Thursday 2 September 2010

Lesvos, Greece - Yia Yia's in the kitchen

Sardines in Molyvos

Our alarm clock in Lesvos is the sound of Yia Yia (TPG's grandma) stirring thick, black coffee on the stove top. The hot sun is already streaming in through a crack in the shutters and a rooster crows in a nearby backyard. Then comes the full cacophony of sounds to wake us fully from our groggy slumber - "peaches, watermelon, beans, tomatoes...." the call of the mobile fruit, veg, meat and fish markets rouses a full entourage of grey heads poking from the doorways. The slow shuffle of old ladies in black dresses forms a procession towards the source - small vans with megaphones - where they barter for the daily supplies. If it's a Sunday, the operatic high notes of the local priest can be heard belting it out in the local church and over small speakers dotted around town - conveniently close to our bedroom window. A typical day in Parakoila has begun.

Yia Yia orders the peaches

We start each morning with a sweet, thick black coffee, biscuits and sometimes a plate of fresh figs from a neighbour's garden. There'll be a frappe or lemon granita on the beach in the morning, to cool off from the scorching sun. Heading home for lunch at 1pm, the smell of bamyes (okra, tomato and onion) simmering on the stove top, soutzoukakia (sausage shaped meatballs with cumin, cinnamon and a sweet tomato sauce), manestra (sort rice shaped pasta) with tender ox tail, cinnamon and tomato, roast chicken or grilled fish will welcome us on approach.

One of 3 plates of fish presented to me for lunch one day

Bamyes (okra), tomatoes, onions

Greek salad
Manestra with oxtail and cinnamon


The unstoppable Yia Yia and her delectable Kalloni sardines

Best of all are the sardines from nearby Kalloni which are piled onto our plates, freshly grilled and dripping in local olive oil. They're the best sardines we've ever eaten. (At this point, Yia Yia pulls out a tupperware container indicating she's packing us some to bring home on the plane). Best of all, they're born to be washed down with the local ouzo - and we happily oblige.


But these are a mere side to my gigantic plate of huge, roasted yemistes (sweet stuffed tomatoes), a whole eggplant and green pepper, each stuffed and heaving with pilaff laced with mint, onion and vegetables and roasted until a mini heatwave is created in the kitchen on this 40 degree day. Yia Yia, a feeder, merely shakes her head in disgust that we can't eat more - then brings out a plate of freshly fried, homemade loukoumades (knobbly doughnuts dripping in local honey and crushed nuts). It's true - there is a second stomach for dessert.

Sweating with the heat and the effort (eating here is exercise), we can't imagine ever eating again. But by late afternoon, the salt water and sea air has worked on our appetites and we hit the local bakery for galaktoboureko (sticky sweet custard filled pastry) or a nutty, syruppy baklava. Or we might even settle for a bag of yellow peaches, nectarines or grapes.

We enjoy a sundowner (Mythos beer or ouzo) on the beach, before heading home for a late dinner where it all starts again. And Yia Yia doesn't take no for an answer. Even if I wanted to stop the feeding, I can't - Yia Yia can't speak a word of English and my Greek is limited to "ne, ne, carpuzzi" ("yes, yes, watermelon"), "parakalou" ("please"), "efharistou" ("thank you") and "fuscomeni" ("if I eat another thing, I will explode").

Naturally, TPG (a Greek Australian) relishes the opportunities this provides, explaining to Yia Yia at various times that "Diva likes whole chickens for breakfast", "Diva is still hungry" (as Diva tries to digest helping number 7) or, my personal favourite, the simple "Diva is drunk on ouzo ... again". (For the record, on this occassion, I am not.)

We are the only tourists in the small village of Parakoila and we get the customary stares as we wander about town that you might expect if a 2 headed, green alien walked into a bar in an old Western movie. But our flight to Lesvos (the second largest island in Greece - after Crete) was surprisingly packed with English tourists - who all head for the bustling main port town of Mytilini, to the easy going beaches of Eresos or to the stunning mountain top, coastal views of Molyvos. There, we have sampled lovely Greek salads with bright green peppers, capsicum, tomato and fabulous feta, seafood plates, stuffed courgette flowers and local cheeses - as well as some disappointing touristy trash. But if it's real Greek cooking you're after, Yia Yia is queen. And I have the pot belly to prove it - Yia Yia has won.

Thomson Air flies directly to Lesvos for around £200.


  1. LOVED this post! We go to the Greek island of Kythera in 10 days, which is my partner's maternal family's island and I hope to be writing an identical post to yours as it looks delicious!
    Isn't Yia Yia amazing! The sardines looked amazing and I cannot believe she made her own loukamades! (by the way, for excellent loukamades in London, go to the patisserie part of Yasir Halim on Green Lanes - 8 for £1!)

    Thanks for getting me in the holiday mood!

  2. I'm intrigued by the manestra with oxtail and cinnamon - they're close enough to noodles! I'm also liking the look of the sardines too.

    PS: I'm ashamed to say the only words I know in Greek are the swear words my mate taught me.

  3. LexEat - I can't WAIT to hear about your trip to Kythera. Yia Yia is so amazing, and she's an absolute cack as well as a grand kitchen master. I am so impressed with your loukoumades tip - TPG will be beside himself. Thanks!

    Mr Noodles - The manestra may not look dainty in this pick, but it is so delicious. They are "orzo" in Italian - you may have tried? I need to start cooking them more often.

  4. of my guilty pleasures!!!! I havent seen them crop up on a blog in sometime :-D

    All this food looks amazing and makes me want to go to Lesvos!

    Beautiful post :-)

  5. Beautiful and evocative post. I am jealous!

  6. Lizzie - Thank you! Wouldn't mind being back there right now...!

  7. My god I am drooling and it's only 10 in the morning. (I suspect you travel like I do-food-centred-see my latest post) My hubby and I have been meaning to go to Greece for ages, particularly to a non-touristy island..with food like Yia Yia's, we may be asking if we can borrow her in the near future. ;-)

  8. Christina - Love your post on Portugal, somewhere I've been desperate to go for ages. Seems we both travel by the dictates of our stomachs!

  9. Oh I love food like this. Real earthy, home cooked stuff!

  10. A girl has to eat - Me too. Yum.

  11. What a fantastic post, got me to reminiscing about my past trips to islands around the Med and the excellent local food that is available if you step off the tourist trail. Of course, it probably wouldn't be as good as Yia Yia's but still...I think I need a trip to the Med soon!

  12. Winesleuth - Thanks! Yes, a trip to the Med is always good for the soul, I think!

  13. Your gran-in-law, yia yia, sounds ace!

  14. Kavey - Welcome back! She's awesome.


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