I fell in love with Greece in the early 80s and visited quite regularly as I had a friend who lived there. He worked near the port of Piraeus on the mainland and lived about 10 miles south of there. The food was just so sociable. Mezze is just a mouth watering collection of small dishes. Some evenings we got no further than plates of mezze, pan fried octopus, calamari, pan fired aubergines, peppers and lots of creamy dips and gorgeous greenish olive oils to dip bread in. I used to love being invited into the kitchens to be shown the fish they had caught that day and choosing the one I wanted. Lamb chops were always so fresh and perfectly cooked. Nothing fancy, just good simple dishes and fresh meat and fish. I took my wife there for our honeymoon to show her all that I loved about the country. The place we stayed at on the small island of Angistri was basic but friendly and quirky too. I think the owner had a job lot of apricot jam that he wanted to get rid of as there were pots of it every day at breakfast. I had an aversion for apricots as a result for months after! One morning he came round at breakfast asking if we would like lamb for supper. He obviously got enough positive replies as by the time we were setting off for the beach an hour later, there was his elderly mother beginning to turn a whole lamb on a spit over a slow burning fire – yep, a whole lamb. By 8 pm the smells were paradisiacal; lemon, rosemary fragrances wafting through the warm night air. He served it just by cutting hunks of the perfectly cooked meat and placing it in paper and serving it just like that with a bowl of salad. You just used your fingers and it was one of those magical moments which live long in the memory. I have always been a fan of goat since my Greek days. Jane had not tried it and we met a couple who also had never eaten it, so one evening we all went on a goat hunt. None of the local tavernas had any on the menu, so we went a little way out of the village and almost by chance we stumbled across this ramshackle taverna with an elderly lady beckoning us in. Despite feeling a little Hansel and Gretelish, we entered. I asked if she had goat, she nodded. That was it. A large jug of wine appeared as we espied her placing large cuts of kid on the barbecue outside. It was so good I still melt at the memory. The stars playing in the wine dark sky and the gentle warm breeze off the sea just added to the magical atmosphere. It is sweeter than lamb and so tender. Why oh why we do not eat goat in this country is beyond me. The only place I have ever seen it for sale was on a market stall in Bradford. Interestingly, well it is to me, the French word for a butcher’s shop – boucherie – is derived from the French word for a male goat – bouc. As my Dad loved to say, you learn something every day!
Jane and I were standing in a queue for a disco late one night on Angistri and we noticed that the man in front of us was holding a very large fish, larger than your average salmon for sure. I had a feeling it was a pike but I am no angler – it was a beast anyway. I think from the gist of the conversation, that he had won it in some sort of village raffle. And he clearly did not want to part with it, though taking it to a disco seemed just a tad bizarre to me. He all of a sudden seemed to remember that he had something urgent he needed to do and he did not want to take the said fish with him. So he asked us to look after it. He hid it behind a stone whilst he disappeared and asked us to keep a beady eye on it. Everyone was looking at us most oddly, not surprisingly. Anyway, he fortunately returned within ten minutes or so and seemed incredibly delighted, and amazed, that we were still standing by the fish, especially as the disco doors had opened and everyone else had gone in. We all went into the disco and he repaid us for our guardianship of the beast from the deep with free drinks for the first hour! Greek hospitality is fantastic anyway, but this moment seemed to sum up the quirkiness of these people. Just to add that my favourite fish out there was red snapper, just simply split open and grilled, with lemon and oil drizzled over with a few herbs.