Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Ostria Seafood Tavern @ Hydra Island, Greece

Greece's islands can cast a real spell on visitors. But this one, Hydra, is more than enchanting. It's evocative. Its beauty is so soulfully expressive, so enveloping, it makes your heart somehow soar & sink at the same time. 

 Hydra is a nearly two-hour hydrofoil ride from Athens; the journey is bumpy aboard the small, high-speed boat, but the destination makes the distress worthwhile. This is the far-flung place that captivated Leonard Cohen so much, he bought a house here in 1960 & spent many of the years that followed soaking up the Greek way of life.

These past decades haven't changed this island very much. Cars & motorcycles remain completely banned, so donkeys supply the sole means of transporting wares for Hydra's 1,800 inhabitants. With no vehicles roaring past or crawling in traffic, without even the hint of a crowd surrounding us, we find ourselves in a different, calmer world, over 5,000 miles from everyone we know.

On Hydra's fringes, the Aegean Sea stretches far, far out, looking formidably vast, as seas are wont to do. People fish pensively, staring over the waters & saying very little, comfortable in their unhurried pace.

We have many hours here. The boat brought us over in the morning; there's none returning to Athens until late in the evening. We take slow steps through streets that wind into the heart of Hydra. We pass whitewashed homes, photograph them & look out for spots to eat, ending up at Ostria, a tavern owned by married couple Stathis & Tassoula.

Stathis tells us that he'll feed us 'the best calamari in the universe.' We laugh in response of course, while he half-smiles knowingly (it's a line he must have used a hundred times at least). He caught these himself, assuring us we're eating what was still in the sea only several hours ago. They're fried in olive oil. They're brilliant. Not rubbery, not bland. They're what Stathis promised us. The calamari that food fantasies are built on.

There's no menu here, but we tell Stathis & his never-speaking wife that we want more. We receive more. Gratefully, greedily.

 Shrimp with shells of fiery hues. Salty-sweet & succulent, the ocean's gift. It sounds melodramatic when we type it out, but we think to ourselves (the way that wanderers in thrilling & unfamiliar areas do), what an ocean, what an island, what a restaurant.

Sitting outside the entrance, a few Americans talk, drink & ask where the two of us are from. Stathis says 'Kuala Lumpur' when we say 'Malaysia.' He says he'd like to travel to Thailand, but his wife won't take any plane trip that lasts longer than three hours. She hears him, but we're not sure she understands. She probably does.

 More, we demand, more, desperate with the fear that we'll never find ourselves here ever again. This is our last chance to eat what Hydra carries, what Stathis catches, what Tassoula cooks.

So we eat everything. Heads, shells, flesh, tails. By the time we finish our carafes of wine, it's nearly 3 p.m. (8 p.m. back in KL, we calculate) & two hours have passed. We pay a modest sum to the couple & say goodbye. We say we're lucky we were here, because we really, honestly, wholeheartedly believe that's true.










Ostria, Hydra, Greece

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36 comments:

  1. Wow! Superlative landscape photos...for once I dun praise ur food photos...hehe =)

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    1. Ulric: haha, thanks. still, 99.9 percent of the praise must go to the landscape itself ... point camera anywhere and shoot also can, heheh :)

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    2. Haha...then I need to mark Hydra as one of the islands to visit in my future Mediterranean sojourn...thanks for the heads up! :D

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    3. Ulric: sure ... i guess when we're in a land-locked city like KL, islands become all the more alluring for us ... and the greek islands are really awesome :)

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  2. You're in Greece?? W.O.W.
    Have a great trip.

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    1. Renaura: oh, was, actually ... am back already, but thank you, it was a very good trip :)

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  3. This blog, I praise your landscap photos more than your food photos.....haha :)
    Lastly, 'the best calamari in the universe.' still make me drooling.....

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    1. “追食富迪”: haha, thank you, either way :) and yeah, the 'best calamari' is really memorable :)

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  4. Oh what a glorious place..I never made it to Hydra but the other islands Greece has melted my heart!

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    1. YouHadYourLunch: i've only managed hydra, aegina and santorini so far, but you're so right, each one has such a mystique :)

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  5. I am so excited about this post, Sean, but you probably knew this. :) Wow, where to start? The views are gorgeous and captivating, the ambiance is warm, serene and friendly, and of course I love animals, so seeing the donkeys and cats is a thrill! I have some Facebook friends who live in Greece and the photos they have shared, and the ones you are sharing here, makes me want to go there! I love the laid back atmosphere with less pollution (as in no cars), and the food looks amazing.

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    1. Linda: thanks, i loved reading your feedback ... this trip to greece was made at the last minute, with a lot of spontaneous bookings and very little planning, but we definitely enjoyed it. i like the greek islands a lot better than athens, which had very impressive historic structures but was less mesmerising as a whole :)

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  6. Love your landscape photos Sean, hope i have the chance to travel here some day

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    1. Ken: thanks ... here's wishing you plenty of happy travels, including to hydra, in the years to come :)

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  7. Ooh! Love the calamari and prawns. thanks for the wonderful photos. What a beautiful place to visit.

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    1. Cquek: yeah, the squid and shrimp were both absolutely delicious :) thanks, and i agree :)

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  8. Beautiful place and beautiful photos! Nice nice! :D

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    1. CK: thank you, thank you :)

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  9. Beautiful place, breathtaking. I've only tried Greek sweets/desserts before - very very sweet. Sure would love to try their cuisine if ever I get the chance.

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    1. Greek food is delicious, suituapui! I can speak for their lamb chops, souvlaki and Greek salads, all are delicious and prepared beautifully. At least this has been my experience here in Montreal! The best lamb chops I ever had were at Greek restaurants, and when you ask for medium rare, you get medium rare. As well, the flavour is wonderful, they usually charcoal grill them. The Greek salads always have feta cheese, which is just lovely. Usually a Greek salad consists of Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, onions, black olives and feta cheese, but sometimes it may be a bit different. They always use olive oil, so the dressing is flavourful and healthy.

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    2. Suituapui: breathtaking is true :) i'm not a major fan of greek desserts either actually ... there are too few places that serve greek food around here, but let's hope that changes eventually :)

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    3. Linda: we don't have many greek restaurants here in malaysia, unfortunately ... the lamb chops you describe sound absolutely delicious ... we have some restaurants that serve greek salads here, but they're pale imitations of the original. i like souvlaki too, but we can't find them here either :)

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    4. If you can find it, Sean, might I recommend the lamb souvlaki? I much prefer it, although I have tasted some good pork ones, too, but the lamb is amazing! :)

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    5. Linda: thanks for the recommendation ... i'm definitely craving some juicy, beautifully marinated lamb now, souvlaki-style :D

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  10. 吃尽天下美食,玩尽天下....

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  11. oo, the calamari and prawns look so delish, eaten by the blue seas of Greece. For a moment, I thought this was a travel post, such evocative descriptions that brought us to Hydra :)

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    1. Footfringe: yeah, the best way to eat seafood is near the sea, right. and there are fewer better seas in europe, i guess :) heheh, thank you, i think you're the only one who read the words. writing this made me feel quite wistful :)

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  12. Gorgeous! That is definitely the envy post of the day. ;-)

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    1. The Yum List: thanks! i envy my past self for having been here! :D

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  13. Simply gorgeous!!!

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  14. Oh wow, Sean, the view is simply breathtaking. I would love to just sit by the window and enjoy that.

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    1. Baby Sumo: ya, i'm looking outside my window right now and i only see highways in KL and cars and office buildings. wishing i could see the spectacular sea! :D

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  15. That one pic with a cat sitting almost at the corner got me like "omg aren't you scared of falling!" hehe. Another great review

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    1. Unknown: haha, yeah, that cat didn't seem to care about its surroundings much :D thank you :)

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