I am now back in Halkidiki (home base) yet my many fond memories of Crete replay in my mind and when friends & family ask about my trip. I think of the warm and generous Cretans, the stunning beaches, majestic landscapes and the amazing food. Cretan cuisine is centered around using local and seasonal product. Half the battle is one by sourcing good ingredients. The Cretans succeed.
On our last full day in Crete we stopped off at a seafood taverna that’s just west of Rethymno – right on the sea. We were all hungry and the suggestion by our local Cretan hostess to stop off at a seaside eatery that’s been frequented by her family for over 20 years was too much resist.
The taverna is called Prima – Plora and upon sitting down at your table, you have a feeling something good is to come. With views like this – a glass of water even tastes better here! I noticed that we were also in good company: Greek pastry chef and TV personality Stelios Parliaros was also seated near our table.
When I saw Babatzim Ouzo on the menu, I knew this would be the fuel of choice. Anestis Babatzimopoulos’ family left Constantinople for Thessaloniki where they sold Ouzo and Tsipouro to the tavernas & boites in the Vardari district. This old family recipe is as good (if not better than any other Ouzo out there) and despite drinking copious amounts of it – I’ve never woken up to a headache (hangover).
The first of the edibles to arrive was the sea urchin salad (Achinosalata) and some crusty bread (unbleached flour) in a basket. They say the measure of a good restaurant is in the bread they serve. Although I don’t have a pic, the stuff was damn good. Off we went dunking into the bowl of sea urchin row, its juices mixed only with olive oil and fresh lemon juice. The serving was huge for 10 Euros and the same order in Athens will only give you a 1/3 of the amount. My appreciation of this meze lingered upon being disappointed at an Athens psarotaverna.
It was agreed that we needed some roughage in the mix – a green salad was certainly to be included in array of dishes. Nothing fancy here but it was delicious. Leafy greens and some bitter rocket with tossed in a dressing of Cretan olive oil, some mustard, thyme honey and topped with cherry tomatoes and a young Cretan Graviera cheese.
Although still in the realm of salads but in a league all on its own is this seaweed salad from the nearby Gramvoussa peninsula located in the Hania prefecture. They were tender, they were a little crisp. The dressing simple – extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice and not even salt is needed here.
We ordered Garides (shrimp) Saganaki, a taverna classic and it’s been awhile since ordering this at a taverna. The shrimp were plump, juicy and sweet, a balance of onions and garlic and ripe tomatoes. The touch of oregano, basil, some hot peppers and a pungent Feta to round out the meze.
A summer in Greece is not complete without some grilled octopus. Don’t like octopus? Check your head! ;) It’s tender, it’s a little smoky from the charcoal. Dressed with just olive oil, lemon juice and some dried Greek oregano. The epitome of a Greek summer.
The show-stealer was this stuffed and grilled cuttlefish. A cousin of the octopus and squid, the cuttle fish was filled with sweet sauteed onions and tomato sauce that were perfumed with fresh Greek basil. Of to the grill they went and a topping of Feta cheese cubes completed the dish. Delicious, tender, succulent and a challenge to recreate in my kitchen.
In Crete, the eatery will treat you to some cold Tsikoudia (Raki) and a dessert plus from fruit. On this occaision we enjoyed some ice cream with a hint of Masticha and drizzled chocolate.
With views like this, it’s no wonder that many of the tables are reserved for when night falls. Many tables had bottles of wine already placed on them – a sign of the table being reserved. Make a reservation or come early – before night falls.
PS. Mussels also appeared on the menu and as I suspected, frozen New Zealand mussels were being served as i saw a couple of these dishes get whisked to nearby tables. Crete has no local mussels, avoid ordering.
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