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Sardeles Pastes 2

True Life Experiences of Eating Sardeles Pastes
(from my book In Search of Sardeles Pastes)

sardelles pastes...We turn around and start up the hill ready to begin the night of ouzo and entertainment. We walk past the tourist restaurants that advertise their fare in big English letters, to the settlement of cafeneons around the famous church of the Panagia in Agiassos. We find the least crowded and take a seat on the street. I order some fried sardines and some ouzo and we begin the night's festivities. It is as traditional a place as you could imagine. No menu. Just Ouzo, beer, restsina and whatever the proprietor happens to be making to eat that evening.

While we are going through our first bottle of ouzo I see an interesting looking fellow drop a pile of fish on the next table. I follow him down the hill to see what the deal is. He goes into a store where a man is selling sardines out of a pail. They were caught this morning in the bay of Kaloni and then left in salt for several hours. I buy a handful for two hundred drachs and bring them back to Andrea to her un-delight. These are the famous sardeles pastes.

Sardeles pastes, LesvosI eat the first one, skin bones and all and realize I either have a lot to learn about sardeles pastes, or that I better find some hungry cats. I don't panic though. I walk over to the next table to see what the pros are doing with theirs since they obviously know a little more then I do. A man leaps up from another table and comes to our rescue, not only showing me how to clean them, by removing the skin and the heads, but cleaning my entire bag full. I thank him and try the first one. Delicious. Better than sushi and perfect with ouzo. Before I know it they are all gone and I'm drunk on ouzo and raw fish. I stumble back to the store where I had gotten them but the retarded guy and his boss have disappeared into the night. When I return to Andrea we are given a plate of stewed crab by the old men at the next table. I return the favor, buying them a bottle of ouzo. By the time we leave we were all good friends. Matt Barrett-Agiassos, Lesvos

My Second Experience with Sardeles Pastes:

Sardeles pastes, medusa restaurant in Skala kaloni...The second time through Skala Kaloni the Medusa Taverna looks like it has possibilities. Pam says that if we don't eat now we could spend the rest of the afternoon looking for a decent restaurant. She volunteers to go in and check out the menu and comes back all smiles.
"It looks really good and they even have sardines!"
We can't get out of the car fast enough.

In the refrigerated glass case we see two trays overflowing with fresh sardines plus a variety of other fish. We are so excited we can hardly wait to order. Then as I am gazing into the kitchen I see on the table a container of what looks like sardeles pastes. I ask the young owner.
"Of course we have sardeles pastes", he assures me.
I order a plate full and a bottle of ouzo. We also order two plates of fried sardines, a stuffed zucchini flower and beets with garlic sauce. They bring the ouzo first, a small bottle of Mini, with a bowl of ice, some bread and four glasses of cold water. I pour the ouzo but control myself waiting for the sardeles pastes. I am rewarded for my patience when they arrive at our table already peeled. I am surprised that they are not in oil or seasoned but I assume that perhaps this is the custom in Kaloni. No embellishments. Just plain raw sardines.

sardines in Lesvos, GreeceThis is the moment I have been waiting for and I sip my first ouzo in preparation. I take a small sardine by the tail, but stop short. I have forgotten. Do I eat the whole fish or do I pull it between half closed teeth, leaving the meat in my mouth and pulling out the tiny fish skeleton. I can feel the pressure mounting as everyone awaits my move. Even the foreign couple at the next table have taken an interest. I can feel my heart beating and the blood rushing in my ears.
"This is it", I tell myself and eat the whole fish, bones and all.

It's sad how earthly pleasures can never live up to the desires that drive you towards them. I suppose that is the motivation for a life of the spirit, the belief that God or self knowledge is the only thing that will ultimately satisfy. All other goals and desires will end in disappointment. This is how I feel as I eat the first sardine and look woefully at the whole plateful before me. If they don't taste any better then this it will indeed be a long journey. The setting is perfect: the large bay, surrounded by green mountains, with the small fishing boats which had brought in these very fish this morning, bobbing gently in the small harbor before us. What had gone wrong?

Sardeles PastesI eat another, but still no beating of angels wings or trumpets from heaven. Andrea smiles with enjoyment but I can tell it's not a smile from the depths of her soul, but one with a touch of sadness. A smile that says she is happy because I am happy but she's not that happy because these are not that great. I smile back weakly, not wishing to shatter her fragile happiness.

Several cats have begun prowling the periphery of our table, like demons come to taunt us for our fruitless love of the flesh. I sacrifice one of the precious fish and give it to Amarandi to feed to one of the cats, but it turns up it's nose and looks at us with undisguised amusement. By now the other food has arrived and is truly delicious. I use it as a reward every time I have eaten a sardine, and it seems to work. In a few minutes my plate is littered with tiny sardine tails.

Finally there is one left. I take a small sip of ouzo, leaving one mouthful left in the glass. Picking up the final sardeles pastes I put it to my lips, and slowly eat it down to the tail. Then I wash it down with the last of my ouzo. It's delicious! That last morsel was everything I had hoped it would be, like the unexplainable sweetness in that last bite of an ice-cream sundae. Either the aura of sardeles pastes was completely psychological or I had been eating them incorrectly. I try to review the previous bites to see what I had done wrong. It must have something to do with the little ouzo ceremony I did for that last sardine, I am convinced. Once again I am caught in it's spell and I go into the restaurant to bargain with the woman in the kitchen. I must have more. How many will she sell me? She tells me to come back in an hour.

sardine boat in Skala, kaloni, Lesvos, GreeceI spend the time on the end of the dock looking out across the bay of Kaloni. "How many sardines are out there?" I wonder. the sea is surprisingly rough for such a closed area. I turn towards the inner harbor and look at the fishing boats, all ten to fifteen feet long and brightly colored, their nets piled on the decks. How exciting it must be when they come into port each morning full of sardines. I imagine their sailors calling out their prices to the people on the shore.

Then my eyes fall upon a very strange boat. In design it is like all the others, traditional Greek caique, except instead of the simple colorful painted hull, this boat is painted like an African disco. On one side of the bow is a strange mask where it's name should be. On the small cabin is written 'Peace', and the designs are wild and zigzagged. It is the only non-conforming boat in the entire Kaloni sardine fleet and I wonder about it's captain. Is he a black African who has made his home here and been accepted by the locals? Unlikely. More likely he is a free spirited young man, probably considered crazy by the other fishermen, with a taste for reggae or African pop. But it's as strange a sight here as John Lennon's psychedelic Rolls Royce must have been to London in the sixties. It takes all types to be sardine fishermen I suppose.

When I return to the restaurant the woman gives me a container of pastes. She charges me a thousand drachma.
"Do you know why our sardeles are so good?" she asks me. "Because they are full of phosphorous. The doctors of the island prescribe them for children who have trouble seeing at night."
This sounds reasonable. More so then the olive oil washing into the bay story. I thank her and put my precious cargo in the car.

xidira, Grigoris cafeneonWhen we get back to Xidera I can hardly wait to bring the sardeles pastes to the two cafeneons where we have been spending all of our time. I bring the container into Thanasis and put half of them on a plate, then give the rest to Avglaia. They both begin peeling them and soon every table has a plate on it. Thanasis has taken each fish by the tail and torn it down the middle, then covered them in oil. Avglaia has covered hers in oil too but has not torn them and of the two methods of serving them we find hers to be the most delicious. We discover two very important things about sardeles pastes. The first is that they are much better seasoned with oil, salt and pepper and whatever else appeals to your taste. The other is that they are much better if you don't eat the bones. As we leave, the old men in both cafeneons toast me. "Bravo Matheos. Congratulations. You are truly a hero. These are very good sardeles pastes."

Cafeneon, Xidira, Lesvos

Goodbye Matheos. Come back soon 
and stop telling the tourists about sardelles pastes!

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