When you hail from a country where summers rarely reach dizzying heights of temperature (more often a breezy mix of sun and cloud and the occasional shower) eating in the open air is a fairly rare experience, especially when it comes to evening meals. As the sun goes down the dew falls, making it chilly to sit outside, and more often than not the pesky midges appear to make the occasion a misery rather than a pleasure. So one of the real joys of trips abroad is being able to enjoy evening meals in open air restaurants, dressed in short sleeved tops or dresses, without even having to think of taking a cardigan. As for an umbrella, forget it. During summer in the islands of the Aegean the sun reigns.
In Pefkos we were spoilt for choice when it came to restaurants, so we chose those not showing football (the Euros were on so football tension was in the air and many bars and restaurants had large screens on which games could be watched), those offering food that appealed, especially dishes with a Greek flavour (prices in most restaurants were fairly similar with a few exceptions), and those with atmosphere by the cart load. Later we added another criteria: warm, friendly staff.
So here are some of the surroundings where we whiled away our evenings and stored up memories as the sun set, darkness fell, candles were lit, and paving stones radiated heat stored during the day. Music, often plucked on a mandolin for that extra Greek touch, played in the background, never so obtrusive that you couldn’t conduct a conversation, but sufficient to add to that all-important atmosphere.
Some diners turned up in shorts and T-shirts, but most grabbed the opportunity for casual dressing-up in dresses, maxi dresses, or trousers and eye-catching tops. Some even hirpled along the uneven roads in strappy, four-inch heel sandals, though the sane opted for footwear more suited to outdoor dining in a village resort.
Pushchairs with toddlers were numerous as were under school-age children (this was June, before schools broke up for the summer). Greeks retain a sense of family as well as a sense of history. So as soon as diners with children appeared there was a rush to bring a highchair (usually a smart, bright multi-coloured one) and the menu for children who were made as welcome as the adults. The history bit is evident in many of the older properties that are not sold but passed down to the next generation.
One of the restaurants we visited numerous times was set in the garden of a traditional house. The small house had been transformed into the kitchen of the restaurant.
The restaurant owners could only rent the space as the house owners wanted to keep the property in the family. A far cry from how homes are acquired and disposed of in much of the UK. Probably, too, the reason for many derelict properties in Rhodes as the next generation might want to renovate or build anew on the site incorporating something of the original house into the new. So, a sense of family, a sense of history, a sense also of belonging to a particular place where faces are well-known and families go back generations, rooted in the rocky land.
The same applies to land. The wife of one restaurant owner told us she stayed in a modern house which incorporated her old family home and that would be passed on to her daughters. Her father had given her three small pieces of land with olive trees, about a hundred in all.
When the restaurant closes in October the olives will be picked, a time-consuming and difficult task, she told us. Then they have to be cured and fermented, before being covered in brine ready for eating or storing. The green olives we enjoyed bowls full of in the restaurant were from her family olive trees that would be passed on to her family. As all the olives we tasted were slightly different, individual flavours with added secret ingredients instead of often bland mass produced, no doubt this is a common practice.
Amazing how much you can learn about a country from its food and its restaurants.