Ten good eats in Berlin
As far as cities go Berlin has got it sorted. Easy access and transport, great pedestrian and cycling routes, a bustling multicultural vibe, music, art, performance and delicious, good quality food from all over the globe. If you are planning to visit it, it comes highly recommended.
Before I tuck into your ten-course food adventure some non-food related destinations are worth a mention. Ballhaus Berlin one of Berlin’s many ballrooms (near the Museum of Natural History Ubahn stop) hosts the fantastic Omniversal Orkestra every Monday – don’t miss it if you are there. For a relaxing day I recommend a midday or evening visit to the Neukölln City baths for a swim and sauna in a beautifully opulent setting – the baths are open till 10pm. Next to it is an art space/café called Prachtwerk which showcases great art work on its vast walls, and offers good coffee and food, as well as events such as an open stage night. And finally, make time for bars which Berlin does in one of the best ways a city can – I recommend tracing down independent small bars such as Art + Weisse bar but also the ZigZag Jazz bar which offers amazing music from well known artist from around the world for a free entry.
Most of the places mentioned below are in the Kreuzberg-Neukölln areas where I would return to stay without hesitation because of their relaxed city vibe. The link through the bold text (name of the place) take you to a google map so that you can trace them easily. Enjoy your trip!
- Café Blume, Fontanestrasse 32, 12045, closest U-Bahn stop Boddinstrasse, http://cafe-blume-berlin.de/
Next to the Volks Hassenheide park, in fact next to one of its entrances, is Café Blume. Simple and unpretentious, with great sunshine on a springtime afternoon bathing its outdoor sitting area, this café offers delicious cakes as well as a satisfactory selection of food. I had the best vegan banana and peanut ‘cheesecake’ there. Then have a stroll to watch the beautiful Berlin sky sunset colours amongst the leafy trees in Hasseinheide park. Bliss… Recommended for families as it has a large indoor playing area.
- Zitröne, Diffenbach Strasse 56 (corner of Diffenbach and Grafestrasse), 10967, U-Bahn Stop SchonleinStrasse, http://www.zitrone-restaurant.de
Spacious, comfortable and elegant, Zitröne café offered us a relaxing space to eat, read and chat without a rush. With ample seating it is a good option for busy brunch days, although I can only imagine it being even more popular than the Thursday lunchtime when we came across it. The menu offerings are great and range from well-thought breakfast choices, to hearty omelettes, daily lunch and dinner specials and attractive pasta dishes. I thoroughly enjoyed the vegetarian Bauernomelette, a German specialty with potatoes, filled with vegetables and served with soft cheese, salad and warm baguette. Dan also enjoyed a German sausage and mash dish, with a thin sausage, creamy mash and sauerkraut. I definitely recommend the comfortable environment Zitrone has to offer, set in an old German building restored tastefully whilst retaining a fuss-free, classic elegance.
- Floor’s Cafe, Schonleinstrasse very close to the U-Bahn Stop SchonleinStrasse, https://www.facebook.com/floorsberlin
I have not been drinking coffee for a long while now but at Floor’s I broke my rule. They simply make a wicked and creamy cappuccino, which was a delight to sip. This small cafe is buzzing with calm and welcoming energy. We enjoyed delicious smoked salmon scrambled eggs served with nice bread. We also tasted another wonderful breakfast platter with a selection of cheeses and cured hams – a breakfast which seems to be quite the norm in Berlin on most menus. Their croissants where generously filled with chocolate spread and freshly baked. Aim for a spot by the window to watch the world go by on Schonleinstrasse, a passage to many destinations.
- The Sudanese Café, corner or Reuterstrasse (56) and Weserstrasse, U-Bahn Stop Hermanplatz
There are a lot of Sudanese places to eat at in Berlin, possible evidence of its growing Sudanese population perhaps? This eatery is simple with tasty and filling offerings, which are great value for money. Try one of the affordable kofte or chicken or veggie platters which come with falafel, grilled halloumi, salad and Arabic bread all drizzled with a delicious peanut butter and tahini sauce. Even cheaper are their falafel and haloumi sandwiches. We are so pleased Yoli took us there.
- Chay Village Vietnamese Vegatarian and Vegan Café, Niederbarnimstraße 10, 10249, closest U-Bahn Stop Samariterstrase (U1), but also in Kreuzberg Eisenacher Straße 40, 10781
This is another place that was recommended to us by our friend Gareth. We sought out the place in Friedrichstein because we wanted to walk around a different neighbourhood. Niederbarnimstraße where you can find Chay Village is full of eateries inspired by Asia (Indian, Pakistani, Vietnamese) and there is a nice atmosphere there too. The food is absolutely wonderful. You feel it is healing and nurturing you with every bite you take. I tasted the Dau Phu Nam dish (No.30 on the menu) and its lemongrass and coconut notes were so well-balanced I did not want my dish to finish. The food is mostly vegan and it will change the mind of even the most hardcore carnivore. Just try it please. I really wish that we had a place like this in Cardiff. Authentic Vietnamese food that offers healthy eating that dazzles your taste buds!
- Berlin Food Markets
Mauerpark Sunday Market, Bernauer Straße 63, 10435, U-Bahn Station Eberwor. Strasse (U2)
The largest flea market in Berlin with the feel of a small festival is open every Sunday from 9am to 6pm. There are numerous food stalls and excellent choice which extends to delicious vegan offerings such as the mustard flavour vegan quiche we had from a South American food stall. There are also stalls offering Japanese, Uruguayan, British, Greek and so many other foods. And the flea market stalls are worth a visit too if you are in a shopping mood. Shop to the soundtrack of great music from the various buskers and performers.
The Turkish Market, Maybachufer street 1099 by the Landwehr Canal, closest U-Bahn stop Schönlein Strasse (U8)
This market is open 11am-8pm on Fridays and Tuesdays and it anything but just Turkish. There is a great range of food to eat and shop on offer as well as various shopping stalls with jewellery, clothes and antiques. On a sunny day it is heaving. Grab your food of choice and head to the riverside. It is also a great place to shop for a nice picnic or stay at home dinner with a selection of cheeses, wurzte and salumi and a nice bottle of Riesling wine.
Marheineke Markthalle, Marheineke Platz, 10961, closest U-Bahn stop Gneisen. Strasse (U7), http://meine-markthalle.de/
A more conventional, covered market hall with a fantastic selection of produce and much organic choice (which seems to be the norm in Berlin!). There is a great selection of eateries in periphery of the market stalls too (inside the building). It all seems good and interesting but I would discourage you from the Breton Gallette stall for the rudeness and unwillingness to replace one ingredient with another. The finished item was not that great either so I would recommend you spend your euros somewhere else.
Markthalle Neun, Eisenbahnstrasse 42/43, 10997 Berlin-Kreuzberg, closest U-Bahn stop Görlitzer (U1), https://markthalleneun.de/street-food-thursday/
Part of the hip street food market worldwide phenomenon this market will not disappoint you if you like that kind of thing as it throws a street food Thursday event with different food stall holders every week. It reminded my very much of a smaller version of the Papiroen Island market in Kopenhagen but it was too packed on the Thursday that we visited. The food offerings are very interesting and will cater for everyone’s taste but I personally preferred the smaller markets where I have more space to stand or even sit down. Apart from Thursdays the market canteen is also open for breakfast and lunch every day, with longer opening hours on Saturday and Sunday. Worth a visit.
- The Three Sisters restaurant at Künstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien, Mariannenplatz 2, 10997, U-Bahn Stop Kottbuser TOR, Gorlitzer Bahnhoff (U1), http://3schwestern-berlin.de/ and for a visit to the art centre see http://www.kunstraumkreuzberg.de/
Inside this old nunnery, currently an exhibition/ artist studio/creative space, hides a wonderful restaurant with the best atmosphere of all the places we visited this time, called the Three Sisters (3 Schwestern). The lighting, the music, the temperature of this large old building are all faultless. The positive experience starts as soon as you walk in. The service was professional and immaculate. The menu offered us well-executed, authentic German cuisine with a modern twist in generous and tasty portions. I recommend going there with friends so you can share different dishes from the menu as we did. My favourite starters were the Homemade Leberkaes, a pork and sesame loaf and the Alpine onion tart, and the Hazelnut cheese tart. From the mains I was particularly impressed by the Pork Roast of organic “Havelland Apple Pig” with Bavarian Style Coleslaw and Bread Dumplings, which I could not finish due to its size (!) and the Beef main with capers and lemon butter. As we could not stomach much more we all shared the most wonderful Strudel we tried in Berlin with homemade real vanilla cream. This was our most expensive meal in Berlin at around 40 EUROS a person including a delightful bottle of Riesling. But I would return there tomorrow if I could and I think there is something everyone would enjoy on this menu. It did German cuisine very proud. The restaurant is very close to the Street Food market so you can go there if there is no place for you to stand or sit at the Street Food event. And it is at the end of Marianenstrasse which is full with interesting cafes and bars to also stop at. In the summer it hosts an open air cinema.
- PiuTrentaNove, Mockenstrasse 73A, 10965, http://www.piu39.de
Right across one of the entrances of Viktoria Park (on the top of which you have a wonderful view of Berlin to take in), and close to Meirheineke Markthalle, we found PiuTrentaNove. It was a sunny afternoon and we felt a bit peckish after another long walk. In true Italian fashion we parked ourselves in the sun facing the park, and ordered apperitivos and one of the most authentic, tasty pizza margeritas I have eaten outside southern Italy. The perfect crustiness of its thin rim, firm and perfect thickness of its main body topped with a generous but not heavy serving of melted mozzarella made it just perfect for me. There I made one of my favourite memories in Berlin, in the sun, with a perfect drink (in the way that only Italians know how to do it) and the perfect pizza. It was only when we peaked inside that we realised this is one of the most popular Italian restaurants in Berlin and its pizza has been voted the best for many years. So if you are planning to eat there I would recommend you book a table.
- La Femme Breakfast & Lunch, Kottbusser Damm 77, 10967, U-Bahn Stop, Kottbusser Damm, http://www.lafemmebreakfast.de
The place is always packed with Turkish people enjoying one of the most impressive breakfast and lunch menus I have seen. There are over ten Turkish scrambled eggs options to choose from, savoury pastry pies, crumbly shortbread biscuits with nuts and warming Turkish tea. We savoured the delectable Menemen eggs with sucuk (a spicy Turkish sausage) and Simit (or Koulouri as we call in in the north of Greece, a sesame bread ring). I strongly recommend you make time for this. It will keep you going for at least your dinner and with many locations of this mini chain across Berlin you have no excuse to miss it. And you will join one of the strongest communities in Berlin, the Turkish, in one of its favourite pastimes.
- The Turkish bakeries on Kottbusser Damm and all around Neukolln
When we arrived the first thing that caught my eye was the availability of Koulouri (Simit), a sesame bread ring that is sold in the streets of Thessaloniki. Every other shop on KarlMarx Strasse and Kottbusse Damm seemed to be a Turkish bakery that offered Koulouri and savoury pastries. Then I noticed the abundance of Touloumpakia, mini deep-fried doughnuts with a crunchy exterior and a spongy interior dipped in thick syrup, another specialty sold in Thessaloniki. Testament to the hybridity of some of the Greek/Turkish cuisine one of the bakeries I stocked up on supplies for my return is called Senguloglu with a mystery Greek mobile phone number of the card. Delicious offerings that you should definitely not miss out on as there is so much good quality from those bakeries on offer. Save time to make your purchases before you have to go back to the airport. The savoury pies were so great to eat on the way back to Bristol and Cardiff.
Pilgrimage to the sun #2-Spoon sweets and tips from the Aegean’s Balcony
Our time in Pelion was full of flavours, changes in scenery and surprises around each corner of its winding roads- a village, a forest, the sea, a character, some artwork. We saw Pelion’s Aegean waters tamed by heat and then turning familiarly choppy before we fled to Pagasitikos Gulf.
There is so much to tell you about Pelion. We spent nights on the beach bathed in the full moon after dining in the moonlight on the southern hill of Chorefto at Marabou – their homemade olive paste and salads are tasty and generous in portion. At the tavern Kima (Κύμα), Chorefto, we savoured the daily home cooked specials such as kanati and stuffed courgette flowers. We tasted an amazing wild green pie at Victoria’s café in Damouchari’s idyllic cove. We stayed as Foteini’s home in Damouchari who gave us herbs, courgettes from her garden to make a fresh tourlou. There we dined in candlelight, facing the lights of Ai Giannis and listening soft waves crashing on the sharp rocks, protected from the elements and civilization a little cove of serenity- I feared if we stayed there longer the mermaids would steal our minds. We discovered a stylish and creative coffee shop and art space when we found Karpofora in MIlies on our way to Afissos.
Almost three weeks ago on our way to Elitsa cove from Parisaina beach in Horefto we walked alongside olive groves hanging off the side of the mountain in North Pelion, Greece. We picked sage, bay leaves and gigantic super-lemons nourished by the sun-all two meters of Dan pulling down a branch so that I can pick the fragrant fruit. We ate wild figs from trees that fruited early. We breathed in herbs and sea salt.
We reached Analipsi beach on foot from Chorefto, passing the church and the beautiful Plimari Tavern (Πλυμάρι). We swam to Tourkolimano (accessible through water and the coastal path from Parisaina and Analipsi) and snorkeled along the rocks in the company of sea creatures. Then we fell asleep in the naturally shaded side of the beach and woke ourselves up with a swim and a coffee at the tavern. And finally at dusk we walked back to our base at Orlys and used our foraging ingredients for another home cooked dinner in the outdoor kitchen.
At Pouri village we woke up everyone when the dogs detected our mid afternoon entry. We climbed to the Nikolaou square, one of the tallest spots of the upper village, and the view took our breath away- the coastline all the way to Horefto where we started out from lay beneath us. Just as we were about to leave what seemed to be a closed coffee shop/tavern the jammed door open ajar and out came its smiley owner, Babis Lagdos.
At Babi’s ‘Balcony of Pelion’ in Pouri we had locally made Greek spoon sweets, cherry and walnut flavours. Greek spoon sweets are preserves made with local fruits (mostly whole), after their the seeds or stones are removed (e.g. cherries, apples but also baby aubergine). Otherwise citrus fruit with their peel and unripened nuts and seeds such as walnuts and figs are also used to make spoon sweets. Spoon sweet are called so because they are served and eaten with a teaspoon. If you go to Pelion or other Greek countryside places and you do not try the locally produced spoon sweets you should be punished! Not only would you be testing a local delight but you would also be supporting women cooperatives and local producers in the area. A spoon sweet is delightful with dark bitter coffee, on yoghurt or on fresh buttered bread.
We met and saw people who survive the changes of seasons, governments and life- reaffirming the inevitability of joy if your heart is open to it. Poets, cooks, wild campers, yogis, entrepreneurs, chilled locals, young hippies. So I cannot close this blog entry without mentioning Popotech (Ποποτεχ) and Gemma and Gerry.
About five minutes after leaving Pouri we drove past a big red sign and a man with a cap looking like a modern Sheppard in front of a red vehicle in what seemed a movie still or a scene that dropped out of the page of a book. In the backdrop I saw sunflowers, artefacts and colorful metallic structures dancing in the soft wind. We turned the car around and stopped on the road side. And so we met Gemma and Gerry and Popotech their art space, workshop and gallery. They live and work there summer and winter. In the past year they moved from Pouri and built their home on their own land on a hillside. They grow some of their food on the land and their inventiveness in structuring their workshops and house on a hillside is inspiring. The place is serene and beautifully wonderful, like an art playground for grown up children. Their company is a delight. And now that I think of it they must have lived in Greece longer than I have as I have been gone for sixteen years. I have no more words to describe Popotech and its two curators. This is their life, not just a transient show, and I would love to spend more time with them soon again. Take the road to Pouri from Zagora and keep your eyes wide open so that you don’t miss Popotech’s red signs on your left hand side. You won’t regret it.
Lia’s random facts and tips
- Kanati is a slow cooked dish with cubed beef and pork with some tomato sauce, lemon and herbs
- Make sure you try kreetama (coastal wild green) but also tsitsiravla (hill wild green) for a meze and a glass of cold tsipouro
- At every tavern or restaurant you visit always ask for μαγειρευτά (mageirefta), the daily home-cooked specials, to make sure you try the fresh local specialties and what is in season.
- If you drive to Elitsa or Analipsi it’s best to use the main road past Zagora. The ‘coastal’ road just about fits one car if there is oncoming traffic and it’s not a local you may be stuck for a bit.
- If you walk to Elitsa or Analipsi (Tourkolimano) go to Parisaina beach from Horefto (at the end of the Horefto beach to your left as you are facing the sea there is a small footpath). Then at the far left side of Parisaina beach look up to one of the beautiful house hanging of the cliff and you will see a cobbled road winding up the hill. I suggest you wear steady foot wear or at least shoes that cover your toes for a better grip.
- Parisaina is a wild camping beach that gets busy with people who still respect nature and their surroundings. There is a beach bar , Kripti, on the hill that offers water and drinks, but this is not a beach resort or lido. Please do not visit of you expect that. And also be prepared to through away your swimsuit. No-one will judge you if you don’t but I hope you feel comfortable to take it off and enjoy a nice swim in the crystal waters.
- You can also access Elitsa or Analipsi (Tourkolimano) through the local (dirt) road at the end of Horefto beach. It is also a beautiful route and perhaps longer but more shaded.
- Visit Pelion’s east side at full moon and watch the moonrise either from Parisaina beach or enjoy at Pouri, at Babi’s Balconi of Pelion tavern. If you are carnivorous he does a mean goat slow roast.
- Damouchari feels like an island and it’s definitely worth a visit but be warned it is on the more touristic side, in a tasteful way albeit.
- Damouchari is a good place to explore the many footpaths in the area, e.g. to Fakistra beach but also to the beautiful and large village of Tsagkarada. Be warned it is steep but worth every drop of sweat. You can hire a guide at Vistoria’s guesthouse and café.
- Horefto is the seaport of Zagora, Damouchari is the seaport of Tsagkarada so if you head for these destinations you will see sharp turns towards the sea.
- Originally we went to Pouri in search of locally produced cheese after locals told me there were some sheep owners and cheese producers there. Don’t expect little Deli’s and stalls in Pouri. My advice is to go to Babi, the owner of the Balcony of Pelion, when you arrive as he can source the cheese for you and a couple of days before you leave you can pick it up from the tavern.
- If you would like to stay at Foteini’s place in Ntamouchari get in touch with me. It is a unique experience sleeping at the wave at an old house with an interesting hostess.
Spoon sweets and Pouri
Damouchari and Milies
Pilgrimage to the sun
My pilgrimage to the sun begun last week. I am in motherland.
I am currently in Pelion, Greece, the land of Argonauts and Centeurs, the land of mountain and crystal blue sea.
I thought this would end up a food pilgrimage with many food photos to share but nature has won me over. I bathe in the sea and walk up the steep hills with the excitement of a newcomer, as if I have never encountered such beauty before. As I write this we are getting ready to set off on a coast path hike to the beach of Elitsa (little olive).
I have no phone signal here but last night after wild camping in Parisaina cove Dan and I rested in a house (Orlys) overlooking the Aegean. So no phone signal but wi fi yes! Lucky you!
Last night in the outdoor kitchen we used giant ripe tomatoes to make a cinnamon and olive pasta sauce. We ate this with χυλοπιτες (hilopites) , short tagliatelle-like greek pasta flavored with saffron and paprika. I got very tipsy on chilled local rose table wine (non pretentious nectar-god I ve missed Greece and how it does not need to feign gourmet grandeur to offer you its delights).
And this morning our landlord , Rony from Tel Aviv, offered us γλυκο σύκο (fig sweet) which we spread on maize flour bread with yoghurt butter for breakfast.
To this day in Pelion these are my humble food highlights together with the salad of κριταμα (kreetama) , coastal greens, and κανάτι (kanati which means jug), slow cooked pork and beef in a light lemon and tomato sauce.
But as I am setting off to new coves and hills who knows what awaits me.
I am just so happy to be home.
The best trips are the ones you least expect, same for joys I think. This weekend I found myself in London without much planning or the kind of planning very open to change -the way I like it. It was the first time in many months that I took time to walk and savour a place rather than just be on and off trains, in and out of of work places.
We walked the streets of Bayswater, Notting Hill and Islington and enjoyed the hustle and bustle of London’s Borough Market and the Embankment.
My highlights, photographed here, included:
Pre-dinner at Ottolenghi’s Notting Hill branch, where we savoured a moorish goat and aubergine cheesecake with two salads: one of beetroot, dill and doclelatte and another of buttenut squash with goat’s cheese.
A glass of Malbec after visiting the Woman’s touch exhibition at the Tabernacle, Notting Hill.
An affordable, upretentious, even if ‘just-satisfactory’ Thai meal at the Cool Monkey, on Clarendon Road: the massaman chicken curry bursting with cocunut, peanut and ginger flavours was the highlight of our meal.
Italian cookies and a strong cappucino at Charlie’s on Portobello Road, a cafe that has changed names a couple of times since I discovered it, but one I would still visit to avoid the very busy cafes and streets of Portbello Market in the weekend.
A thick and filling foccacia with peppers and tomatoes; the wheatgrass, ginger and lime ‘Zinger’ Smoothie at the Totally Organic Juice Bar; and, most importantly, the infamous Brindisa chorizo sausage roll served with grilled pimento peppers and fresh rocket (for which I queued 20 minutes) at London’s Borough Market. .
A dinner at the Canonbury kitchen at Islington, the highlights of which were Breasola filled with fresh ricotta and served on peppery rocket, the good company (two of the Greens!) and the atmosphere of this great kitchen.
And last but not least, having the honour of meeting Wizz Jones, chatting to John Renbourne and seeing Robin Williamson during their sound check at the Union Chapel, Islington, and before being graced with their soothing performance at a venue so fitting and serene I almost felt that I was granted entry to heaven.
10 out of 10 for this weekend review !
Dan Green’s photo blog on WIzz Jones, John Renbourne and Robin Williamson’s gig at the Union Chapel, Islington.
What about Perek?
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A few months ago, when I sat at the table with Maria Mouratidou to talk about Perek Farm near Thessaloniki, Greece I thought I would hear the story of a cooperative, a successful entrepreneurial model, which flourished in a Greece of adversity. But my conversation with Maria told me more about how food could help reframe our lives and reality. How important it is in preserving heritage, the recollection of which is starting to dwindle together with the lessons it has to offer. And how a different way of producing, farming and living could be one of the ways for a brighter personal and global future.
Greece is often branded as one of the most biodiverse, fertile and blessed soils in Europe which apparently can yield more produce per square mile than many of its neighbours. Yet it is in crisis. And the Greeks are running to supermarket chains offering them mass produced food from far-away lands. What has gone wrong?
Recently as I listened to BBC Food programme Sheila Dillon’s voice narrating the struggles and opportunities facing Greek agriculture I was reminded how hope is reborn by necessity, simplicity and through turning to the land. I come from a generation of Greeks whose parents left the countryside for a better future accessible through academic education. And here I am asking myself how many educated ‘fools’ does it take to break a country? Or could we turn our skills and knowledge to tools that could help us reframe reality for the future in Greece and around the world.
So what about Perek? Here’s my take on its story as a family business and an example of how our life, economy and nutrition could be reimagined.
What about Maria?
Maria is a sprightly, ageless lady, who left her academic career in 2003. She worked in molecular biology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki Medical School. This gave her a sound basis for understanding the links between intensified agricultural practices, the use of pesticides and the increasing health impacts experienced by many of the farming communities where agriculture grew in concentrated pockets of land mass. Maria was also looking to change the pace of her life. ‘We wanted to live’, she says, ‘to enjoy the sunsets and to take time to breathe in the lavender. We never imagined that we could do so much for the people around us. We never knew’.
And so was Perek set up. Initially as a small business that produced traditional pasta and pie products typical of Northern Greece and the Pontos such as Trahanas (often fermented Greek pasta grain); Verenika (tortellini -like dumplings with various fillings encountered in other neighbouring cuisines such as that of the Ukraine); Ivristos (vegan pasta similar to tagliatelle but broken, dehydrated and toasted to enhance preservation); Perek pastry (large, thick filo pastry toasted and filled with greens or cheese or other goods); sourdough breads and specialty cakes flavoured with Tsipouro. All these goods used specialty wheat and rye varieties carefully selected for each product, grown and milled locally by farmers carefully chosen for their practices.
‘Subconsciously I looked at what my mother did’ says Maria. ‘I wanted more than just a business and to preserve methods, foods and practices from our long-lost homes in Pontos, Kerasounta’. There were many women in the area of the same micro-heritage that Maria could work with. So a workshop was set up and the reputation of its quality produce grew and grew. People visited to stock up on supplies, the place was like a magnet pulling in those seeking to reconnect with tradition and practices that Perek had to offer. The quality and flavour was unparalleled.
‘It was as if we had made a Nobel prize discovery, when all we had done was use resources grown in tune with nature. We made what we knew from our grandmothers and mothers – recipes and traditions handed down generation to generation. Gradually people started asking why they could not taste recipes with food they bought, why there was no restaurant on the premises. We were lead to growing as a business. As we say in Greece ‘the route leads the walker’.
Perek’s growth (?)
Maria applied her scientific knowledge in seeking wheat, dairy and meat produce that was uncompromised. ‘As a scientist I felt it was essential to make an alternative suggestion to society to help rectify the damage done to our ecosystems, society and health. We have an obligation as scientists to talk about the impacts of chemicals on our food and genetics. And I wanted to also talk about the ‘science’ of tradition. To look deeply into our heritage and see how it leads us back to understanding the basis of longevity and how to enhance biodiversity’, Maria says.
‘All you need to do is watch and listen to each place (the Topos). The hint is often in the names of places, Ampelotopos or Agrampelo (the vine meadow), Karpouzlouko (the water melon field), Kapnohorafo (the tobacco plot). There is a reason for these names. People observed what grows and doesn’t grow well. Then they rested the land. They swapped crops’, she continues. ‘And you must remember, tradition does not focus on loss and profit and mass production. It is about making do, health and wellbeing’.
With the help of her daughter, a food scientist who researched Meznikof’s work and returned to Greece to be part of the business, Perek grew. Today the business employs over forty people. There are at least five regular animal farmers it collaborates with as well as an array of carefully selected artisan businesses.
The Perek Restaurant, a beautiful stone building with a large cyclical fireplace/oven in the middle, overlooks Thermaikos Bay and looks at Mount Olympus. It feeds up to 2,500 people each week and is supplied by the Perek workshop which continues to provide employment to many women and communities in the area. Perek supports free range farmers whose produce it uses for the restaurant, whilst it has also set up its own small farm mainly focussing on the rearing of black pig pork, indigenous in Maria’s home land. The pies, including the amazing Perek pie, often use wild greens (Horta) such as purslane, amaranth and nettle. Stipa (Toursi), fermented cabbage similar to sauerkraut and kimchi, feature on the menu. Katsikisio tyri, goat’s cheeses from free range animals and Greek varieties of chickpeas, lentils and other pulses also feature on the menu. It is the place to visit if you want to taste the land’s flavours.
‘One of the positive impacts of the crisis, was the lack of money to buy some of the expensive, industrialised animal feed which increased productivity and commercialised dairy and animal farms. This hit farming in Greece badly. But the remaining farmers downsized and turned to grazing and traditional methods of feeding. Production rates decreased but quality improved. The taste of the milk and cheese for example is now more distinct of the land’s vegetation’, Maria explains.
With a model so successful there could be temptation for Perek to grow and expand. Make no mistake, Maria is a business woman, savvy, clever and resourceful, but her message is unequivocal. ‘We supply twenty to thirty external businesses at the most. There are limits to how far we can go without compromising quality and the ethos of our business. We will produce enough for our restaurant, our own shop and some suppliers but we cannot supply everyone. There would be costs to that and we have to be careful’.
The meaning of life…
When Maria left her academic career for a different life she was ill. ‘Cancer made me revaluate life. I asked myself why I am running around like a mad woman. Why do I never have time? Why do I struggle?’, Maria told me. Can you relate to this too?
To me Perek is more than just a food business. It is a model and a way of business the depths of which might not be appreciated by everyone but its restaurant service for example remains accessible to the average Greek living in the area. And this is what makes it so amazing. That you can have quality in flavour, produce and life. That you can support ethical practices and communities through a conventional business model which is not willing to compromise its ethos. That you are able to preserve the elements of different segments of Greek traditions and tribes which shed light into who we are, how we can live more healthily and how we can connect to our neighbours.
I am not going to demonise where we are as a global society today, it gets tiring. There is a reason we made this journey through progress and perhaps now we are better equipped to move on into the future. Take Perek and Maria’s story as an example of how our and future generations could take academic excellence, skills and knowledge and apply it towards a different direction awar from our conditioned aspirations of achievement and wealth. Towards a more meaningful future for us, our friends, our nature and our children. Just take that.
Visit Perek farm all year around from Monday to Sunday. For more information here: http://www.perek.gr/ . Visit Perek on facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Perek-Restaurant-Monopigado-Thessaloniki/387257144667373
This entry was posted in Comment, Travel and tagged community, farming, farming today, greece, greek, northerngreece, perek, pontos, sustainability, thessaloniki, traditional agriculture.