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Crete: Thunderstorms & Meze at Meraki Taverna

September 27, 2014

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The rain and dark clouds that came as I had lunch on the beach today, and led to a storm of almost tropical proportions, gave way later in the afternoon to a short burst of sun and a part clearing of the sky. I left the apartment – a small umbrella In hand (oh yes, I’m more English than I sometimes like to admit!) – and I simply walked further up the road where El Greco apartments are situated. It’s a very steep road. I was confident the view would be worth it. And it was.

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The respite from the awful weather was short lived. The sky darkened again. Thunder sounded in the distance and heavy rain fell like a bucket tipped from the skies. I read. I received an email from my lovely friend Jane. I Whatsapped my daughter. I rang my son to remind him to feed the cat as neighbour Sally – in main charge of Bella – is away for the weekend. And still it rained. There was only one place to go for food and sustenance this evening. Meraki Taverna, just below the apartments. About 20m away.

I’ve been there a few times now and contrary to my thoughts the other day, I think this really is my favourite place. It’s full of Cretans and seems very authentic. I had the best fried courgettes there a couple of days ago with a fabulous and very garlicky tzatziki. When I rushed round the corner in a rain-free moment it was almost empty. Most of the tables are in a covered terrace – but essentially ‘outside’. They saw me, signalled to come inside. A table was prepared for me. The owner and also chef came out from behind the counter to shake my hand, ask warmly how I was. The other two guys working there welcomed me too. We laughed about the weather. I said I was so pleased they were close to me. I looked at the menu and decided to order four meze as my meal and a glass of red wine. Much of the wine in the tavernas here is homemade. This is told with great pride but as you can imagine, I’m sure, this is not always a good thing! Meraki’s wine is good though.

The owner got cooking behind the counter. This is an open kitchen in a traditional Cretan taverna sense, not a fancy London restaurant where it’s all the rage to be able to see your food being cooked. In a sense, here at Meraki, it was the real thing.

A Greek family was eating at a large table nearby. A boy of about ten would get up from time to time and practise his Greek dancing to the music in the background, managing the complicated kicks and twists quite well, I thought. The two older guys working in the taverna would sit and talk with them from time to time, leaving the younger guy to do the work – but not the cooking! As I ate they’d stop and talk to me when passing, give me the occasional little hug. This did not make my feminist hackles rise (as it would have done in London). They are a tactile race – like the old woman holding my hands the other day as she talked to me – and I felt no offence, only friendship. I felt as I was being looked after in the nicest possible way. Meanwhile the thunder rolled outside, the heavens poured and lightning flashed across the sky. Ironically a Greek friend iMessaged me to say he was in London and was I back from Crete. No! I messaged back. And the weather is awful here. Like a true Greek he said, don’t worry about the weather, just have fun. The Greeks are very philosophical.

I’ve developed some favourites amongst the meze in Meraki but was determined to try new ones. And what a good thing too. I chose some fava dip, remembering the dried broad beans I’d seen in the market on Wednesday.

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I also chose ‘Giant beans oven baked with tomato sauce’.

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These look like posh baked beans, I know, but they really are a very classic Greek dish. We’re talking large beans like butter beans and a sauce made from fresh tomatoes. They always make me think of Dimitra. Dimitra’s daughter Natalie was in my son Jonathan’s class at school. They became engaged. They were 4 years old. They were both very serious about marrying each other for three years. Dimitra would refer to me as her ‘in-law’ and I remember her making this bean dish for a party and telling me it was a very popular Greek dish. I also ordered stuffed vine leaves. They’re such a cliche in Greek restaurants yet I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten them actually in Greece. It seemed a good time to try.

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Finally, and by no means least – perhaps this was the most exciting – was a cheese pie. No, that doesn’t sound exciting but it was very different to what you might expect and wonderfully delicious.

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This was like a stuffed, fried pancake. Its stuffing was myzithra cheese – a bit like a mild, soft ricotta. It was fabulous. So tasty I had to eat it all, although I didn’t manage to finish the other three. There was lots of food!

The food was fantastic. I told the cook – quite genuinely – it was some of the best food I’d had in Crete. All very simple but as fresh as can be, using excellent ingredients. I felt – though I wouldn’t pretend to know – this food was the real thing; this was genuine Cretan food.

I had an expresso. They brought a plate of the sweetest small grapes for me – as they always do. The rain eventually calmed. I made a bid for home while the going was good. But what a fantastic evening. I had a very simple but lovely meal and felt so ‘at home’ in the taverna. The warmth of the welcome I was given, the relaxed and friendly atmosphere there, made it a perfect place for a Single Gourmet Traveller to be.

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