by Irma Havlicek
Online Producer, Powerhouse Museum
One of the things that made the whole experience of the 2012 Zagora Archaeological Project season so enjoyable was the generosity and warmth of our hosts at the Kantouni Pensione and Restaurant (and also their friends…. continue reading further down for more).
The Kantouni restaurant/taverna is run by husband-and-wife-team, Giorgos and Alexandra Moustakas, with Giorgos’ mother, Maria, weaving culinary magic in the kitchen to provide supremely tasty, hearty and nourishing dinners for us from Sunday to Friday nights. (With Sundays off most weeks, we tended to explore other Batsi options for our Saturday dinners and, for some, a bit of night-life, given we could sleep in on Sundays.)
Greek home-cooked food…. nourishing, rich stews and soups; melt-in-the-mouth moussaka; crispy battered fish and vegies, risottos, baked beetroot, garlicky dips, fetta, olives, herbs, tender, slow-baked meat and vegies; spanokopita (spinach and cheese pastries), tiropita (cheese pastries). Most nights, accompanied by delicious, fresh Greek salads. The tomatoes were especially memorable – full of sweet tomatoey flavour, drizzled with fine Greek olive oil. Mmmmmm….
Fresh produce in Australia tends to have been developed to favour characteristics of durability for long-distance transport and long-term storage – often, it seems, at the expense of flavour. But with the tomatoes, and other vegetables and herbs, grown in the garden just behind the kitchen door, they arrived on our plates bright and fresh, and full of the flavour nature intended. The following photos give some idea of the fabulous food Maria prepared for us.
It was Giorgos who invited us to the Tsiporou Feast where not only Giorgos and Alexandra but all the local people there open-heartedly welcomed us into their celebration to enjoy their music, dancing and feasting with them. Giorgos also arranged a friendly soccer match between his friends and members of the Zagora team later in the season. We were all pretty tired and it was freezing that night – but they played hard and had fun. I spectated to the best of my ability, and cheered both sides on. But for a story of remarkable generosity from Giorgos’ friend, Nikos, read to the bottom….
See Nikos, seated, in the centre of the shot above? Well, here is a story of kindness and generosity about him: There was an excursion one afternoon to the archaeological site of Ypsili – where the fierce winds rivalled those at Zagora. My Powerhouse colleague, Paul Donnelly (also pictured above) had a speck of dirt blown into his eye, and over the next hours it caused pain and swelling that got worse and worse. (Paul has just cast his eye [well, now two good eyes] over this post and said: ‘It wasn’t a speck; it was a boulder!’ – I stand corrected.)
During dinner, Beatrice McLoughlin suggested that the best place to get help would probably be the extended-hours chemist at Gavrio (about a 25-minute drive away). Giorgos and Alexandra called the local doctor, who confirmed this was the best thing to do. Paul and others were trying to decide whether to order a taxi when Nikos, who was just visiting his friend, Giorgos, insisted he would drive Paul and Lesley Beaumont to Gavrio. Which he kindly did. The chemist there miraculously removed the irritant from Paul’s eye and provided drops to help soothe the eye. Paul then, with his available good eye, spied a cake shop and decided to go there to buy a cake as a way of thanking Nikos for his kindness. When Paul got to the counter, Nikos stepped in front of Paul and insisted on paying for the cake himself!
We all got to share the cake when they returned to the Kantouni. But the enduring memory is of the remarkable kindness of Nikos and all at the Kantouni.