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Crete: Dinner at Zygos Taverna, Istron

September 24, 2014

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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