Sunday, 13 April 2008
Bougatsa Iordanis is the iconic symbol of Hania when it comes to food. If you're a Hanioti (or Haniotissa, if you're a woman) living away from the island, when you arrive in Hania on the ferry in the early hours of the day (it docks in Souda Harbour at 6am), your first stop will probably be Iordanis bougatsadiko. The shop is full of travellers and locals every day from 6am up until 2pm when it closes. It has become a cult symbol - a visit to Hania is incomplete without a visit to Iordanis' bougatsa shops, which are centrally located and sell bougatsa (μπουγάτσα - mpougatsa) and nothing else (apart from coffee, soft drinks and water). Bougatsa is a kind of pie made with crusty filo (phyllo) pastry and filled with creamy white cheese filling, cut up into small pieces, with sugar (and optionally, cinnamon) sprinkled all over it. It's said that the recipe is a secret.
Anyone who has been into the central Iordanis bougatsa shop will surely always remember the old woman at the counter. She serves up every single order of bougatsa. She is a frightful sight. Despite her perfect coiffure, her taste in clothes has not changed since the 1960s. Her fingers, wrists, ears and neck rattle with thick'n'chunky gold jewellery full of gold coins, while her extra-long, painted fingernails curl up at the ends. She never smiles or says 'Thank you' when the customer pays for their order. As she metes out the bougatsa, she checks its weight on one of those old fashioned scales with hanging weights. If the piece is 10g overweight, she nips off a corner of pie with a pizza knife. If it's 10g underweight, she adds the 10g bit she cut off from a previous serving. On first impression, the customer will interpret this as an act of stinginess; however, you can rest assured that you will not be ripped off here. And if the lighting is too dim for you, just think how much energy (who said money?) the shop owners are saving for the environment... Just pretend you're at Wong Kei's in London, the rudest Chinese restaurant in the world, according to some reviews. It's never been out of business, either.
Lars has captured the mood of the "Queen" very well. He was obviously writing many years ago, as he mentions drachmas (phased out since 2002), but the essence of the atmosphere is all there.
If you want to make some bougatsa at home, here's a recipe you can try.