Raki in Crete

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They call it tsipouro in much of Greece, raki in the Dodecanese, and in Crete, they call it tsikoudia.

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As the first rays of sunlight warm the field, I look toward the Lefa Ori mountain range and see the procession of men and women in the distance, slowly descending the rugged hills. I am standing near Kostis Falanis, who has been working the ancient still for the past two hours; the aroma of a sweet liquid fills the air. He gives the stayfylo—the grape skins and stems—another quick stir, watching as the steam from the copper pot is funneled to the tank. Kostis tells me the steam is then cooled by the water until it becomes the “fire-water” liquid called tsikoudia, also known by the more popular name of raki.

 

(Photography courtesy of Kopanakis Family taken in Makrigialos-Sitia, Crete) 

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I am in Vatollakkos, Crete, participating in the “Night Harvest” of the Manousakis Winery. Earlier that morning, I was with the workers, picking grapes in the vineyards. Because it is too hot during the day, and the fields are not lighted in the evening, the “night” harvest actually begins shortly before sunrise and ends around 8 am.

This is the last harvest of the year completed by the Vineyard’s paid workers and also friends and neighbors of the Manousakis’ family. It is a ritual that brings the community together. As the men and women approach the still, they receive a traditional greeting from Kostis: a shot of the tsikoudia, ritualistically downed in one swallow.

A few feet from the still are long tables laden with Cretan specialties prepared that morning by women from the village. I notice that most people are choosing the small sausages first, so I sample one and immediately take another. I tell the woman next to me that the sausage is the most delicious I ever tasted and she tells me it is made with a “secret” ingredient. The sausages are small, so I venture to the table again, taking a third. I savor it, and this time I am sure I have discovered the secret ingredient. It is vinegar. I make a mental note to ask my host for the recipe.

I am told I must have my shot of tsikoudia, so I approach the still, now surrounded by men only. I take the shot and down it in one swallow as Kostis shouts “Kalos Orisete!! Kalos Oriste!! It tastes nothing like the commercial brand sold in the stores on Crete and I realize that it must be highly prized. I ask Kostis for a second shot and he complies and then fills glasses all around. Now the men make a toast, shouting “Kalos Orisete!! Kalos Orisete!! And I join in.

 

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 TELOS (THE END)

 

CRETAN

 

 

 

Aurelia lives on one of the Greek islands for two months of every year. Read more about Aurelia on our About Us page!

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