Folegandros & The Craziest “Restaurant” We’ve Ever Eaten At

Greece,Islands July 15, 2012 10:09 pm

“So… what do you cook?”, I ask; a question that has never before been the beginning of a dining experience for me. I ask it instead of “Do you have a menu?” because the answer there seems obvious.

That was the start of our first meal on Folegandros.

It started in a van, being driven by Yanis, making our way along the main “highway” of the island of Folegandros. We’re quietly traversing rolling hills and easing around gentle mountain curves. You don’t easily lose sight of the ocean as you drive. Folegandros is small.

“So what’s the population of Folegandros?”, I ask of Yanis, not having laid eyes on many people during our drive. “Permanent residents, about 600” he replies. I realize I’ve never before been in a place so remote.

We arrive at our accommodation. It’s an apartment that sits atop one of those rolling hills. As you stare out and down you see the sun faded green and brown of the amphitheatre terraces carved into the mountains. You hear the sounds of the donkeys and goats that wander those terraces. And in the distance you see the Church of Folegandros, resting white and majestic, perched on a vast cliff top at the islands highest point. It’s beautiful in that unspoilt kind of way. You feel like you’re seeing mostly the same thing that a visitor 100 years ago saw.

It’s dusk and it’s low season. Things are quiet to be sure. We unpack our things, and we ask Yanis where we can find some food at this time. We don’t have transportation and we’re 40 minutes walk from the centre of town.

“See this road here? Follow it until the road gets narrow. Maybe 1 kilometer. Just after that, on the right, there’s a little corner store that’s also a restaurant.”

“Perfect!” I reply, the travel nerd in me fully aroused. “What’s the name of it?”

“It doesn’t have a name. It’s just an old lady there, and she cooks for people”, states Yanis, matter of factly. “Very good, very traditional. You will like it” he said, as if somehow my face had accidentally conveyed that I required further convincing.

So we set off.

We’re walking along this road that’s the same one we came in on. A highway really. It’s just getting dark. We follow the road as it bends around cliffs that drop to the sea. We pass decrepit stone houses, and the fields of local farmers.

The road starts to narrow, we cross a footbridge, we look to the right and we see nothing. There’s a little stone house in the spot this “restaurant” should be. There’s a TV on inside and a sign in Greek out the front.

“Maybe that’s it?” Elysia wonders. “There are chairs out the front?”.We decide to take the leap.

We nervously peer in through the half open front door. It’s someone’s living room. There’s an old lady, her husband who’s lost an arm, and they’re sitting watching some Greek version of The Tonight Show. There happen to be convenience store type goods for sale around them, but those seem wholly out of place.

“Umm, hi…” I stammer. “Do you… serve food?”

It’s instantly clear that this lady speaks as much English as I speak Greek: zero. Somehow she confirms that yes, there is food here, and she urges us to one of the tables right outside their front door. We breathe a joint sigh of relief and we step back OUT of the living room optimistically hoping it will undo the blatant interruption we’ve just caused this simple man trying to enjoy his favourite TV show in the evening.

We sit down at the table. The lady smiles and looks at us.

“Where do you stay?” she asks. Ok, better English than my Greek. We’ll be fine.

“At Provalma Studios. Yanis told us to come here.”

“Ohhhh Yanis! Yes, Yes!” She replied with that loud, excited tone. Folegandros isn’t a place where “everyone knows everyone”, it’s a place where everyone knows everyone and knows their family and knows their ancestors and knows their previous carnations on earth as well. Some people leave Folegandros, but new people don’t just suddenly arrive there. You end up there because your father’s father’s father owned land there, and your mother gave birth to you on that land. You stay there because that land will become yours.

“So what do you cook?” I ask.

“Meat, potatoes, bread, tzatziki”, she rattles off about 7 things.

“Ok, great”, I reply, with no real confirmation of what I had agreed to or in what quantity… and like so, our meal begins.

It’s all quite a surreal experience. We’re waiting for our food, and a man rides past us with a pack of donkey. A donkey herder. With a stick and rope and everything. It’s like we’re sitting down for a meal in the time of Jesus.

As we wait, we discuss how there’s really no guarantee of what we’re about to get. We’re hoping that it’s edible mostly, both because we don’t have another option, and because there will be no way to escape the embarrassment of not eating the meal this lady interrupted her evening to prepare for us.

20 minutes later and our food is there. It’s meat, it’s potatoes, it’s bread, it’s tzatziki, and this other condiment, like a chutney. It’s remarkably similar to what the lady described.

The pork is dry, the bread is fresh, the chutney is uniquely flavorful. We tell her how much we like the chutney and I ask “Did you make this here?”. She looks at me totally puzzled and nods “Yes, of course”… as though to imagine that there are restaurants where people DON’T hand make each ingredient is sheer lunacy. She tells us about each of it’s ingredients to make us doubly sure.

We explain that we’re full, we thank her greatly, and we head inside to pay our tab. We pick up a few goods from around the living room/corner store too. Then you can almost imagine how the billing situation worked.

She gets a piece of paper, and a lead pencil, and starts summing what we ate. She’s doing addition like in the old days. She adds up one column at a time… she drops a 2… carries a 1, and shortly after some confusion and clarification… we have our total.

We pay, we thank her again, we smile to her one armed husband, and we hit the road.

If I were to guess, I would say that our chef returned to her TV program as though nothing had happened that night. Just another day on a small island in the middle of the sea. And in that she seemed to share a trait with the island itself.

People have come and gone from there like the tides crashing on it’s rocky shores. Time has passed but little has changed Folegandros. Little has changed it because there is little to be changed. It remains simple, simple and wonderful.


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