The Barbecue

I’ve just finished reading Henry Miller’s The Colossus of Maroussi where Miller speaks with such love and affection for the Greeks. He regularly mentions the hospitality and generosity he receives even from the poorest people. It reminded me of one of our earliest introductions to this famous Greek hospitality.

Before we moved to Afrata, one of our stays was in an Airbnb apartment just outside Chania town centre. We were on the ground floor and the Airbnb hosts Ana and Nikos lived in the main part of the house above us. We had full access to the garden and they were happy enough for Lenny to make himself at home running up and down the steps to play with their King Charles, Charlie (I’ve no doubt that Lenny got plenty of treats up there too because I saw later how much food Charlie was fed from the dinner table!).

The day we arrived, the fruit bowl was filled with oranges and lemons and later that day Ana arrived at the door with a bottle of local wine and some homemade spanakopitas (spinach pies). This was just the beginning. Nikos frequently arrived at the door with a big bag of oranges, lemons and tomatoes (you see, he was horrified to discover that I had bought lemons!), and Ana with baked goods still warm from the oven.

Ana’s English was limited but Nikos had more. He was indeed a character. He liked to talk, especially with Frank. We was a very knowledgable man and Frank had plenty of questions which he loved to answer. He is a surgeon who drinks 10 cups of coffee a day and seems to smoke non-stop! All of his colleagues do the same, according to Nikos!

On the Saturday evening we were invited upstairs for dinner – a BBQ. We could get the delicious aromas of meat wafting down to us below. Along with Ana and Nikos were their son who was home for the weekend from mandatory military service, and one of their close friends. I cannot remember either of their names. Thankfully, both had a good grasp of English.

We got a lovely welcome from Ana and Nikos – Nikos was busy tending the BBQ (it must be a worldwide practice where men take over the cooking when it’s a BBQ). What a feast there was! It was as though he was preparing to feed an army, there was so much meat! There were various cuts of pork and lamb (the most popular meats you will find in Crete), some had been marinated. I was sorry my appetite wasn’t better on the night but I still managed to eat plenty. I had been a bit worried beforehand about the usually enormous portions the Greeks tend to serve up but in this case it was ‘take what you want’ and no pressure. The accompanying salads, cheese pastries and potatoes were delicious too.

When it came to the second bottle of wine, Nikos opened it, tasted it, and decided it wasn’t good enough. He ordered his son to get another. To Frank’s and my astonishment he had asked for one of his best bottles – a 1975 white! He repeatedly filled up Frank’s glass (who cannot say no) until the bottle was empty. Just when we thought the meal was over, Nikos reached over to the BBQ (which was at a convenient distance from his seat) and brought back a tinfoil wrapped package containing what we were told was a special part of the meal, and always kept until last. It was marinated pork that had been slow cooked for hours so was extremely tender and flavoursome.

Then, time for the customary dessert and raki (there is raki after every meal in Crete). The men decided to show Frank the real way to drink it: slam the shot glass on the table and ‘bottoms up’ (this was repeated several times – I assume for training purposes). Over the course of the evening, everything was discussed from politics to Greek culture, to philosophy and of course sport.

It was finally time to drag Frank away from the table and bid everyone goodnight. (We didn’t leave without a big plate of food wrapped up for us). I was about to leave by the back door which would lead down to our own entrance but was told that it was bad luck to leave by a different door to the one we had entered. Not taking any chances, we left by the front door.

(Frank had been invited for raki with Nikos the following evening but happily for a hungover Frank, Nikos too was under the weather – from the wine that apparently doesn’t give a hangover because there are no chemicals in it…)

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