Tag Archives: Food

Life in the Mani

dscf3032Life in the Mani has always been hard. The land is very mountainous and rocky, cut off from the rest of the Peloponnese by deep gorges and high peaks. In the summer the sun scorches what little earth there is and in the winter the wind blows everything away. Despite the difficulties of this territory, it has been fought over by the Ottomans, the Venetians, the Turks and the Germans. Local clans also fought amongst themselves in Sicilian style vendettas resulting in fortified villages with tall towers, in addition to the Frankish castles which stand proud on the hilltops.

dscf2943However, the local Maniots managed to live here, making the most of what the land and sea had to offer with enterprising agricultural schemes. I learn a lot from a marvellous exhibition in the north eastern town of Gythio where displays teach me about the various aspects of life in the Mani.






Salt – Down by the coast, the locals would carve salt pans into the rocks, filling them with sea water and allowing the summer sun to evaporate it until only the salt was left. This would then be placed in sacks and transported over the mountains to Kalamata or taken by boat from the small ports of Geromelinas, Mezapos or Kotronas. These days only a few people continue this tradition providing small quantities of the local sea salt for restaurants or tourists.

Caille arlequin. This species lives in open grasslands, cultivated areas and savannahs. It is locally abundant and intra-African migrant. It feeds on varied weeds and grass seeds, plant matter such as shoots and leaves, and it also consumes invertebrates. Cette espèce vit dans les plaines découvertes, les cultures et les savanes. Elle est abondante localement. C'est un migrateur intra-Africain. Elle se nourrit de graines d'herbes variées, de matières végétales comme les feuilles et les pousses vertes, et consomme aussi des invertébrés. Famille des Phasianidés. Ordre : Galliformes



Quails – Each autumn quails migrate through the Peloponnese from the cold European countries to the warmer African climate. Gathering at Cape Tenaro before continuing on their southward journey, they were easy prey for the locals who set up nets to catch them. A lot of money could be made from the small game birds and most were exported to France where they were a popular dish. Today EU regulations prohibit the hunting of migrating birds.


dscf3181-2Honey – The pine forests and rocky slopes covered with aromatic herbs, such as thyme, sage and lavender, are also a magnet for bees and the Maniots would fashion square chambers in the stone walls to entice these busy little insects and then collect the sweet honeycomb that they produced. Today, the locals still practice the art of apiary but tend to use the more common wooden hives. Honey is a key ingredient of a local sesame seed candy called pasteli.

dscf2979Fish and Meat – Down on the coast, fresh fish is plentiful and nets need constant repairing to ensure a good catch. Higher in the mountains the Maniots kept goats, sheep and pigs. Sygline, popular on Christmas Eve, is pork which has been preserved by being placed in salt, smoked with sage and then stored in fat. Before eating it is usually boiled in orange water. As well as providing meat, the sheep and goats also provided milk, cheese and wool. However, these days it is rare to see anyone spinning the wool and knitting their own clothes.


dscf3123Olives – The harsh rocky landscape of the Mani seems to be no obstacle in the growth of the olive. In fact these hardy trees thrive in such an environment. The small black fruits are harvested today in much the same way as they were hundreds of years ago. Large nets are spread on the ground in late autumn and the olives are knocked from the trees using long poles. They are collected in large hessian sacks and taken to the local olive press, once powered by mules, then steam but now electricity. Traditionally each village would have its own press but now the locals take their crop to a cooperative where the oil is produced and sold on.


dscf2945Cereal crops – Terraces were carved into the hillsides to grow barley and corn to feed the villagers and their animals, but legumes, such as peas and lupin beans were easier to cultivate in the harsh conditions. The lupin beans look a lot like sweetcorn kernels but are not naturally sweet. They need to be left in salt water for about 8 days to reduce their bitterness. Then they are dried in the sun before being stored. Apparently they have very low gluten levels so are now filling the shelves of health food shops. A lot of the arable land now lies bare but I did see some jars of lupins and olives for sale on a table outside a local house beside the road.



Fruit – Oranges and lemons are easily cultivated in the Mediterranean climate but traditionally figs were the naturally occurring fruit trees of the region. Harvested between August and October, they are frequently sun dried to preserve them. The hot, dry weather is also perfect for prickly pears, named by 16th century European explorers. This strange fruit contains many antioxidants and is a great cure for constipation.


dscf3220Soap – It is thought that 7th century Arabic chemists were the first to use olive oil in soap production. In Kardamili there is a disused olive oil soap factory, easily spotted by the tall chimney beside the sea. It was founded in the early 20th century by Palmolive and was possibly one of the largest olive soap factories in the Mediterranean. Artisanal soaps are still produced in the Mani and can be found in the souvenir shops.





Bread and cakes – There are some marvellous bakeries in the Mani producing fresh cakes and artisanal loaves, but traditionally the Maniots would carry paximadia. Like rusks, they could be reconstituted with water or dipped in wine or coffee. Other popular afternoon treats include tiganites (like pancakes) and lalangites which are fried in olive oil and resemble the Spanish churros. They are a popular choice during Christmas and Epiphany.


Getting to Grips with Germany

This is my first trip to Germany in the motorhome and it is taking me a while to understand how things work here.

german-road-signFirst there are the roads. There seems to be a lot more traffic on the roads in Germany, especially large HGVs and trying to navigate the large towns and cities with their confusing road junctions and traffic lights is very stressful. The signs for motorways are blue, in common with the UK and France, but the signs for the main roads are yellow which makes me feel as though I am constantly following a diversion, and gets even more confusing when I actually am being diverted which is quite frequently. On the plus side, fuel prices are similar and LPG seems plentiful.

dscf0594Then there is the language. While I am a proficient French speaker, my German is non-existent. However, I do have a phrase book and I do make an effort to speak German, even if it is only to ask if they speak English! It seems that the polite ‘guten tag’ is not required as most people greet me with an informal ‘hallo’. However, ‘danke’ always goes down well. Deciphering the menu is the hardest part. In Heidelberg I ordered (well actually pointed to) ‘Ofenfrischer Schweinebraten in Dunkelbiersoße mit Apfelrotkohl und Semmelknodël’ which was luckily translated as roast pork in dark beer sauce, red cabbage with apple and bread dumpling.

german-sausageWhilst we are on the subject of food, the Germans like their meat, especially pork and not a single part of the pig is wasted. There are also so many different types of sausages that it is impossible to list them all and there is an art to pairing your sausage with a particular type of mustard, e.g. Weisswurst should be served with süsser, a sweet, wholegrain mustard. You won’t find much in the way of desserts but head for a coffeehouse to sample some calorie-laden cakes, such as the infamous Black Forest gateau or apple strudel, which actually originated in Austria! The portions are very large which probably explains why most Germans are oversized too.

dscf0939Launderettes and recycle bins are hard to locate. I had to stay at a campsite in order to do my laundry and I carried my recycling around for a week before I gave up and dumped it in a normal bin. Glass bottles can be recycled, though the circular input holes don’t always fit the odd shaped Franconian wine bottles. German plastic beer and water bottles carry an extra deposit charge of 25c which can be reclaimed by putting the empties into a clever machine found in most supermarkets. Also, clothing recycle bins seem to be very popular.



So Germany is proving to be a learning experience but I think I’m getting to grips with the way they do things here. Must be time for coffee and cake!



Food, Glorious Food

Regular readers of my blog will know that my passion for travel is fuelled by my other passions. Tasting the local food and exploring cities, villages & countryside on foot. If I’m lucky, the two balance each other out from a health point of view. Unfortunately, many of the French delicacies are far from healthy.

First there was the cassoulet in Carcassonne. The beans may have been full of fibre but the Toulouse sausage, ham hock and confit de canard were not very healthy. In addition, it’s all cooked in goose fat which is sure to clog the arteries.


Then, in the Dordogne, the typical restaurant menu would list duck, fois gras and small rounds of goat’s cheese from Rocamadour. When I previously passed through the region I visited a foie gras farm where the geese seemed perfectly happy. However, most people are appalled by the gavage (the force feeding of the geese to engorge their livers and produce the rich, creamy pate that top chefs serve in their restaurants). A trial is currently taking place in Western France where a foie gras producer has been accused of cruelty by an animal rights group. There are approximately 8000 fois gras producers in France but consumption is dropping and some places, such as India and California, have banned it altogether.


Duck comes in many forms: confit de canard – duck leg salted then cooked in its own fat); magret de canard – duck breast; and gizzards (pieces of the neck) which are very tasty in a salad with local apples and walnuts from the many groves which line the Dordogne.


As well as the truffle markets, which take place in certain regions from December to February, I have also enjoyed many local weekly markets. In Chauvigny, on a damp Saturday morning, the market was buzzing with life. I followed the flow of local customers, winding their way through the stalls of large shiny apples, jars of sweet honey, cured sausages of deer, wild boar and duck, pyramids of goat’s cheese and mushrooms cultivated in troglodyte caves.





And then there’s the wine, best bought direct from the Domaine where it is grown and produced. Last year I stayed on a lot of vineyards and sampled a variety of red, white and rose wines. I tend to prefer the mono-cepage wine (wine produced from a single grape variety) such as chardonnay, muscat, syrah or merlot. I’m also rather partial to the sweet wines like sauternes or monbazillac. Wine shops are getting quite modern these days with electronic dispensers enabling easier sampling of many different wines.