“Achilleas” Fish Taverna (Ψαροταβέρνα Αχιλλέας)

My ex-girlfriend is Greek. Thankfully, we are still good friends. Over the past decade I have seen Greece in all four seasons, and I still frequently travel to Greece to stay with her and discover more of that beautiful country. One thing I quickly discovered, is that I really love fish tavernas.

But not all fish tavernas are created equal. No sir. All will serve fresh fish, of course. But it isn’t uncommon for some tavernas to have only have frozen squid and octopus on the menu, though many more will (additionally) offer the more expensive fresh cephalopods. And as anyone who knows anything about seafood will readily inform you; freshly caught is always superior.

This brings me to Achilleas Fish Taverna, on the island of Crete. Plenty of fresh seafood there. Located in Chania, about 15 minutes walking distance from the famous Venetian port, you’ll find that establishment on the corner of Monis Gonias and Akti Papanikoli, where you can sit on the terras outside for probably much of the year and have a nice view of Nea Chora beach and the sea. After a short wait for a table to become available, we sit down and order. We decide to have fava, cretan rusk with tomato and cretan cheese, little fried fish, grilled squid, and fried potatoes.

Heavenly fava (φάβα)! And you can add as much onion as you like.

Oddly for a fish taverna, one of the tastiest dishes was the fava. Without question one of the best I’ve ever had! Beautiful smooth rich creamy texture, served with a separate plate of fresh onion so you can add as much as you like. Exactly as it should be.

Grilled kalamari (καλαμάρι). So tasty, I forgot to take a photo before already having some. ;-)

The fresh grilled squid (“καλαμάρι”) was simply delicious, and the marithaki (“μαριδάκι”)—little fish that are grilled or fried—was even better. You eat these tiny fish entirely in one bite: head, bones, and tail. Loved these! The only slight niggle I have is that they removed the heads, which I don’t understand. Maybe squeamish tourists complained too often? Weird, because you can still just decapitate the fish yourself if you don’t like the heads. But okay, it’s not a big deal.

Fresh fried fish, coated in flour, nice light crunch.

We also ordered fries (πατάτες) and a typical Cretan dish comprised of Cretan rusk called paximadi (“παξιμάδι”), tomato, olive oil, and a special kind of Cretan soft cheese called mizithra (“μυζήθρα”). Also very tasty.

Rusk, tomato, soft cheese.

And now for the really amazing stand-out feature of this taverna: the vast selection of ouzo they offer. Ouzo is a typical Greek drink, famously known for the so-called ouzo-effect wherein the anethole that is dissolved in the ethanol is forced out of solution by the addition of water (e.g. from the ice cubes), creating an emulsion that causes the light scattering effect that makes the drink appear milky white. More importantly, it is very tasty and one of the traditional accompaniments to mezethes (“μεζέδες“). It goes well with seafood.

Frantzeskos ouzo from the island Samos.

I have honestly never been to a taverna that had so many types of ouzo to choose from. There were something like 60 different brands and varieties from all over Greece! We complimented the owner on his splendid assortment, and then he proudly told us that several producers of ouzo (not big commercial ones, obviously) have come to his tavern and were pleasantly surprised to find that they were actually able to order their own ouzo. I can tell you that this is very special.

We selected two bottles of ouzo. The first bottle was from Frantzeskos, from Samos, and it is simply amazing! Soft, velvety, sweet, no harshness and wonderfully aromatic. One of the best ouzos I’ve ever had, no question.

Meze (“little bite”) on the house: thinly sliced pickled raw fish, with olive oil, a crack of pepper and a sprinkle of herbs.

The second bottle, Nisiotiko by Giokarini, was also from Samos. Still velvety but a tad harsher compared to Frantzeskos. Also plenty aromatic, but a bit less of that light creamy sweetness. Perhaps a bit ‘fresher’ and therefore arguably a slightly better match with seafood. Certainly still in my top ten, but I definitely liked the Frantzeskos better. We were also served a plate of fish meze with this bottle, compliments of the house, which is a very nice gesture.

Nisiotiko/Νησιώτικο ouzo, made by the Giokarini/Γιοκαρίνη distillery from the island Samos.

After dinner in Greece it is very typical for tavernas to offer a little desert, usually some slices of watermelon. But in Crete, you are usually served tsipouro instead—often distilled by the taverna’s owners themselves. We were served a pleasantly light chocolate cake instead, definitely for the best since we’d already drunk two bottles of ouzo.

A little complimentary sweet.

The unique ouzo selection and outstanding seafood make Achillea’s Fish Taverna the kind of place I would wholeheartedly recommend, and I will 100% visit it again when I return to Crete. Fresh seafood is always a little bit more expensive, but the prices here were absolutely reasonable—certainly for this quality. There was no table available when we arrived, also a sign that the food is going to be good. We had to wait a little, so it may be advisable to make a reservation. After dinner, it’s a good idea to go for a little walk along the promenade to digest the food a little. At the end you’ll find a little harbour, where it is quite possible you’ll see the fishing boat, like the one below, that was used to catch your dinner. How cool is that?

A typical Greek fishing boat.

Dinner at Yiantes (Γιάντες)

I’m in Athens, and last Sunday I went out to dinner with some friends. Because of COVID-19 concerns, and because I’m vulnerable despite being vaccinated, we opted for an establishment that would accept reservations (not all Greek establishments do), and preferably with excellent ventilation. And Yiantes (the ‘Y’ is read as the Greek letter ‘Γ’) fits the bill. They accept reservations and—in the summer—they’ve got an open roof. Perfect!

For some reason we couldn’t get a cab by calling the taxiservice. Too busy. So we tried our luck by going to a nearby busy street instead. There we also had quite some difficulty hailing a cab. Apparently it’s a Sunday thing. So for anyone traveling to Athens, make sure to arrange a cab well in advance on Sundays. Anyway, we finally found a cab and it dropped us off near Valtetsiou, the street where Yiantes is located. We sit down and order.

We have a quick glance at the menu, but need more time to order. First some drinks. The ladies get a carafe of house white wine. It was decent, no more, no less. I ordered some beer. They have a fairly extensive selection for Greek standards, even offering Belgian beers like Duvel and Chimay. They were out of Duvel, so I ordered a Chimay Blue trappist beer. It was brought to me quite strongly chilled, which is not the correct temperature for this type of beer. But this is a Greek thing: beers are typically served at freezing point. And it all comes from the same fridge after all. It’s no big deal, I just let it warm up a bit.

We have a brief discussion about what everyone wants. Greeks share food, so this is a necessary ritual. One in our company is vegetarian, but this is no problem: many of the dishes in this establishment are vegetarian or vegan. A plus, in my opinion. Time to order.

Cheese croquettes

First item we order: Spinach-rocket salad with sesame oil, pickled pear, raisins, dried tomatoes and “manouri” cream cheese. This place is known for serving dishes with a ‘twist’, so we still didn’t feel like getting the “standard” Greek salad (Xoriatiki). And truth be told, no regrets. This salad was very nice.

Spinach-rocket salad

Then we continue ordering. The fava (φάβα in Greek), made with yellow split peas, is always a good choice and the only vegan dish we tried. Here it was decent, certainly tasty but not the best I’ve had. Somehow a bit bland, and not quite creamy enough. Maybe not enough onions? Fava without onions is nothing, after all.

Organic fava

We order two more dishes. The wonderful cheese croquettes with sweet caramelized onions (see first image), that ended up being my favorite that evening, and the eggplants with fresh coriander, some caramelized cherry tomatoes and buttered feta cheese. It’s always a bit risky changing a tried-and-true recipe, but the dishes that featured ‘twists’ on classic Greek cuisine did work quite well.

Eggplants

While I don’t have a picture of it, I also had the marinated pork chops with potatoes and beef sauce. The pork chops (basically grilled ‘pancetta’) were very nice: thin slices with a light crunch and tasty Maillard reaction. But the sauce was too sweet to my liking. Trying the French style a bit I suspect, part of the whole ‘traditional Greek food with a twist’ theme, but I think in this case it requires a more ‘gamey’ meat. I would have preferred something lighter, to balance the rich sweetness of the fatty charred pork, and also a bit more garlic, but this is my personal preference. So don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it was bad and I would also understand if many people liked it just as it is now.

I loved the open roof and the ambiance, and the food was decent enough. Not too expensive, prices ranged from around 5 euros to just shy of 8 euros for the vegetarian dishes. Pork chops were around 10 euros. Would definitely recommend and come again!

Open roof, graffiti, ambiance impression

How Europe is failing the test again: geopolitical effects of the financial crisis and the Covid19 pandemic

In July 2015, Greece was almost kicked out of the Eurozone over a difference of opinion on how to deal with the economic depression, because Europe’s finance ministers didn’t like Varoufakis (the Greek minister of finance at the time), and because of the “Sparpolitik“—a German phrase refering to austerity measures—mentality that characterized the attitude of important northern European member states. The negative impact this debacle has had on the public image of Europe is enormous, and no doubt did little to convince Britons to remain in the EU. The message is clear: net contributors with a solid budget are okay, everyone else should shut up and bend over to receive a stern caning. In light of these events, one is tempted to think it hardly a coincidence that the only other place we call ‘Europe’ in our solar system is the inhospitable cold dark ice-moon in orbit around Jupiter.

What are the effects of the way the financial crisis was dealt with? Well, to start with it evidently brought the ‘Brexit’ closer. And ever since a major country like Great Britain turned its back on the EU, more cracks have begun to develop in the European dream. Indeed, it isn’t just the UK we should be worried about. Look at Turkey, for example. Turkey is one of the biggest economies on continental Europe, and 13th world wide. It is also the second most powerful member of NATO, after the United States. And Turkey used to aspire to EU membership. But Turkey’s potential membership of the EU is conditional upon a number of important reforms. Yet having seen the mess Europe is in right now, do you think Turkey will be in a hurry to make those reforms? Even if Turkey ever did, they certainly won’t for the foreseeable future, if indeed ever. In fact, considering the strategic location of Turkey in todays geopolitical arena, Europe needs Turkey more than Turkey needs Europe. The interests of the EU have thus been dealt heavy blows on two critical fronts. But it doesn’t stop with the deluge of poor war refugees Turkey is holding near it’s borders as “trump” cards, mere pawns in a terrible chess game, ready to be let loose upon the West.

Speaking of Trump; despots everywhere must certainly be rejoicing as the United States have withdrawn military support from key regions in the middle east. Is it really a coincidence that any region Trump is unlikely to build a golf resort or hotel seems to require no military intervention from the US these days? Yet how else does one explain Trump’s willingness to use military force against mostly peaceful anti-racism protesters in his own country, while withdrawing his troops from an actual warzone in Syria filled with ISIL militants? And Europe’s lack of cohesion and flacidly scattered armies cannot hope to fill this void in any meaningful sense. One wonders if Europe is really just an Economic entity, there are certainly politicians who view Europe as such. But who can possibly be that naive? This is the time for a united European military presence. Call it a European army, or call it a coalition force. Whatever, just do something. What is the alternative? We are seeing it. Look at the millions of refugees collecting in Greece and Turkey: one country hardest-hit by the financial crisis, the other glad to have a bargaining chip. One would hope the EU would be smarter than that, and more than just an Economic union designed to line the pockets of a few oligarchs and multinationals, using lucrative international trade agreements, corporate tax benefits, and mercantilism. But apparently that’s really all it is.

And then there is Russia. If there is one thing Russians are good at, it is exploiting weakness. And right now, Greece and Syria are the Achilles’ heels of Europe in that sense. What is the economic leverage Russia has? Gas pipelines! And what is coming to Greece all of a sudden? Gas pipelines! Straight from the Kremlin, into the boiler of Mr. Mitsotakis. After Greece, Russia has also expanded it’s influence in the middle-east. Trump withdraws his troops, Turkey invades the border zone of Syria, and all of a sudden Poetin rides in barechested on a full-blooded Arabian stallion to settle the conflict and save the day. This is not a coincidence. The US have left the world stage, and Poetin is one of the players happily stepping in to fill the void. How does the increased clout of Russia, combined with the USA’s increased aggression against the International Court in The Hague, improve the position of the relatives of the MH17 victims? Is it more, or less likely that justice will be served, and that the bereeved will receive compensation? I’ll give you a minute to think about that, bearing in mind that six years after the fact—and long after the responsible parties have been identified—little if any progress has been made. That’s not just Russia’s fault, it is also the EU’s fault and a consequence of USA’s growing weakness in the global political arena.

And then Covid19 happened. And again we see the EU falling apart like a clumsy first move in a Jenga game. After all the bickering during the financial crisis, and just as southern Europe was seeing clear signs of recovery, it starts all over. Again the northern European states withdraw to their trenches of austerity. But then how ironic that this time the North is assuming a more Keynesian economical view for their own countries: spend now when the crisis hits hard, make cutbacks when things are fine again. We have a huge buffer and interest rates are at an all time low. Yet when it comes to the southern states, it’s the “Sparpolitik” message all over again. That’s just as stupid as saying that antibiotics works for everyone in your country, but not for anyone with a foreign passport. Do we really need to be in a European union that is this idiotic, that looks no further than what is right in front of its nose? What’s the point?

Through tragically incompetent, it is at the same time not entirely unamusing to look to the way the USA is “handling” the Covid19 problem—mostly by doing nothing, it seems. Much like each country in Europe, each state in the USA is dealing with covid19 individually, without any meaningful coordination with the surrounding states. Oh, and they need not look for leadership at the White House, because it has gone golfing. The lack of unity mirrors Europe almost exactly. States that impose stricter lockdowns are typically hit less hard, and poorer states are left to fend for themselves for access to life-saving resources. It will be interesting to see, though tragic for those severely afflicted by the corona virus, how the situation will develop in the coming months. Like many epidemiologists I predict resurgance of the virus in the USA (mostly) and Europe (to lesser extent), with densely populated relatively poor areas hit hardest of all, and expediated by the lifting of air travel restrictions. But it will be a lesson for Europe and USA alike: the best strategy is to fairly distribute resources amongst the (member)states, to listen to experts for advice to develop informed policy, to impose equal measures for all, to intervene at the highest possible level when necessary, and to promote solidarity throughout. This advice has the virtue of being universal: it applies to covid19, to wars and economic malaises alike, to Europe, to the USA, to the world… indeed, to the known galaxy. But if history has taught us anything, it is that good advice is unlikely to be followed and  history lessons are rarely learned. So as folly again blindly marches forth, every sensible person should fear for the future of the European Union.