Overheard while waiting at the gate at Aktion airport, en route home from Vassiliki: a woman impressing her neighbour with all the new-fangled food she’d tried out in Greece. Like tuna. Which (and this may come as some surprise to members of the tuna family) she referred to as a ‘fish with no bones in’. Her husband liked it, apparently, for that very reason.
Well it tickled me, anyway. But she’s right. The often rare-cooked tuna steaks regularly enjoyed by the Gremlin, at one of our favourite pit stops, were indeed free of bones.
This was supplemented, she went on to explain, by her family’s daily ‘gyros’.
Thanks to Wikipedia, I now know these to be a ‘Greek dish made of meat, traditionally pork, chicken or lamb, usually served wrapped in a flatbread such as pitta, with tomato, onion, tzatziki sauce and sometimes French fries’ (AKA soggy chips. See later). The essential Greek fast food.
Two ends of the culinary spectrum – not to mention the price list – which got me thinking.
Soggy chips and dayglo mayo. What’s not to like? Well, let me explain…
Roughly speaking, there are two sorts of Greek restaurant in Vass.
There’s the ‘stack ’em in and serve ’em barely edible crap while failing to even crack a smile’ sort. And there’s the ‘will this table by the sea suit, how was your day, enjoy your meal, you’re welcome’ sort – a meal which, probably not entirely coincidentally, usually arrives thoughtfully presented, hot and enjoyably edible.
Although there are exceptions even to this rule, if the midweek flotillas are in town.
We prefer, oddly enough, to eat at the ‘will this table by the sea suit’ sort but, every year, we try at least a couple of new ones, just in case. Gradually, our portfolio of favourites is growing. But so is our ‘ones to avoid’ list.
One evening, we returned to a ‘new one’ for the second time in two weeks, feeling a little obliged due to getting wine-bombed the previous week by a meet and greeter who used to work at one of our regulars and remembered us. No, genuinely, she did.
But, to be frank, it was rubbish. The food wasn’t great the first time but at least there were two jugs of wine.
Second time? Soggy chips. Lettuce we’d throw in the compost at home. Tasteless tomatoes (how is that even possible in Greece?) A very tiny (as unenticing as it was expensive) sea bass. And an unappealing latticework – back and forth across the entire ‘salad’ – of luminous yellow, mass-produced mayonnaise.
And no further engagement beyond the ‘door’ with our wine bombing friend whose task was clearly to get our bums on the seat. To be fair, ‘getting bums on seats’ probably sums up her job description and she WAS rather rushed off her feet – and she continued to chat amiably to us whenever we passed (which was often) so we forgive her.
But we won’t be back.
As for her employer (and others like him), how about this? You serve up a dish that’s hot, authentic, good to eat and not choked with disgusting mayonnaise (the latticing back and forth of which is an affectation we’ve noticed is gaining ground here) – because what’s the point of having olive oil, fresh ground sea salt and black pepper and half a fresh lemon to hand if there’s no available food left on the plate on which to use them?
And maybe other staff members could continue to engage with us occasionally, once we’ve parked our gullible arses on your wicker seats.
We know it’s not too much to ask because we’ve enjoyed all of this at our favourite food stops.
We’ve had zingingly fresh Greek salads, crunchy and bright on the plate, no mayo. Finger-burning langoustines and prawns, charred and juicy from the grill. Swordfish, salmon, tuna and sea bass oozing with flavour. Vegetable meze and omelettes stuffed with feta, tomatoes, peppers and olives. We’ve even had hot, crispy chips.
Our favourites know who they are because we tell them – and keep turning up – but, if you’re heading for Vass, we’d recommend Starfish (Giorgo’s place), at the ‘beach end’ of town, or Penguins, (Gary and Mary’s) where the shops start.
At the other end of the beach, in Ponti, ignore the meet and greeters who’d have you believe there’s nothing to see past their own doorsteps. There is. Eyes down, keep walking for another hundred metres up the hill to Amalthea, last place on the block, run by Vicki. You’ll be glad you did.
But our absolute favourite has to be our host, Ilias, at the Hotel ‘Melas’ – not least for his ‘house speciality’ chocolate cake. You won’t even know the restaurant is there from the roadside. Or from the sea side for that matter.
No sun-dipped headland or gently lapping water at the harbour’s edge. No flapping halyards. No hordes of sea-legged sailors, tumbling from their flotillas. No unfiltered fag smoke, heading right up your nose. No churning exhausts, inches from your dinner.
Just the gentle rustling of palm trees and the hum of pool filters. The odd inflatable crocodile, drifting past your eye line.
Which suits us fine.
Oh and the food’s pretty damned good too.
Rest and restoration
The day before we left for Vass, the Gremlin lost his beloved dad. The six-month-long emotional rollercoaster – with journeys back and forth across the Pennines, in and out of a string of hospital wards and nursing homes, every evening’s phone call an adrenalin rush of expectation that this is ‘the one’ until, eventually, it was – finally came to an halt. In the end, gently and peacefully.
We’d talked about what we might do about the holiday, whether we should cancel, but what better place to recover some equilibrium? Two weeks in the Greek sunshine with ‘nowhere to go, nothing to do, nowhere else to be’, as the delightful Ida reminded us at every Restorative Yoga class.
While the Gremlin thrashed out all that adrenalin on a sailboard, Ida’s lilting Swedish accent became the soundtrack to my days, one I’ve carried home with me, thanks to Voice Memo, fully orchestrated with rattling fans, flapping tent sides and every passing moped.
Ida, thank you for your classes. They were just what I needed (and the Gremlin during his second week, post windsurfing) and those recordings will help us carry that practice forward at home. Our bolsters have come of age.
Thanks too to Alex, the only other yogi I’ve met mad enough to have done the 108 Sun Salutations (and, unlike us wusses, who took it in four bite-sized chunks, she achieved this without breaks).
Her Sun Salutation workshop was inspirational – not least the pea on a fork joke, which I heard twice. (You had to be there). Thanks to that workshop, my personal bar has been raised. Or, at least, another door to possibilities opened.
I suspect I might live to regret the excited text to my own yoga teacher (and co-conspirator in our 108 challenge), that I had finally managed to jump back from forward fold to plank, rather than stepping. Not once, but several times.
But not nearly as much as I might regret vowing to give the stand up paddle board another go, next time we’re in Vass. Maybe with added yoga. First time round, three years ago, I was so petrified of falling off and jarring my back, I never even managed the ‘stand up’ part, so we’ll see. One way or another, no doubt you’ll read about it here.
I’ll leave you with this little video (created by the Healthy Options team), which features some of our favourite places, by way of temptation. See you next year Vass!