Sunday, October 17, 2010

Crete: day 2

This trip was planned around food and nature, nature and food. Also drinking and dominoes. No museums, no churches, no historical Minoan sites. Not this time.

Our first full day in Chania began with a reconnaissance trip to the market. We'd suss things out, then go back at the end of our stay to shop. What were we thinking?

We came home with cheese, olives, nuts, and a small bottle of rakomelo. Rakomelo is a new development since my last visit (10 years ago). Raki is the Cretan version of ouzo, slightly stronger and harsher than the bottled stuff on the mainland. It's served at the end of every meal whether you order it or not. Ask for the check and you get it with a small bottle of raki and a set of glasses. Raki should be downed like a shot; it puts hair on your chest and quickly warms you up. Tasty? No. Pleasant to drink? Not really. Rakomelo is raki blended with honey and boy does that make all the difference. The best rakomelo also includes spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice. Rakomelo is best served cold and is a lovely accompaniment to an evening's entertainment. But more on that later.

I'd done some restaurant research before leaving NYC and had a few places in mind. Lunch was at To Karnagio. Harbor view, excellent fish, and like many traditional Greek restaurants, you're invited into the kitchen to choose your fish and discuss how you'd like them cooked.

The rest of the afternoon we wandered the narrow and unbelievably picturesque streets of Chania,

stopping for coffee and a visit to the local t-shirt shop for our official Chicken Foot Tournament uniforms. Cayce and Joe (bless their hearts) had schlepped a full set of double-fifteen dominoes to Crete for the First Annual World Cup Chicken Foot Competition, and we required regulation garb.

After a brief siesta and another excellent meal (there wasn't a bad one the entire trip), we took over one of two rooftop gardens back at our hotel and began the first round.

Fortified with our market purchases, we played long into the night.


At October 17, 2010 at 6:48 PM , Blogger Marie said...

Those feesh!

I cry, I cry.

I can only drink raki in Turkey , never here, and have drunk an entire bottle, with water, of course, with a friend over a long, long dinner. Interestingly, nothing bad happened. I think it has everything to do with mood.

...uh...chicken foot?

At October 18, 2010 at 3:50 AM , Blogger oriste said...

Nice journal, I will read your adventures with interest. One thing I have to set straight here. "Raki is the Cretan version of ouzo". Not by a long shot, that's like saying a hamburger is the American version of paella, which doesn't make much sense, except that both are culinary icons of two different cultures. If I would compare raki to some other drink, it would be the Italian Grappa.

Raki is distilled from the leftover of the grapes after they've been pressed for wine. The process occurs all over Crete in licensed small family distilleries, called "Kazanis". There are no additives in raki, what comes out of the distillation pot is what you drink. The best raki you get straight from the kazani. My experience is that the more touristic a place is, the more horrible is the raki.

And yes, adding a bit of honey (meli in Greek) to raki makes it more palatable to those not used to the raw form. My wife drinks it that way. You can also add some sugar to it, directly in your glass, maybe a leftover small sachet that you didn't use with your coffee earlier that day. Carry it with you when you go to the taverna in the evening. The Cretans will look at you with some amusement but they will appreciate that you show you know what you're doing.

The custom of offering a glass of raki after the meal very often confuses tourists in Crete. You don't have to drink it if you don't like it. It's a gesture of hospitality. To show your appreciation just raise the glass to your lips, say "yamas" (to our health) and put it down. Your host will understand and not be offended. If you empty your glass, they will think you like it and offer more.

To Marie above: Turkish raki is NOT the same drink as the Cretan one. In Turkey raki is processed with aniseed (which gives it its distinctive taste and causes its trademark milky appearance when adding water), and DOES resemble Greek ouzo. You'd never, ever, add water to Cretan raki.

At October 18, 2010 at 7:07 AM , Anonymous Leda Meredith said...

I did a tour to Crete in '89, and your photos are bringing back memories. Sounds like a gorgeous trip!

At October 18, 2010 at 7:18 AM , Blogger jvdh said...

Give the raki a chance - some chest hair never hurt anyone. Thanks to oriste for clearing up the anise issue - the lack thereof in Cretan raki is exactly why I like it. Very similar in taste to grappa and grape palinka (and numerous other grape skin based drinks the world over).

I've only had rakomelo warm, a Mediterranean attempt at keeping January at bay, very successful too.
(Have I spent too many nights surrounded by Greeks students? Nah.)


At October 18, 2010 at 7:22 AM , Blogger Ellen Zachos said...

Oriste, thanks for the education! I wondered why raki doesn't cloud when someone adds water. And of course you're right about not having that familiar ouzo aniseed taste. While I'm grateful for the gesture of hospitality at the end of the meal (and I'd never dream of refusing!), if I were pouring myself a drink, I'd choose the more mellow rakomelo.

At October 20, 2010 at 2:13 PM , Blogger Marie said...

Thank you, oriste.

And jvdh - I shave my chest hair...


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