“We only have fish,” said the owner of the little pavement cafe on the outskirts of Kalamata. We’d reached the sea at last, and collapsed at a table in the shade of some mulberry trees. It was mid-afternoon on a working day, but all six tables were full. What a perfect way to celebrate! You never got fish in the mountain villages. As we tucked in, a wandering guitar player appeared, launching into the House of the Rising Sun for our benefit.
Food in the village cafes was simple, freshly cooked and usually of good quality. But to be honest, it sometimes got boring, especially as I’m not an enthusiastic carnivore. The usual choice was grilled meat from the freezer. It was excellent and often home-produced. Once or twice we watched as the restaurant owner headed off to the butcher to buy our supper. Omelette and chips, usually with a salad, was almost always on offer. Fried cheese made a nice change, and occasionally we found bean or chickpea soup. A few meals stand out, where there was a particularly talented and innovative cook: at Mikrolimni, Kefalochori and Kalarites, for example.
But only the larger villages had cafes, and these were often closed out of high season or simply if the owner had business elsewhere. Sometimes, they didn’t even look like cafes. There was no sign, and only the piles of beer crates stacked outside gave it away.
We made the most of it when we found somewhere open. Very often, we would go two or three days without finding either a shop, cafe, or “magasi”- the traditional combination of the two.
So we had to be self-sufficient, relying on our flat-pack Honey stove and the lightest food we could carry with us. We experimented with packet mixes and dried soups, bought in the towns, but found traditional fare of rice, lentils, a little onion, with some vegetable stock and sometimes a tomato, was tastiest, especially when jazzed up with some spices and olive oil. Instant coffee, with a sachet of UHT milk, was essential to get going in the morning, and we carried a selection of goodies to snack on on the way: figs, nuts, nougat, nut brittle. This is our basic list of supplies to take.
It’s a fine balance between carrying too much, and running out of food. Buying supplies was difficult, and once or twice we faced a long walk to the next meal. The selection in the village shops was limited (rice, pasta, lentils, biscuits, coffee, tomato paste…). Sometimes, we asked a cafe or guesthouse to prepare us a packed lunch, and occasionally we met a man with a van, selling fruit and vegetables.
Despite the occasional hungry day, we ate well. I didn’t lose weight.