Crete: Dinner at Zygos Taverna, Istron

Because food plays such an important role in my holidays (even pre blog days!) I’ve found that I invariably develop favourite places wherever I stay, from cafes for morning coffee to restaurants for my main meal of the day. In Kardamyli three years ago, once I’d discovered Leila’s Taverna, I didn’t want to go anywhere else in the evening – a photo of a meal there still stands as the backing to my Twitter profile. This evening I felt that Zygos Taverna had taken on the favourite role in Istron for this holiday. I didn’t ‘discover’ it: both Alex at Liquid Gold Cave in Richmond and Manolis here told me it was good. I thought it was excellent. Greek food, of course, is, in its true and authentic state never going to be haute cuisine. This isn’t meant to be posh food; it’s meant to be real food of the kind the Cretans actually eat. Greek tavernas, like Italian trattorias, are informal places offering good local food.

I was offered a table just into the restaurant but opened fully onto the covered terrace outside. It wasn’t quite dark, early for the average Cretan diner but late enough for me.

Some very good bread was brought with a bowl of tapenade mixed with olive oil. My glass of red wine was good too. In the background, the inevitable ‘Zorba the Greek’ music played gently. I have memories of the 1964 film in which Anthony Quinn played Zorba. But I didn’t know the history – until reading up about Crete for my holiday here – that the book on which it was based is revered in Crete. Its author, Nikos Kazantzakis, is a local hero and said to expound the Cretan spirit more than any other writer.

I chose typical Cretan dishes, beginning with courgette fritters. They were delicious, the batter light, and I was reminded as the plate was put before me that the Greeks don’t do small portions – even when it comes to appetisers! For my main course I chose stuffed tomato and pepper. Here I was reminded that Greek food – whatever you order – invariably comes with potato.

And the potatoes were so delicious but I exercised some restraint and didn’t eat all of them because it was a very large portion. The stuffed vegetables were wonderful. Stuffed with rice and seasonings they were just what I hoped for. They were served, Greek style, nicely warm but not hot hot. The freshness of the herbs used evident from the sprig of thyme I found. The Greeks love thyme and oregano.

I was, as you can imagine, pretty full after that. I wasn’t planning to have dessert. But a complimentary one just came.

A plate of Greek yogurt with some grapes cooked in sugar until nicely caramelised. Gorgeous. And with this came a little complimentary bottle of raki. When I say little, I mean little as in ordering a small bottle of water. In the case of raki, a strong and potent brew, it was a huge serving. I decided to stick to one small shot glass or the chances of negotiating my way home safely along the busy road were going to be minimalised. Raki is a local brew that is a by product of wine making, distilled from the leftover parts of the grapes. It was good. I wasn’t expecting to like it much but it was delicious and, I was told, homemade. This was a lovely ending to the meal and I shall definitely be returning to Zygos Taverna a few more times before I leave.

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A lifelong lover of good food and travel; writer and book editor

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