Easter 2018 in Crete: Philoxenia Supreme

“Christos Anesti!” “Alithos Anesti”! Those are the two phrases I learnt as Easter approached because I didnt want to be the odd one out not knowing the correct way to greet people celebrating the resurrection of Christ! The Greek orthodox way to celebrate Easter follows their calculation of the day of Passover which does not always coincide with the way the Catholics calculate it and so somewhere around the Spring equinox, Easter happens. This year the Greeks along with countries like Romania, Armenia, Serbia, Cyprus etc celebrated it on the 8th of April and my Easter weekend began from the 6th, on Friday. I started off with a grand dinner at a restaurant with friends from India and some other countries where we ate so much that the 25 minutes walk back home was not enough to help the food settle down!

DAY 1: But the next day I was invited to dinner so after starving myself the whole day I walked about 40 minutes to reach my friend’s house. They were using their oven for the first time after 4 years and everything Easter friendly was cooked!

I helped my friend set the table and oohed and aahhed at her house and her rooftop view. Her father then came in with a flourish, brandishing a huge skewer with the famed kokoretsi strung on it. This deliciously amazing skewered offal meat loaf is made using the heart, liver, lungs of the lamb and wrapped with the intestines.

I do have quite the stomach for offal, especially since I spent the first 7 years of my life in Benghazi, Libya, where we ate alot of stuffed intestines, called Osbaan. So I was very excited about trying out these Greek versions! For Kokoretsi, the thin intestines are properly cleaned then the heart, lungs etc are cut into bite sized peices and strung on a skewer, with herbs and seasoning. The skewer is placed upon an open spit and the intestines is neatly wrapped all around it so it forms layers of skin as a covering. Once done, the end result is a long, round meatloaf-ey barbecued stick that is cut up. The smokey flavors and the softness of the offal is food heaven for meat lovers!

A lover of mixing food, I was only too willing to dunk my kokoretsi in the avgolemono, or egg-white and lemon soup with pepper from Madagascar sprinkled on top! (The Madagascari pepper were from the host’s travels) The greeks eat a soup to end the 40 day Lent fast, especially a they have been avoiding meat or even oil in the last week.

The lamb meat was baked in a large dish with potatoes and rosemary in the oven or “fourno” which was being used after 4 years!!!

But the dish of the day for me was the Gardoumia. I had to ask my host’s dad to write it out for me in Greek as I wanted to remember the name of this awesome offal yumminess. Spleen and other offals are wrapped in the small intestine again but cooked in a gravy of lemons and egg white with herbs to give it a fragrant, lemony taste. the softness of the gardoumia was buttery as the knife cut smoothly into it.

That night I walked back home and took a detour to witness the midnight mass services as everyone greets each other with Christos Anesti (Christ has risen) and Alithos Anesti (Indeed he has) The candles are held carefully and after the priest has blessed you, the idea is to walk back home with the candles without letting them blow out, to ensure a good year! I saw people walking gingerly, cupping the flame…

DAY 2:

I felt like an anaconda the next morning who has barely digested her food but then it was time for lunch and this was my first chance to respond to the Easter greeting> I did with more enthusiasm than was needed, much to the amusement of my hosts! The cute little foreigner that I am…!!! 😦  One of the traditions for Easter is to eat lamb as Christ was considered God’s lamb so his sacrifice is symbolised. The Greeks also dye eggs in red colors to signify the blood of Christ and the eggs are cracked as each person holds one and the other cracks it. If you crack all eggs without cracking yours then you get to keep them all! I cracked mine at first attempt!!

After the egg breaking session, I met my next new love, the Magiritsa soup.

It is a known fact amongst my friends that I can probably live off soup and this Easter offal specialty is an offal soup which comes in a egg white and lemon base. But the offal used and the fragrance of the herbs was absolutely stunning.  Then there were also potatoes which were soft and flaky and more baked mutton  but we ate them too fast so no pictures!!!

I returned home that night and made gajar ka halwa to avoid feeling like a… you-know-what…

DAY 3: My final invite was a mix of cultures as a Bangladeshi-Greek family had invited me and I was feeling alot better for lunch as the last night’s action had left me wiped out. There’s just something unerringly tiring about making gajar ka halwa or grated carrot halva, grating almost 2 kgs of carrots and swirling them around in ghee.. if only it wasnt so deliciious!

The lunch was actually very light with barbecued shrimp and vegetables and a rice and vegetable polao which really didnt make me feel heavy. But the star was the cheese pie with spear mint. Its just something about mint with cheese that drives me gaga!!

I nevertheless returned home to fall into a food coma but all this food talk makes me want to share a story told by one of the guests at the lunch: quarreling army officials of different nations during one of the many wars in Europe were brought together to have constructive peace talks when they were all asked to cook and share food form their countries. There is just something peaceful and inclusive about the warmth of the food shared across a table.

I join my hands in gratitude and thank everyone for sharing these special days with me.