Thursday, June 29, 2006


I forgot to add that yesterday I went and exchanged a pair of pink heels all on my own and all in Greek. Getting there, day by day...


The Spice of Life

I am ashamed to have used such a cliched heading, but my creativity is running a little low in this heat today. Apologies also for the badly photoshoped image. Anyway I digress.

Before I left the UK, a movie was released called Mistress of Spices starring Aishwarya Rai. I didn't watch it, as I knew the synopsis and knew that such a movie needed vast doses of passion, of which Aish has as much as a damp dishcloth. In the movie she plays a woman who uses the secrets of spices to help people, because due to some under-the-counter stuff she's probably been at, the spices talk to her to give her advice and warnings.

I don't profess to have such powers, but I do miss the spices I take for granted when they suddenly become so hard to find. I knew they existed somewhere, after all there is a budding Asian community here in Athens which would not be possible without certain staples. Chillies and turmeric are the frappe and feta of the Subcontinent.

My tolerance towards spices plummets every times I spend extended amounts of time in Greece and this time I wanted to maintain my tongue as suitably burnt and my insides nicely scarred. The spices, my little friends from the Hinterland, were tucked away somewhere in this city, beckoning me, talking to my spicy sixth sense "Fiiiind ussss, taaakeee usss hooooomeee, looook booooth waaaays when you cross the rooooaddd. Wooooo!"

So a few days ago, I was taken downtown with the promise of finding all the spices and ingredients I was missing. It was an offer I couldn't refuse, so I went and true enough, an entire labyrinth of spicy delights unfolded, each turn revealing another culinary chum I had pined for.

We got off at Monastiraki metro station and headed to Athinaia Street. My Athenian guide also was careful to instruct me when to speed up my walk past the junkies loitering at corners and passed out in doorways. Junkies, huh? I had just thought they were napping from the heat.

Unsavoury as it may be in one respect, this street is the place to go if you need Asian spices. Even the hard to find items turned up, like aniseed, green cardamom, Chinese gunpowder tea, whole cumin, mustard seed, turmeric, tamarind, small but lethal green chillies and mangoes (pickled, green or ripe). There's even a sweet shop selling jalebis and gulab jamuns if you fancy a sugar rush Asian style. Between these was everything and anything you would need to perfectly preserve a lifestyle from Back Home, from smelly carbolic soap to a Bollywood rental shop. Add to this a sprinkling of greasy haired freshies shouting “Hello! Hello! I love you!” and it feels as authentic as the real deal.

Image: Badly altered from

Friday, June 23, 2006

Nature's Way

In my belly dance class on Tuesday, as I was revealing my life story and how I ended up in Athens, a lady asked me why I chose Greece, because "Life here is hard."

So far I haven't experienced anything too crumby to make me feel that way. I guess having spent your formative years in a third world country makes you immune to the crap-factor of anywhere with a flushing toilet.

I found another reason last night why I think I've made the right choice to land here in Athens. Being somewhat of a nature lover, I like seeing things looking the way nature intended. That doesn't apply to me, of course, thank heavens for my Venus razor.

Ten years in Britain almost made me forget that tomatoes are not meant to look like freakishly perfect round orbs, that cucumbers don't always grow poker-straight and potatoes come in all kinds of bumpy shapes and sizes. I was in a vegetable shop yesterday evening revelling in how beautifully natural everything was. There were curly courgettes and cucumbers, speckled tomatoes of various sizes but all a delicious sun-ripened red. Pity the fools in Britain who think orange is the colour of a tomato, had I not known otherwise even I'd have thought that.

There was lettuce that was at the end of the season. Yes, stuff is available here in seasons which I don't think is inconvenient at all. It adds to your culinary creativity to make do without when the stuff isn't around and means that when it is aubergine season, the aubergines you eat will be full of flavour. I'm looking forward to eating an aubergine to remember how they're supposed to taste. I've actually forgotten, because I used to hate them and by the time I started liking them I was living in Britain and consuming I-don't-know-what from I-don't-know-where.

There was a box of tomatoes being sold cut-price because they were hovering between rotten and crispy salad fare. Still okay to eat and fine for making red sauces, I was informed. Imagine that!


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Face the Music and Belly Dance

When I was in London, I used to attend the belly dance classes of Asmahan at Pineapple Dance studios. I admit that I use the word ‘attend’ loosely; I was religious from September to December 2005 and then attended only once in the new year due to self-induced guilt about up-coming university deadlines. Asmahan is from San Francisco, though beloved of Egyptians for mastering the art of Egyptian-style belly dance. In its highest form, Egyptian belly dance is on a par with ballet due to the level of difficulty, grace and control required.

Now in Athens and working from home, it took me the grand total of three weeks to start going a little crazy being cooped up all day. Remember my complaints last year of the agonized warblings of Greek singers and how it grated my nerves? I thought I had grown up a little because it didn’t seem to be irritating me half as much this year. But yesterday I finally snapped. One more crescendo, one more warbling change of key accompanied by the plinkity plink of a bouzouki and I might have killed someone or myself.

So I decided it was time to find a hobby that would remove me from the flat. I picked up where I left off and sniffed out the belly dance classes of Rhea. I threw my belly dance gear into a bag (one chiffon blue skirt, one tribal belt) and headed downtown to the Acropolis. On exiting the metro station I turned the wrong way and couldn’t find the correct street, which gave me a chance to practice my Greek and ask where it was.

After being pointed in the right direction, I found my destination and descended down the stairs of an apartment into some sort of Kasbah containing a small dance studio. Rhea’s classes are much, much smaller than those I had previously been to. Her style is also a world away from the Egyptian style I was used to, and leans more towards Turkish. The spooky thing is she trained with my former teacher Asmahan under the same teacher in San Francisco.

Given my rather ungenerous hip span, Rhea’s Turkish style probably suits me better than Egyptian style, in which bigger hips give you an advantage in the small, controlled movements you have to make. Asmahan’s classes were much tougher and good for taking my mind off things.

I find Rhea’s classes easier, and a fantastic chance to get out of the house and maybe make some new friends. Classes operate on a drop-in basis, so they’re a good way of doing something other than the touristy stuff if you’re in Athens this summer.

Rhea’s Dance Studio is located in 9 Vironos, Plaka
Ph: 210 32 31 289
Closest Metro: Acropolis (exit and turn left, Vironos is directly ahead of you)
Beginners: Monday and Wednesday 7.00 - 8.30
Tuesday and Thursday 7.30 – 9.00