By Vicky Litska
Cretan food is one of the most renowned gastronomic cuisines in the Mediterranean and now it has found its place in the heart of Macedonia, at one of the most popular spots in the city center.
Next to Ladadika and in front of the dock, Charoupi captures the attention of visitors as the Cretan restaurant that has stolen the hearts of locals over the past two years.
Located opposite the Mediterranean Hotel, one of the most impressive buildings of the city in terms of architecture, Charoupi stands out with its glass facade offering a warm welcome along with the staff’s great attitude and the cozy yet elegant atmosphere of its simple interior.
From the tourists that wander around this old city neighborhood to the locals that are used to tasting great food, Charoupi is a gastronomic experience that nobody should miss.
Cretan traditions are amazing and with its fascinating heritage not only in history but also in arts and food since the Minoan civilization, the local food is a fine example of the rich culture Crete has to offer.
Manolis Papoutsakis, the chef and one of the owners of the restaurant, who was named Greek Chef for 2017 at the Expotrof Fair, was born in Chania and was brought up in a nearby village called Kisamos.
From an early age, Manolis realised the importance of Cretan ingredients as from a child he would collect herbs and greens in the mountainous regions of the island. Later on, he decided he wanted to share his passion of Cretan cuisine with the rest of Greece and beyond.
Manolis serves traditional dishes that are constantly being updated, but he believes they should always remain connected to the simplicity of Cretan cooking methods that are practiced in remote villages of the island where locals have a longer life span due to their healthy eating habits.
What motivated Manolis Papoutsakis to start his career in food was his training as a chef during his military service. After his studies in Greek Philosophy in Rethymnon and while doing a dissertation on Plato’s masterpiece Gorgias at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Mr Papoutsakis’ interest in cooking was revived due to the theme of his studies.
In Gorgias, it is implied that cooking is just a knack since it is not always based on knowledge. Whereas lawmaking and justice are arts for the soul, gymnastics and medicine are arts for the body. In this way, Gorgias intended to undermine the significance of nutrition comparing it to virtues that seem to be more spiritual and scientifically justified.
However, Socrates’ answer to Gorgias was that not only is food important to the body but also physical health is important to food. This whole idea of recognising food as an indispensable part of a healthy life was a good reason for Mr Papoutsakis to let aside his career as a philosophy teacher and to emerge himself in the world of food.
The very special crops and beverages of his hometown could be the best answer to those who believe that food is indeed a mere knack and not an essential process of our well being.
And at Charoupi you can taste exquisite traditional salads made of wild herbs and green leaves, extra virgin olive oil, the pillar of the Cretan kitchen, and herbs such as thyme and pink pepper that awaken every hidden pleasure.
The great variety in appetizers is another welcoming surprise. Choose among traditional yet modern dishes such as reed beetle with caramelized onions in lemon juice, Cretan garnish stuffed with fresh peppermint in a foliage leaf, sweet cedar of thyme, honey and aniseed, black mizithra pie made of maple leaf, black and white sesame and carob honey or Cuban potatoes fried in extra virgin olive oil and apaki with smoked sausage served with quince jam.
As for the main dishes, the one that the chef can boast about is the fried hare with garlic, rosemary, pepperoni sauce, and citrus as well as coffee granules that give a boost to its brownish colour. Gamopilafo is another usual option served by gruel and sheep yoghurt. Regarding the strong traditions beverages, raki or rakomelo (if mixed with honey and a little bit of cinnamon), is the nectar of Crete so don’t forget to treat yourselves some. And if you think that one shot is enough, think again. Each sip can turn pain into relief, worry into pleasure and indifference into excitement.
The central idea of the Ancient Greek philosophy is that the science that corresponds to medicine is cooking and according to Mr Ppapoutsakis if we aim to protect our health by choosing plates enriched with natural ingredients and tastes, we can somehow reach the renowned well being of our ancestors.
I’m hoping to see more restaurants such as Charoupi turn up in Greece and not only, we wish Mr Papoutsakis the best of luck in his attempt to defend the Greek cooking culture with all his efforts. The Cretan cuisine and tradition may have found a good place in Charoupi, however, his eagerness to transmit the virtues of good nutrition is another issue worth mentioning that gives hope for a new brighter generation of chefs full of inspiration and vision.