National Geographic Traveller (UK)

07 Cultural fusion

Far on the outer fringes of the archipelag­o, east of Rhodes, this little island is where Greek and Turkish customs come together. Words: Anastasia Miari


‘Airport’ is a grandiose term for the narrow strip of tarmac and shed that greet me on arrival on the island of Kastellori­zo. Closer to the Turkish mainland than it is to Athens, it’s the country’s most far-flung island, where permanent residents number just 300 and the only action happens around the harbour, where wild turtles bob sedately between traditiona­l fishing kaikia (boats).

Naturally, it’s there I’m headed. There’s just one taxi on the island and I jump in, bound for the pretty, pastel-hued coast. “Turkey,” says the heavily moustached driver, pointing to the mirage-like stretch of land visible across the sea when we arrive.

I’m here to meet yiadiades (Greek grandmothe­rs) as part of my research for my next book, Yiayia, a collection of their recipes. The reason is simple: Kastellori­zo is where Greek and Turkish customs and cultures collide, which means it’s home to some of Greece’s most interestin­g dishes.

The ancient Greek concept of filoxenia, or showing kindness to strangers, is strong here, and it’s common for locals to welcome guests to Kastellori­zo by ushering them into their homes to share plates of local nibbles and wine.

I find Yiayia Eleni, her skin tanned from her many years under the Greek sun, living in one of the centuries-old homes beside the water’s edge. Behind beaded curtains, the house has high ceilings with its original dark, wooden beams, and once belonged to Eleni’s own yiayia — the woman behind the recipe that Eleni shares with me.

“Here we make halva with flour,” she says, whipping butter, flour and sugar in a pan as the biscuity mixture begins to bubble. Like many Greek dishes, halva, a confection­ery a bit like fudge, has its origins much further east than Europe, in the Middle East. Meaning ‘sweet dish’ in Arabic, this thick, saccharine paste is most likely to have made its way into Greece via Turkey.

I ask Eleni if she visits the Turkish mainland. “We go every week,” she replies. Contrary to the often negative portrayals of Greco-Turkish relations, she explains, Kastellori­zans hop on a boat for their weekly shop in the Turkish bazaars across the water, while their Turkish neighbours come to celebrate Orthodox Easter and party together — despite their difference­s.

Later I find Yiayia Maria, who’s well into her nineties, living further along the harbour. She promises to make me a Greek coffee as I watch taxi boats speeding off with swimmers eager to explore the nearby caves. She laughs when I ask later what makes the coffee Greek. “Some people call it Greek, others call it Turkish — we’re all the same in the end,” she says, taking a sip. Anastasia Miari is a Greek author best known for Grand Dishes, an anthology of grandmothe­rs’ recipes from around the world. Her latest book, Yiayia: time-perfected recipes from Greece’s grandmothe­rs, is out 25 May (£27, Hardie Grant).

 ?? ??
 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom