It’s a hot autumn morning in Greece and I’m off to the Friday weekly produce market in the small town of Xylokastron, with my friend Kate, my children’s cousin Chrisanthe and her daughters Kiki and Evgenia. Xylokastron (which means wooden castle in English) is located 120km from Athens, on the northern coast of the Peleponnese, with the waters of the Corinthian Gulf and soaring mountains providing a dramatic backdrop.
Weekly market tradition
The town’s population is about 10,000 and in summer it’s a holiday destination for Greeks. I lived there for a while in the early 1980s, and have revisited whenever I come to Greece. While the town has modernised and changed, and traditional architecture is now often overshadowed by apartment buildings, the weekly tradition of going to the market remains exactly as it has been for decades.
Learning Greek ways
Chrisanthe helped me learn to cook Greek, speak Greek, and learn the ways of Greek culture.
I love her dearly. She has words of wisdom for every situation in life. I’m grateful for her family’s earthy humour and common sense and big-hearted welcome every time I visit. Four generations live under one roof. It’s the Greek way.
Chrisanthe has been going to the Xylokastron market for decades. It’s about three blocks from her home. The market, called laiki in Greek, is a place to taste, gossip and shop. Every few metres Chrisanthe and her daughters stop to greet their friends, often with a kiss on both cheeks. There’s a lot of good-natured banter with the stallholders too.
Today Chrisanthe is buying a kaleidoscope of peppers and beans, fat juicy tomatoes, freshly-caught sardines for our lunch, the season’s new grapes and glossy purple eggplants.
The really good oil
And so much more. Olive oil is on special today – a litre-and-a-half plastic bottle costs only 3 euros. The oil is dark green. Gorgeous. I’m distracted by the yummy plums which are only 1 euro a kilo. Chrisanthe isn’t buying oil, though. She gets the oil harvested from her son-in-law’s village nearby.
The market opens early and by lunchtime, it’s all over. Chrisanthe will be at home by then, preparing lunch for her family with her daughters’ help. Kate and I nick off to the beach for a swim. It’s the end of the holiday season and we almost have the beach to ourselves.
Keeping it simple
We get back home at 2pm, and make simple salads with tomatoes and cucumbers, and sprinkle them with dried oregano, vinegar and splashes of local olive oil, to go with the flash-fried sardines. Chrisanthe has also made bobota, a specialty of her village, which is a kind of flattish bread, sometimes made with cornmeal and containing fetta cheese and courgettes. Many versions of this dish exist – I make one that’s yeast based, and another with yogurt and other veges thrown in. That’s Greek food for you – everyone has their own take on classics. And it all tastes so good.