A Chef’s Tour of the Greek Islands
– Traveler in Greece –
We dare you not to drool as you follow Chef Sandy Ho’s enviable culinary voyage through Greece’s Saronic Islands.
Feta baked with dill and oregano in Aegina.
Fresh baklava and crispy baked custard in Poros.
Roasted pork shoulder and sticky figs in Epidavros.
Sailing the Saronic Gulf of Greece with Captain Dayyan Armstrong and First Mate Robert Neville on a 46ft charter named Fani magnified a disposition of cooking to satiate a new kind of hunger. That is, the hunger of story telling and of a culture knotted so rigorously with the sea.
For the Greeks, it is never simply one recipe nor is it a quick fix. It starts with the family who harvested vine leaves, who exchanged them for fish, who drowned it in olive oil, who baked it with white beans, who cooked it the way Yaya had and who till this day continues to stretch filo pastry by hand while spending hours beating octopus. Captain Dayyan would remind us everyday of this odyssey and how the Greeks would say ‘slowly, slowly’ in relation to well, everything. Well, slowly, slowly is exactly how we took to our week in the Saronic Gulf of Greece.
Underneath a clear blue sky in Alimos Marina, a new group of travellers emerged from slumber to a platter of seasonal fruits adorned with pistachios, hazelnuts and a generous drizzle of honey to salute the rich culture we were about to immerse ourselves in.
The Sailing Collective flag was hoisted high for the first time that day as we headed Southwest of the marina to the island of Aegina. On arrival and with direction from Captain and founder Dayyan Armstrong, we explored along ancient corridors and polished pathways to dip our toes into the beginning of the week of feasting, discovery and history to come.
By sun down, a parcel of feta baked with dill and oregano filled the salon with scents of the Saronic and we shared a family style meal of local Sea Bream dressed with lemon olive oil, toasted hazelnuts and charred spring onion root. By dinner’s end, our lips were oiled with proud fish; our teeth had crunched on crispy tails and our tongues slurped flavours of the sea.
Today we sail to Hydra. We had a slow sail hugging loosely along volcanic scopes of the coastline and our day was set with very ambitious schedules of chilling and fishing.
Hydra is an impressive town and even till this day its vast history of commercial trade is apparent in the facade of the marina. Hydra is famous for local handcrafted jewelry but infamous for its local mode of transportation. All day long, donkeys will carry tourists and locals alike, all over the island. It was certainly a fascinating sight as we disembarked to take a glimpse at this good looking island.
After a day of discovering Hydra’s secrets, the night washed over a breathtaking sky of colors and we sipped on Campari sodas and snacked on salted potato crisps. Our skin sparkled in the night from a day of sun and we sunk into our seats with complete satisfaction. These voyages often lend time for contemplation of life on Earth and as we slowed down and took this moment to share in the dreams and passions of another, we grew even fonder of our predicament. Not just physically but also metaphorically.
Our day began with a hearty breakfast accompanied by the velvety smooth Greek coffee we picked up from Aegina. The uninhabited island of Dhokos is on the map for today. Seeking out secluded locations on our journey is so important to keeping the mind fresh to unearth different aspects of the culture and the people of Greece.
In Dhokos, we spent the afternoon swimming and clinking our crisp white to yet another beautifully clear day. And then in the night, we toasted to the simplicity of life underneath shooting stars.
Day three epiphany: We are in Greece sailing the Saronic Gulf looking at shooting stars.
After a very seductive eve of stargazing we started the day with honorary sailor dives. Our skins were encrusted with salty remnants of seamless water as we set off under the piercing sun for the island of Poros.
After lunch, the luxurious beams of a Poros sunset beckoned our appetite once again. The smell of honey syrup, hot cinnamon and baked custard greeted us in the lanes and led our way. Peering into the window of a local sweets shop, we were recommended the baklava and an enormous slice of crispy baked custard. Without a minute to waste, we left the shop feeling like children once again, fingers sticky, pastry grins and giggling with the stupid glee of gluttony.
When night fell, we readied ourselves for a local dining experience on shore. Apagio Taverna is a fantastic place and the pride and joy of husband and wife Spiros and Liz Papadopoulou. With a storm looming in the night, they had nothing but open arms, kind eyes and one very delicious spread for us to taste. We felt at home. Come midnight, the chill prodded our shoulders but we chose to stay instead. Our zealous ears heard stories of Spiros’ confrontation with 2 giant octopuses and many funny anecdotes of their courtship. We witnessed a rare love that left us hanging on for more. And then came my day four epiphany: We are family.
Waking up a little later after a stormy night, a brunch of baked eggs with Greek yogurt was served for guests and crew. Today was the last night we would have dinner on board and in Sailing Collective tradition; Tis’ the night for a roast.
We chose a roast of pork shoulder and as it continued to fall apart in the oven, melding nicely with local figs during the hours of sail, we used the stovetop to sort lunch for our arrival into Epidavros. Situated on the north eastern side of the Peloponnese, Argolis, the city of Epidavros welcomes thousands of tourists and locals who come to visit the famous archaeological sites each year. The small beaches and coves along the town are also frequented by local fisherman who spend early dawn setting their nets for Calamari as well as various local fish like Bonito and Dolphin fish.
We spent the late afternoon preparing ourselves for a night of cocktails in town. A few hours passed, as our dinghy approached Fani, when we were reminded of the day’s hard work. Some may say that the salacious midnight feast of a tender slow roasted shoulder of pork, stuffed apples, sticky figs and onions is outrageous. But armed with forks and paper towel, we devoured the entirety of the dish down to the bone.
It was a cold, early morning when we stirred, waking to the most charming of sunrises. In the distance, a fisherman pulling in his net sent soft ripples through glassy water. And the sky of brilliant pink and orange extended out from the horizon in one magnificent gesture.
We spent our day in the ruins of Ancient Epidavros and breathed in the rich history of Greece. The ruins left sensations of experiences once had by people who existed there before us. Every stone, brick, crack, carving told a long story of the hands that started the evolution of what we have today. We recited poems to one another at the Sanctuary of Asklepios.
We felt the wake of travellers beyond us as we sat silently afloat. Reminiscing on stories new and old and peering at each other with the simultaneous sadness and gratitude of this last sail.
Day six epiphany: We are still sailing the Saronic Gulf in Greece.
They say that home is where the heart is; well this odyssey has taught me that if heart is in the food, then that is where we’ll call home. Now left with sea legs and a little jet lag, there’s nothing left but to think on the week with a chuckle to the past and a grin to the future of doing it all over again.