality usually excellent. Hawkers in Singapore are sort of national institution. They offer cheap, clean and authentic food and tend to cluster. Besides the well-known hawker-centers you can find them in malls, by the seafront or just around the corner. The most typical hawker center is probably Lau Pa Sat, the old cast-iron market designed by the British in the 19th century. It’s …

Cabinets of Curiosities

Cabinets of curiosities were collections of objects in a period when the science disciplines were not fixed as they are today. If you had to fit the objects into modern categories, you would classify them under ethnography, archeology, biology, medicine, art or hoax. Cabinets of curiosities provided an interpretation of the world according to the collector-patrons that assembled them and were put to use to elevate or asset their status. Then the science books were written and the cabinets fell out of favor, got assimilated in museums or vanished into oblivion. I do not know how their contemporaries viewed those collections. Did they realize the objective point of view or did they take the small indoor universes as a somewhat credible transformation of the world? Could they distinguish between the thrill of the bizarre and the potentiality of the measurable and actual? I cannot answer with certainty, because the association I have is the disappointment of a child when he realizes that the mystical and the unexplored is chastised in a world of precise maps …

Fried potatoes with eggs

When I was a child my mother used to cook fried potatoes with eggs in the summer. We spent the summers in a small house by the sea. You walked down the few steps from the veranda and you were on the sand beach. On the bed at night you heard the gentle sound of the waves on the sand – the wind blew north to south and the coastline was shielded from big waves. The smell at the front of the house was crisp from the sea, on the back moist from the fields. There were no cars, no electricity. The small kitchen had a door at the end of a corridor leading to the one side of the veranda. From the kitchen you could see the sea and at night from the sea you could see the light in the kitchen –and my mother preparing the food. In the evenings we children played on the moist sand and came on the veranda when dinner was ready. Our diet in the summers was defined …

The Coffee Cantata

Coffee arrived to Europe at about the same time J.S.Bach was born and became quickly very popular. However, there was opposition declaring coffee to be the “bitter invention of Satan.” Local clergymen in Venice condemned the drink and Pope Clement VIII was asked to intervene when the controversy became too much. Before making a decision however, he decided to taste the beverage for himself. He liked it so much, that he gave it Papal approval. The Coffee Cantata is a small, comic, secular cantata, composed sometime in the early 1730’s . It is actually a funny piece, in which Bach makes fun at both coffee drinkers and their critics. The story focuses on a young woman named Lieschen whose father, Herr Schlendrian, tries to deter her from drinking coffee. She refuses to give it up, saying that “if I couldn’t, three times a day, be allowed to drink my little cup of coffee, in my anguish I will turn into a shrivelled-up roast goat”. It is only when he refuses to allow her to marry that she relents. …

The Coral Sea

The Coral Sea is a small book about loss by Patty Smith, telling the story of a man on a journey to see the Southern Cross. She also has an album reciting the text accompanied by guitar. The album evokes a feeling that I have encountered watching the actual Coral Sea of Mauritius, a place where the landscape and sea is overwhelming, and unlike any picturesque stereotypes. The waves crush on the coral reef, leaving an expanse of water and light for the eye and mind to ponder. It’s bright and dark at the same time. “Ο ήλιος κυκλοδίωκτος, ως αράχνη, μ’ εδίπλωνε και μέ φως και μέ θάνατον ακαταπαύστως”: “The spider-like sun chased  in cycles was folding me in light and death incessantly”.   Mauritius was French and English with a population of African, Indian, Chinese and European origin. And so is the food. It is a tamed creole version of Indian and Chinese – local fresh-water shrimps with curry-, or a European fantasy of the exotic – palm heart salad with a  light …

A book about thai food

‘Thai food’ by David Thompson, a difficult read. See the reviews in amazon to understand the challenges imposed by this opus. Most recipes  are difficult to follow outside Thailand because it’s impossible to source the ingredients – but the ones that are doable speak for the refinement of thai cuisine. You can try this salad – provided you marinated and dried your shrimps some days in advance. The first recipe starts page 191. What precedes the ‘shrimp paste relish’ is history and food fundamentals that put thai cuisine in the middle of the historic and social web. Read about the extravaganzas of the cuisines of the palaces’ : unorthodox interpretations of western cuisine, perfumes designed for cooking, combinations of seemingly heterogeneous ingredients – refined, enhanced and balanced to a ‘posed conclusion’. There is an abyss between the thai kitchen described here and to whatever passes as thai in the west. Thompson also runs a restaurant in Bangkok (Nahm), “vaut le voyage” to Thailand given you have booked your table- but he is no snob either. In the Thailand edition of Lonelyplanet he contributed a guided …

A lunch to remember

This Sunday’s lunch was a commemoration of my aunt. We prepared  pumpkin soup,a Sunday roast, salad -that we forgot to bring to the table-and my parents-in-law brought a galaktoboureko. We drank greek wines – always an argument with the aunt who would insist that we have to support the local winemakers. We used her cutlery and her old tablecloth with the small hole that makes it even more intimate and a family matter. My aunt would throw a number of dinner parties each year, including the Christmas lunch. As she grew older and sicker, this was the last to hand-over to us. She cooked from memory – so we try to re-generate her recipes by trial-and-error. This includes the Christmas -turkey stuffing and the bitter orange marmalade, all part of my childhood memories. A note regarding the bitter orange marmalade: in my mother’s family bitterness in food was regarded intrinsic for family togetherness and a sign of seriousness – we still have the tendency to look down on people how do not enjoy chicory or have their …

Eating hummus in Amman

I think one of the best places to eat in the Middle East is Amman. The standards of the clientele are high, judging by the waistlines of the above-forties and taking into account the low-fat ingredients of the food – marrow excluded. The place to visit is Hashem downtown, for hummus and falafel. It’s as basic as it gets. A short walk away you can get your kunafa from Habibah. You can end here your tour of the citadel where you can admire the Roman, Byzantine, and Umayyad remains of one of the oldest continuously inhabited places on earth, and see locals playing the bagpipe too. Jordan is close to the Holy Lands. Christian Jordanians claim that Jesus was baptised on the ‘east side of river Jordan- if you look at the topology this is the sensible think to assume’. Food and food markets are not sterilised. Somehow the relation to food materials has escaped the tension of post-industrialised societies where you can feel a distance, either because food is glorified, industrialised or the agent of compulsive behaviour. Sharing …