Beaten Not Boiled

andrew

Destination: Patmos, Greece

Mode of Transport: Grilled Octopus 

They must have swam the Aegean Sea like gods when they were young. These days, in at the very least the autumn of their lives, the two of them sat on large gray rocks that lined the ocean beachfront instead of being in the water.

One had a pipe in his mouth, the other a cigarette. I couldn’t make out their names, as they laughed and jabbed at each other. The taller one, had a good belly on him, and at first impression, looked like he was just a typical elder fisherman just hanging around; but upon further review, that belly must have been backed up by some “good living”.

Wearing Boat Shoes that read Prada.

His tan was just right, and though he only donned a plain white tee shirt with weathered blue shorts, the tongue on his boat shoes had that little red stripe that read PRADA. With those kind of boat shoes, this man didn’t need to fish for his own meals.

The other man, who looked a bit older, and significantly shorter, had the more athletic build of the two. His skin and brown shorts were equally weathered and he looked every bit an island man, as he kept his shirt and shoes off the whole time. He looked to be more believable as a person having made his living off the sea, with his beard matching the color of the ash that was ready to fall off his cigarette.

Most of their laughter stemmed from their criticism of the two younger men that were a few yards away from them, wading in the shallow part of the water, taking instructions from them as to how to beat the octopus on the rocks correctly.

Grilled Octopus at Pylos | Dish Our Town

Grilled Octopus at Pylos in NYC

Patmos

In the Greek Islands, in this case Patmos, they are known for their grilled octopus. But before they can be grilled and seasoned with olive oil, lemon, parsley and salt; they must be tenderized first.

[Tweet “In the Greek Islands, in this case Patmos, they are known for their grilled octopus”]

In the islands, the tenderizing method doesn’t start with boiling, but with a tedious beating of the caught octopus on the large rocks. It’s an absolute art, and takes a lot of muscle and time. This is what the two young men were learning from the two experienced gents, under the hot summer sun.

Taramosalata at Pylos in NYC | Dish Our Town

Taramosalata at Pylos in NYC

It was reaching noon. I already had my morning swim, so I decided to sit under an awning outside of a taverna facing the sea. I ordered a starter of taramosalata, which is a tangy, fish roe dip.

[Tweet “It was reaching noon. I already had my morning swim, so I decided to sit under an awning outside of a taverna facing the sea.”]

The consistency of the dip itself is creamy, and is arrived by taking the roe (usually from carp) and adding it into a mixture consisting generally of milk, bread, lemon juice, olive oil and parsley. I spread my bread heavily with it, as I liked a good dosage of roe.

Greek White Wine - Fteri | Dish Our Town

It was perfect with my dry white wine. I chuckled to myself as I continued to watch the play unfold between the four men and the octopus. The old men, without taking a breath from constant chuckling, were working the young men hard as they took turns pounding the tentacles on the rocks until their arms felt as rubbery as the octopus itself.

Having just come off a dip in the ocean..

Brenda, having just come off a dip in the ocean, pulled up a seat to join me. Her skin still had the sheen of water, as she let the sun do the drying as opposed to drying off with a towel. Her sandals, which had gotten wet from her feet, had what looked like a red clay residue that came from the somewhat volcanic colored sand beach.

[Tweet “Patmos, after all was where Saint John the Divine wrote the Book of Revelations.”]

There was something almost biblical about the way the sand looked. Patmos, after all, was where Saint John wrote the Book of Revelations. I waived the waitress over and ordered another drink after having had that sobering thought of the end of the world in mind. Brenda asked for a drink as well and also ordered a salad.

Greek Salad At Pylos NYC |Dish Our Town

Greek Salad At Pylos NYC

A good Greek Salad is very simple and beautiful. The onions are sliced paper thin and soaked in water as to take the bitterness out, this is then tossed in with cucumbers, tomatoes, black olives and feta cheese. A pretty girl, who introduced herself to me as Georgia earlier, brought the salad out to Brenda. My eyes remained set toward the sea continuing to view the four men and their octopus, as I sipped my wine and she ate her salad.

The tables had started to fill with other patrons; and Georgia, who seemed to have been the only person in the taverna that spoke english, came over to our table and excused herself for a few minutes. She took her apron off and walked toward the rocks where the two older men were. Their gesticulation became more and more animated as she neared, as if to put on a show for her.

The Octopus needs to lay on the rock to dry after being tenderized.

She gave the two of them a kiss on both cheeks and pointed them toward the taverna.  They both got off their perch as per her command. The shorter one put on a short sleeved button down shirt and left it aggressively plunging, slipped his feet into driving moccasins and started walking over. The taller one stayed behind and waved the younger ones over.

One of the younger men grabbed the octopus they had laid on a rock to dry after it had been tenderized, before walking over. The other one dipped his head under the water one last time before getting out.

The taller older man caught up to his friend and they continued in their jovial way. They acknowledged us with a nod as they took the table perpendicular to where Brenda was sitting. The two younger men, didn’t quite have the same dynamic as they walked over. The one with the octopus went straight into the restaurant and the other pulled up a seats to join the two elders.

Ouzo

The young man, seated, had perfect features, but had a taciturn way about him. He didn’t smile and or budge when the two older men were jostling him. A few minutes went by, when the one that had the octopus came out to join them. This time carrying four glasses with ice and a bottle of Ouzo.

[Tweet “These two were drunk on life, they didn’t need Ouzo”]

He set it down on their table with a sense of authority, which led the elders to chuckle even more. These two were drunk on life, they didn’t need Ouzo. They seemed to have laughed at everything. The four of them sat and had their drink. The two younger ones didn’t do much talking, but seemed keen on listening to the elders. You could tell they were all happy to be there together.

Brenda had joined me in my intrigue toward the four of them.

At this point, I can tell that Brenda had joined me in my intrigue toward the four of them.

“The good looking one doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself”, she said.

“Either he thinks his brooding is part of his charm, or he’s taken his share of abuse from the two old ones”, I replied. “Either that or he’s not too smart”.

 “I think the latter”.

 “Not too smart?”

 “No, taken his share of abuse”, she said, almost consoling him.

Brenda enjoyed her salad which was dressed very lightly with just some lemon juice and oil. As she was about to finish her plate, Georgia came out with small servings of what looked like lamb meatballs and spanakopita,  which was a spinach pie.

homemade spanakopita at Pylos in NYC | Dish Our Town

homemade spanakopita at Pylos in NYC

These little plates she told us were called mezethes. I’ve always enjoyed being able to have a wider range of taste offerings rather than big portions, so mezethes joined company with dim sum and tapas in my growing culinary dictionary.

Lamb Meatballs at Pylos in NYC | Dish Our Town

Lamb Meatballs at Pylos in NYC

The taverna had filled up, and Georgia was now joined by other young women taking orders and doling out plates upon plates of mezethes to the tables. You had your olives, your stuffed grape leaves, etc…The energy was wonderful, the room was filled with locals, lovers, families and travelers with a smattering of english and german spoken here and there.

The sun seemed to have gotten the best of everyone as the fair haired women inspected their skin to see if they had gotten burned, the kids needed a nap, and every man seemed to have been ordering a cold drink before they can even sit down.

Htapothi Scharas (grilled octopus)

After having finished their Ouzo, the tall older man got off his seat and went into the kitchen of the taverna. Minutes later, he arrived back to the table with a big plate of grilled octopus. The aroma was unbelievable and it looked to be the perfect afternoon meal. He must have heard Brenda gasping and me staring as he walked by. He cut off a few pieces of the tentacles, put it on a plate and without hesitation or asking, he smiled at us and set the plate in front of us on our table. He pointed at it and said, htapothi scharas (grilled octopus); then in perfect english, he orders us to eat. I raised my glass to thank him, and he lifted his and saluted, “yamas”.

 

[Tweet “I raised my glass to thank him, and he lifted his and saluted, “yamas”.”]

 

“Catch of the Day”, he said and pointed at the two younger ones; while the other old man, winked at Brenda, said something that seemed to have been quite a compliment toward her, and started laughing again. At this gesture, even the young taciturn one had to shake his head and smile.

 

“You have to watch him”, the older taller man said of his friend. “He likes the girls”…

 

I laugh along, and we all toasted to the moment.

 

We all enjoyed our octopus. It was perfectly tender. It was presented with a simple dressing of olive oil, lemon, parsley and salt. On the side was another sauce, which seemed to be  reduced balsamic vinegar and capers. We all prefered it the way it was, with the pure taste of the sea. I have never had a better one since.

A travel story about Greece, 15 years ago. Remembered by dishes eaten in NYC. | Dish Our Town

Grass Fed yogurt at Greecologies in NYC

Before we left, Georgia offered us some yogurt and honey. I never appreciated yogurt until then. And since then, I have had a lot of yogurts, hoping to recapture that taste. In actuality, it’s the moment I continue to long for.

Ironically, when I hear or think about the Book of Revelations, I don’t equate it to Judgement Day or anything of the ilk. It actually makes me think of Patmos, and how beautiful a place it must have been for Saint John to write there. Maybe it was the off colored sand that had given him visions of the apocalypse. But for me, Patmos, inspires me to eat, drink and laugh (which may lead me to my final judgement yet). If there was a revelation to be had from that trip, it was that both Brenda and I needed to fill our lives with more moments like these.

[Tweet “It actually makes me think of Patmos, and how beautiful a place it must have been for Saint John to write there.”]

We can’t always get away and go to the Greek Islands, but when we have a hankering, we transport ourselves there through the food. Most recently, we happened upon a couple of wonderful Greek Cafes in our beloved New York.

Preserves at Greecologies in NYC | Dish Our Town

Preserves at Greecologies in NYC

First, a decor sensible place named, Greecologies, in which yogurt is made on premises. They also have greek inspired products, such as preserves and honeys. Try the unstrained, traditional style greek yogurt with pine tree honey.

The other is Pi Bakerie. where they offer every greek pie imaginable. There is of course the perennial favorite, spinach; but my new favorite is the pastisio, which is a pie filled with ground beef and bechamel.  If it’s a meal you’re looking for, look no further than Pylos at the Lower East Side, they have a great Greek wine offerings and the taramosalata served with warm pita bread is fantastic.

It’s been very cold, and I yearn for warmer climes

It’s been very cold, and I yearn for warmer climes, so I have frequented Greek eateries in hopes that I find warmth in the cuisine. When I do, I think about what may have happened to those octopus aficionados, especially the two elders. They must be at the winter of their lives at this point, and I wonder how many more generations they taught the art of octopus tenderizing to; and how many more times they were able to swim and cut the waves like the gods they were.

Did you enjoy this Octopus Dish? Then, please share it with your friends, we’d be so grateful. Remember: Let’s travel the world, One Dish at a time.

Travel TIP: Right before leaving on our Long-Term travels, we decided to treat ourselves to a few staycations in NYC because we had been staying at Brenda’s parents’ house for 6 months, in NJ. There were nights that we were just too tired to trek our way home. The hotel we enjoyed the most was the Grand Hyatt in Midtown, which is so close to everything and conveniently located next to Grand Central.     Booking.com

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0 Replies to “Beaten Not Boiled”

  1. Incredible post. I could almost taste the food through your pictures! Although I might have to pass on the grilled octopus 🙂

    1. Hailey: The octopus seems more menacing than it is. Maybe a few glasses of wine will help you get the courage to try it one day. Thank you so much for your comment and kind words. Hope you follow our next journey. All the Best, Andrew

  2. loved being drawn into this tantalizing tale of a day in greece . . . loved your observations of strong characters. loved the delicious food descriptions. loved the sumptuous photos. loved your ability to blend into the scene.

    1. April: I really appreciate the fact that you read my stories. I know it’s a little different and long at times, but I’d like to think that I take people on a small journey, even if just for 5 minutes. Thanks again, Andrew

  3. Lovely coincidence reading your post – I had Octopus for the first time in Athens the other day, and it was delicious! Ours was boiled rather than grilled though. Have to say, the food is amazing here in Greece!

    1. Dave: That’s awesome. Hope the rest of your trip was as delightful at the cuisine. Thanks for the read, and hope you join us again in our journey. Best, Andrew

  4. This really is a drool-worthy post! I felt like I was there with you, sitting under the awning and enjoying that delicious food.
    I don’t care for fish or seafood in general but I love octopus (go figure!) I like it grilled or boiled and drizzled with olive oil and smoked paprika, Spanish style. Now I have a serious craving but, alas, I live in Dallas, too far from the Aegan Sea!
    BTW have you tried grilled squid? It’s every bit as delicious.

    1. Ana: Octopus is great however it’s cooked and presented. I too love how the Spaniards do it.I thank you for joining our journey and hope to hear from you again. Best, Andrew

  5. Your posts take me away! I want to hang out with the guy in the Prada shoes. 🙂 And I’ll eat the Greek Salad and leave the octopus for the rest of you. And, of course, the dessert!

    1. Karen: Octopus isn’t for everybody, but if you want to hang out with the guy in the Prada shoes, you may need to give it a try. Thanks for the read and hope to hear from you again soon. All the Best, Andrew

  6. Della: It was a lovely day, hence the reason why I remember it 15 years later. I thank you for the read and joining us in our journey. Hope to hear from you again soon. Best, Andrew

  7. It´s not right do that with people!!!
    Now I’m starving and really far from any restaurant that I can eat a delicious greek food!! I can hear my stomach calling for some delicious grilled octopus… instead I´m having a cup of a tea to go to bed.. But it´s ok. Tomorrow will be my revenge: a nice Malaysian seafood dish…. lolololol
    Grat post!!!
    Nat

    1. Natalie: I’m sure your Malaysian delight satisfied your cravings. I love Malaysian food. Thanks so much for joining us on our journey. Wishing you all the best, Andrew

  8. Awesome post, I LOVE grilled octopus, I ate it all the time when I went to Portugal. If I go to Greece this year, I’ll definitely order it a few times. 😀

    1. Thanks Vlad! You’re awesome for reading it. I really appreciate it. Hope that when you have the chance to have octopus some time soon. Best, Andrew

  9. The way you set the story took me right back to my time in Rhodes.

    1. Brianna: Rhodes must have been beautiful, never been, but will put it on my list when I get back to those necks again. Thanks for the comment and hear from you again soon. Best, Andrew

  10. I’ve tried squid at a Korean restaurant, and I’m wondering how different that is from octopus… texture-wise I would imagine it’s pretty similar?

    1. Vicky and Buddy: Octopus is a bit different in texture from squid in that it has a lot more heft to it. The grilling process also is what gives it that essence that sets it apart from the norm. Thanks for reading along and hope to hear from you again. Best, Andrew

  11. This was beautifully written! the spanakopita looked delicious and the octopus actually sounded really good as well! I don’t think I have ever tried it before because it never sounded appealing.

    1. Valerie: Thank you for your kind comment. Octopus isn’t the most appealing looking thing, but it’s one of those must try and you won’t regret sort of foods. Hope to hear from you again soon. Best, Andrew

  12. You have me dreaming of Greek food! We loved everything we had when we were there last fall–didn’t try the octopus though. Will have to get some next time we visit! Sounds like a great experience!

    1. Jenna: Hope you do get back there again soon and have a go at the octopus, I’m sure you’d love it. Thanks for the read, hope you join our journey again soon. Best, Andrew

  13. This is delightful eating / reading. Will definitely need to try Grecian octupus. This is a textbook case for vivid descriptions and bringing us into the moment. Thank you!

    1. Brent and Stacey: Octopus is a must try in the Greek Islands. Than you also for the kind comments. Best, Andrew

  14. This was beautifully written,I absolutely appreciate this site,You share interesting things here,much thanks again.

  15. Oh man, nothing like the taramosalata anywhere but in Greece. Nothing compares.

    1. SJ: Nothing compares for sure. Sometimes, I crave it so much that I buy the one’s that come in a jar just for a quick fix. Thanks for reading along and hope that you join us again soon. Best, Andrew

  16. OMG! I just ate dinner but now I want 2nd dinner. Greek is my favourite food. I’m in a food coma just reading this post.

    1. Jen: Thank you for appreciating the post. Hope that you get your hands on Greek food soon. All the Best, Andrew

  17. I figured out in Greece that I don’t really like octopus. Something about the weird texture. I ate it as a kid and in various Chinese dishes, but when presented all together and grilled, just didn’t seem all that appetizing.

    1. Adelina: I agree that it may not be for everyone; and like you, it probably does come down to the texture. Regardless, thank you so much for reading. Best, Andrew

  18. Fantastic story and great pictures! I felt I was there. I have dreamed of traveling to Greece for years and until it happens I have traveled through its food just as you have. The simple Greek salad is my favorite and the octopus always feels adventurous no matter how many times I’ve had it. Cheers to you and your travels!

    1. Thank you Christina. Maybe we can plan on all meeting there some day soon. Best, Andrew

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