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Saturday, September 25, 2021

Memories of Greece: Zorbas BBQ, Lasithi, Crete

Catherine Tsounis
Catherine Tsounis
Contributing Editor The copyrights for these articles are owned by the Hellenic News of America. They may not be redistributed without the permission of the owner. The opinions expressed by our authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Hellenic News of America and its representatives.

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While experiencing happiness, we have difficulty in being conscious of it. Only when the happiness is past, and we look back on it we do suddenly realize — sometimes with astonishment — how happy we had been.1 – Zorba the Greek.
Traveling, before the 2020 Covid 19 Pandemic, to the Lasithi Plateau, east of Heraklion, Crete by jeep with young tourists, was an unforgettable experience. We passed through a mountainous paradise with wildflowers and herbs. In the middle of deserted mountains was an airfield. The Kasteli Airport will become an international airport in 2025 for Heraklion International Airport.

Zorba Taverna owner with our tour guide

Taverna Zorba at Agios Konstantinos Oropedio village was our destination for lunch. We passed through windmills. They convert wind power into rotational energy through sails to mill grain, for wind pumps, wind turbines and other applications. Olive groves were everywhere. Extra virgin olive oil of Crete contains the highest levels of antioxidants, particularly vitamin E and phenols.
The gracious hospitality of Zorba Taverna’s owner comforted me after climbing a Cretan mountain. Raki and wine were served continuously. A country atmosphere with gardens and outdoor barbecue gave us a feeling of Crete. “We have a salt free souvlaki cooked at our outdoor barbecue,” said the owner. “You will enjoy your lunch at Zorba. Your tour guide is a “Kalo Pethi” (A Great fellow).”

Organic salad from Zorba’s garden

The organic salads and Greek spreads were created from Zorba Taverna’s gardens. I spoke Greek with the owner and staff, understanding how much our happiness meant to them.  The great secret of Cretan gastronomy goes by the name of virgin olive oil: no other cooking fat is used in the traditional diet of the Cretans. The Cretan diet greens, vegetables, fruits, herbs, cheeses with little meat, is known today across the world. Scores of medical studies have found it to be of significant benefit to human health, while dishes inspired by the island’s traditional cuisine are served in cosmopolitan restaurants.

Vegetable spread with extra virgin olive oil

“Various archaeological finds, as well as Knossos’ wall paintings, confirm the fact that Crete’s culinary tradition dates back to the Minoan Period. Four thousand years ago Cretans used almost the same food products as are being used today. Over the centuries, against all odds of their recipes being altered due to the various culinary traditions that came over with the island’s conquerors, Crete’s recipes practically remained the same. This continuity is what built a strong culinary tradition and formed Cretan Cuisine.”2


I unknowingly saw a glimpse of who the ancient Minoans, that built Knossos, resembled. “Because of its isolated nature, the Lasithi plateau has attracted the attention of population geneticists. A 2007 Y-DNA study showed that Y-DNA samples from the Lasithi plateau differed significantly from those of lowland Crete, and may be indicative of it having served as a refugium of the Minoan civilization. A 2013 mtDNA study of bone samples from a Minoan ossuary in the Lasithi Plateau, dated to 4,400-3,700 years ago, showed that Minoan samples were closest to samples drawn from the modern population of the plateau, as well as other Greek, western, and northern European samples, while being distant from North African and Egyptian samples. According to the authors, these results are consistent with the hypothesis the plateau served as a Minoan refugium, and that the current inhabitants of the plateau carry the maternal signature of the Minoan population.”3   
 Having raki, organic vegetables, and talking with the owner of Zorba BBQ was as Nikos Kazantzakis said, “sometimes with astonishment — how happy we had been.
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