The Greek islands are a fairly common holiday destination for lots of Brits. What attracted you to Athens especially?
A few things really; I have great memories of a holiday Jools and I had in Crete many years ago (before we were grown up and responsible!). Also Andy Harris, my friend and the editor of Jamie Magazine, lived in Athens for a while and has been visiting Greece since he was a kid so he had loads of recommendations that got me fired up about going. But more importantly, I think the Mediterranean-style of cooking really clicks with me. There is a lot of grilling, olive oil, herbs and citrus going on, as well as fantastic slow cooking, which I love.
What stands out about the food for you?
Aside from its wonderful simplicity, I’d say the wide use of dried herbs in Greek cooking. Obviously I love using fresh herbs in my cooking, and I have to admit that a part of me has always thought dried herbs were a bit naff. But on this trip I was introduced to lots of traditional recipes that use them, so I definitely found a new respect for them. There’s something about them that really works in certain dishes and makes them taste authentic. It’s nice to be surprised and have your opinion of something changed, that’s sort of the whole point of travelling.
Watching kebabs being made in the traditional way was also really cool. In Greece they’re a completely different experience from the late night post-pub stuff we’re used to here. I visited a whole street in Athens that specialises in souvlaki (which means ‘small skewer’ in Greek). They cook lovely beef and lamb mince together, and then serve it really simply inside a flatbread with slices of tomato, finely chopped onions, parsley, salt and paprika. Simple, full of flavour and nothing to feel guilty about!
You managed to get out of the city and explore the country for a few days. How was that?
Incredible. Going from that intense hustle and bustle to the island of Aegina was such an extreme change of pace. It was the most idyllic setting ever. I loved meeting all the local producers, especially those fantastic beekeepers. Greek honey is world-famous and to have a chance to collect it with these guys and see the effort they put into taking care of their bees was one of my favourite experiences. It takes a huge number of bees to make one jar of honey because a bee will only make 1g of honey in its whole life! Sadly the guy I met was losing loads of his bees because they were getting confused by mobile phone signals and getting lost. I don’t know what the solution to that would be, but I really think it is worth supporting specialist local producers to make sure their trade and traditions aren’t killed off by the modern world.
About the author: Danny McCubbin is the website editor for JamieOliver.com