"Mountain people have always eaten meat once a week and fish once a week. And snails. Snails are good for cancer: it's the calcium. Do snails count as meat? Most families would have a cow or two and some chickens and maybe a pig. And when you kill an animal you eat everything. You don't waste anything and you don't feed bits of the dead animal to the other animals like they did in England. Look what that got them. Now, with the common market, it's become more difficult. Rules about who can kill animals makes it difficult. I would never eat the liver and spleen from a butcher shop animal. I don't know what it's been eating. When your neighbour killed out a pig or a goat you knew it was clean. The same with the chickens. Why are chickens in supermarkets all the same size? Why am I not allowed to buy eggs from my neighbour? I know his chickens are happy and properly free range. It makes me angry, you know, when English people say Greek food is greasy. Look at all the dead animal fat they put into their gravy for the Sunday roast. Here in Crete we have the best olive oil in the whole world and that's what we cook with."
So what do they eat when they aren't eating meat? The Italians have their pasta, the Indians their rice, and the Irish have their potatoes. What are the staples of the Cretan diet?
"We still have seasonal eating here you see. Soups and pulses in the winter and fruits and vegetables in the summer. When things are in season you eat them. People forget how many soups we eat. In the winter we have bean soups (such as fassoulatha made with harricot beans), chick pea soups, lentil soup (fakes) , potato and leek soup. In summer we might have tomato or chicken with rice and lemon, - not so heavy. Once, some years ago there was a monk here from a Russian monastery. He had pure white hair and a big white beard like your Santa Claus. Here in the taverna. He was over a hundred and was on his first holiday. He had a translator with him. He asked for soup and I told him we didn't have soup today. "Nonsense," he said "do you have onions? Courgettes? Potatoes? Garlic?" Of course I had all of them. "Well then", he announced, "you have soup. Twenty minutes is all it takes!" And so he had his soup and I ate with him and we drank a little raki together. He was a really interesting man. He had lived most of his life in a monastery but he knew about life".
This fascination with other peoples' lives and this willingness to sit and eat and drink with them while they tell their tales and put the world to rights is another central rite of the Cretan eating experience and one that Georgi is sure contributes to the well being and long life of the Cretans. A good meal with Cretans will take hours and sometimes drifts into the early hours without you noticing.
"It's not good for you, you know, all this sitting for five minutes in front of the television and wolfing food down. How can you enjoy it? If you do one thing then do it properly. If you are going to eat you sit down together and you eat what you need and you drink a little wine and you talk and then you have company and you feel good and if you feel good you live longer and you enjoy your life. Even the old people here feel useful and wanted. They have stories and they have wisdom. They know all of the herbs and fruits and potions that keep you healthy. They are always welcome to eat with you. They don't rush off for antibiotics when they don't feel so good. They'll make some tea with special herbs, maybe chamomile or wild marjoram or oregano or dikti , or they'll take some fish soup, or perhaps have a massage with the lamp oil or proto-raki. Petrol is best for the massage but dangerous...