You never forget your first moussaka

Mine was on the ferry from Piraeus to Crete. It was 1979, the end of my second year at uni, and I was travelling with Sara, Rob and Elli in a camper van though Greece. On a whim, or because it was the first ferry to sail, we decided to go to Crete.

The signs indicating the location of lifeboats were in French and English and the walls were decorated with views of the White Cliffs of Dover on this former English Channel ferry. Yet there was no doubt we were in Greece, surrounded, as we were, by extended Greek families with their belongings wrapped in colourful blankets, tied up like a sack. Old men smoked their strong cigarettes, older women with headscarves slept on their makeshift sacks and children played games on the deck. I didn’t see a goat but it wouldn’t have surprised me if I had.

We were travelling deck class. I was contentedly cocooned by all this hustle and bustle, the shouted conversations, the clatter of the backgammon games, the welcome gentle breeze after the heat of the day, the prospect of sleeping on deck under the stars. I didn’t think it could get any better. And then I found my moussaka.

We had descended into the chaotic deck class canteen, heaving with hungry travellers. Burly chefs guarded the food in giant catering tins, with ladles as weapons, to beat us off if we didn’t take it in turn. It was a scene reminiscent of an old school dining hall, hungry children queuing for food while dinner ladies kept us in line. Except in Greece there is no such thing as an orderly queue.

The moussaka was divided into huge portions. Meat sauce, rich with tomatoes and onions, interweaved the towers of aubergines and potatoes, held firmly together by a thick white sauce. A savoury layer cake, glistening in olive oil. I pushed my way to the front of the gesticulating crowd, caught the eye of one of the cooks, pointed at the moussaka and thrust a few thousand drachmas into his hand to seal the deal.

Moussaka. It’s as if all the food and flavours of Greece have collided in one dish. Giant red tomatoes, ripened in the sun, deep purple aubergines, lamb combined with cinnamon, fresh oregano, custardy béchamel sauce, made with Greek yoghurt and fresh eggs, left to cook slowly all day, then cooled so it could be cut into slabs. And this moussaka had been cooking long enough for all the spices, herbs, tomatoes and olive oil to meld together; the taste of Greece in one delicious mouthful. My senses were bombarded, and Alice in Wonderland like, the moussaka said, ‘Eat Me!’

I’d been in Greece for about two weeks and had got used to lukewarm Greek food. I had discovered salads bursting with flavour, sprinkled with salty feta cheese; so unlike the English limp lettuce Sunday tea salads. Yoghurt and honey for breakfast, enormous juicy melons and apricots, souvlaki, retsina and Fix beers.

I had enjoyed meals in taverns on the beach and high in the mountains. Food was good, plentiful and cheap. Yet this moment has stayed with me. I can still smell the aroma of herbs and spices, can still see the olive oil seeping out of the sauce, and recall the taste of my very first moussaka.Image

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This entry was posted in Food, Greece, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , by Travelling Coral. Bookmark the permalink.

About Travelling Coral

I started blogging in 2011 to record some of the highlights of the round the world trip I made with my husband Phil. On the 5 month trip we visited California, New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, Malaysia and Thailand. We met some fantastic people, saw amazing things and ate some lovely food. Yet while enjoying these new experiences I became acutely aware of the inequality in both first and third world countries. The gap between the rich and the poor on the streets of LA and KL was the same. On my return home, I realised that this inequality existed in the UK. I had to leave the country to see it for what it was. Food banks were opening in every town and city. I read the now famous blog, A Girl Called Jack and got more interested in how food poverty impacts the lives of so many people in my home country. And I got angry. And wanted to do something about it. Now, I work for Smethwick CAN, a charity bringing people together to tackle poverty, increase aspiration, provide opportunity and support the most vulnerable. One of the projects is a foodbank. Food poverty is shocking in any country, yet over a third of edible food still ends up in landfill. No one should go hungry, yet children are going to school without breakfast. Parents are skipping meals to feed their children. Foodbanks are a sticking plaster not a cure for food poverty. So, in addition to working for a charity that is supporting people in crisis, I volunteer for The Real Junk Food Project. They intercept food that would normally be thrown away, and cook it and serve it in a Pay as You Feel Cafe. I am still adjusting to life back at home in Birmingham, England, I have terminal Farsickness. To keep it at bay, I drag my husband and sometimes the son on shorter trips both in the UK and overseas. I now post random stuff that interests me. This includes travel, food and well being. The writing keeps me sane. Long term travelling is my goal.

6 thoughts on “You never forget your first moussaka

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