Month: February 2015

ikarian lessons on food and life

IKARIA, Lessons on Food, Life, and Longevity from the Greek Island Where People Forget to Die, is US-raised Diane Kochilas‘ latest treasure-trove of recipes about her parents’ native island. The recipes and research in the book are gathered throughout her life, but what breathes life into the book is her first-person account, her true understanding of the island’s social and cultural history and her insider’s knowledge of Ikaria’s secrets. When Kochilas first set foot on Ikaria in the early 1970’s as a 12 year-old New York kid who was “inured to sticky urban summers, insipid American food, and strict curfews” she immediately felt at home with the people,  their sense of freedom and joie de vivre and the lifestyle of the place Greeks even today call “the island of exile”. In recent history Ikaria has become wold famous since it was named as one of the Blue Zones,® a term coined by the Belgian demographer Dr. Michel Poulain, who together with Dr. Gianni Pes of the University of Sassari in Italy and Dan Buettner, author of the book The Blue Zones, have been studying the planet’s pockets of …

greece’s iyengar girl

YOGA has become a hip, beloved and popular form of exercise in Athens by now, although even as recently as 20 years ago, when Greeks were considerably more conservative and less (other)worldly, yoga was regarded with dire suspicion: often, it was considered to be some kind of weird practice that could brainwash you into leaving your honourary, pre-ordained state of Greek Orthodoxy to become a raving, chanting Buddhist overnight. As yoga classes began to draw at first the very alternative, then the mildly experimental, next the trend- as well as health-conscious, and eventually every type of person, it became an ordinary part of Greek life. As with all great things, when they become widely available and in all forms, it’s imperative for one to diligently search through the many options in order to discover what’s most suitable, and above all most beneficial, instead of risking injuries, incorrect learning and basically, wasting time, energy and money on something that offers none or only few of yoga’s real benefits. Today there are so many yoga schools and classes in Athens and around Greece that I’ve lost count, and …

lost and found in pelion

I CAN still smell the mulchy earth, hear the water coursing through the land as it cascades down tiny streams from the mountains, see the lush trees, flowers, plants growing independently, freely, yes, one could even say boisterously. A  cobblestone pathway leads from the square of Aghia Paraskevi to what is now a derelict hotel, once known as the Xenia, one of the government’s respectable and well maintained accommodations that began to degrade through the 80s nationwide until it shut down completely in the 90s. The pathway threads past old stone houses with tiled roofs, and I recall as a child the smells of rotting figs and goat excrement, the thorny wild berries my sister and I would pick and stick into our mouths without hesitation, the colourful explosions of fuchsia and crimson and bouganvellia that spread across entire walls. As children, we would visit Tsangarada every single summer for two weeks, staying at the Xenia, swimming at the stunning Milopotamos beach, with its massive rock natural gateway separating the beach into two, and caves at …

street food: falafellas

IN A country where your fast food options vary between souvlaki, flaky pies slathered in hydrogenated fats and sandwiches you only really crave if it’s 7am and you’ve been up partying all night, it’s nice to finally have another option that is a tad healthier and, by international standards, very tasty – crunchy falafels, tucked into Arabic pitta bread along with other condiments. As is often the case with popular places such as Falafellas in central Athens, where people are willing to queue for a good 15 minutes to grab their bit of local street food, one wonders why it took so long for someone to come up with the idea of making the beloved Middle Eastern food the newest food trend. There have of course been a handful of places serving falafels in the capital, but none of them ever took off as Falafellas did. Perhaps it’s the smart location, just round the corner from the throbbing Aghias Eirinis Square and a stone’s throw away from Monastiraki Square as well as Ermou st, the central shopping high street of …

crayfish, sea samphire and gardenia

    THERE is no doubt in the picturesque Alonissian universe that ‘Tassia’s Cooking’ in the tiny, fairytale-like fishing village of Steni Vala, serves the most memorable food. It is no secret, either, as day tours take tourists there for lunch daily, but at night it has a magic about it that the large groups popping over to Alonissos from a nearby island such as Skopelos usually miss out on. an ageless classic, the taverna is as good today as it was 15 years ago, and unsurprisingly has developed a fan base made up of gourmet foodies and diners with the simplest of demands alike. Head to Steni Vala at the start of what photographers call glow-time just after sunset and as you approach along the downward curvy road, stop to take in a view of the village from above: the glittering sea, dim little lights that announce the loud brightness of the day has been replaced by evening calm, and uncontrolled lush greenery where sturdy little fishing boats and tall slender sailboats huddle together in the marina. At Steni Vala you will find …

blue skies and black olives

  IN BLUE Skies and Black Olives: A Survivor’s Tale of Housebuilding and Peacock Chasing in Greece (2009), Britain’s legendary BBC journalist / “national treasure” John Humphrys writes a  first person account along with his son Christopher about his frightful, and often hysterically funny adventure of setting up a holiday home in Greece. The father-son team write in turn, each giving the story their own individual colour and texture with their very different voices. As the true story evolves, the reader gains an insight into their individual characters and lives, the sometimes complex meanderings of their father-son rapport, as well as a fly on the wall perspective of their exciting but often intensely daunting task of getting John Humphry’s Greek home away from home standing upright. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Christopher since the ’90s and have admired his talent as an acclaimed cellist with the Athens Camerata (Friends of Music Orchestra), the Athens Concert Hall’s multi-award winning ensemble of talented musicians. He is witty, down to earth, and often far too modest about his many …

shopping for action aid

             SINCE the Spring of 2014, Action Aid Hellas opened its first store in Greece, just round the corner from the Acropolis metro station’s Dyionissiou Aeropagitou exit, on Veikou St in the Koukaki neighbourhood. ActionAid International brings together its work against poverty, co-ordinated by its International Secretariat, based in Johannesburg, South Africa. They work with over 15 million people in 45 countries. The organisation’s manifesto is to “focus on the people that others forget. People in poverty. People who face discrimination. People whose voices are ignored.” Women’s rights, climate change, countries facing major conflicts and all their humanitarian consequences, HIV and Aids, food and land rights, education and youth are amongst the chief areas that Action Aid addresses. The store, which has “make a stopover, create change” as its motto, is welcoming and polished, with friendly staff and selling a colourful variety of ethnic and local products. Clothing promoting the organisation, accessories such as jewellery, decor items, books and notebooks, handcrafted objects from around the world and food items grace its shelves.   …

japanophile’s pleasure

JAPAN and its sensual, perfectionist aesthetic has always been in my heart (perhaps even my DNA?). Over the years many Japanese places have opened up around Athens, but the one I’m staunchly loyal to is Furin Kazan on Appollonos St just a few minutes walk from Syntagma Sq. I became a big fan since the late ’90s when I worked nearby and regularly ordered take-out (usually it was Yakisoba and half a portion of maki, no sake!) as its food gave my working day a sense of joy. After visiting Japan for a month and sampling tongue-tantalising delights, only to return feeling I would never have that authentic experience again, I eventually (maybe six days after returning) shrugged my shoulders in surrender and went to Furin Kazan in the desperate search of similar tastes. Yet upon ordering several dishes that I had relished in various Japanese cities during my trip what was earlier a cheeky fancy for accessible Asian food turned into committed love, as I realised that this place really served food that offered the delicate flavour and authenticity I …

athens metro

ONE of the most upbeat and functional aspects of city life in Athens despite the downbeat crisis Greece has been facing for far too long is the growing urban metro system. When it first opened to the public, sparkling and polished, strewn with beautiful, sophisticated art (and stunning ancient ruins and even a still-running Ilissos river in Monastiraki station) everyone was impressed and excited, but also worried that it’s great appeal wouldn’t last. ‘It’ll get dirty, and unkempt and sad,’ we all assumed (take a look at the state of the 2004 Olympic venues today and you’ll quickly understand where we were coming from). Ever since  my first  interview with Attiko Metro when the system first started running I was personally very proud that my city could produce such an impressive transportation system, especially after visiting so many run-down, dirty, smelly and dodgy metro stations in otherwise exemplary cities such as London and Rome. The sense of pride continues to ride high today, as it has remained beautiful, clean, shiny and above all, functional.         There is a constant addition of new extensions and lines …