Strolling in the narrow streets of the old town of Rethymno, in Crete, with my good friend and guide Joanna Calypso Glypti, Ι must admit that I did not expect to participate in such an extraordinary show.
As I was admiring the amazing Venetian doorframes (you will read about them elsewhere) and enjoying the unique atmosphere, simultaneously trying to listen at Ioanna’s charming narration on the historic Venetian Rethymnon, but the least I was expecting was to find myself in this kind of a situation… What?…well… to be able to witness a traditional cuisine in full action…
We had arrived at Manuel Bernardos Street, at the ground floor of an emblematic Venetian home of 1609 (with the crest of the Clodio family on the main exterior wall). An extremely sophisticated doorway graced the entrance. “The House of the Enlightened ones” wrote the Latin inscription.
Inside, a truly enlightened man was to be revealed to us. A guardian of an almost vanished tradition. Here works the only and probably the last connoisseur of the very old art of making filo (in Greek filo means a leaf of dough). Mister George Hatziparashos creates for years handmade filo and kantaifi. For decades he works with his own, unique method. “FILO – KANTAIFI”, all the Rethymnians call this amazing workshop: and so it says at the sign outside!
His laboratory is a large high-ceiling room. Bare white walls surround a bench completely covered with burlap. A sour smell of flour fills the Venetian room.
Mister George does not speak much. He works with quick, sure movements. We watched him carefully while he was making the filo. Ahh… an act of pure magic! It’s really a pleasure to see him open the filo by pulling the dough like rubber until he opens it up to diameter greater than 2 – 2.5 meters! It looks like a huge sheet made out of dough. With a highly skilful gesture he throws the dough in the air which lands and settles on the huge bench covered with the brown burlap. For a few moments the dough looks like an extra-large white donut! And then he starts again from scratch… an astonishing, never-ending “dough-juggler”.
Mister George originally came from Asia Minor and he has been doing the same job in this same way for over fifty years. He works only when there is enough moisture, has his whims and impulses and he does not want any spectators in this unusual show. The dough has its own rules and limitations. Moreover, it dries by itself…
His wife, Mrs. Catherina, helps him pave the burlap and offers us baklava made with what else – their own exquisite filo!
Impressed with the old couple we said farewell and good night…
Mr. George is still struggling to make the rubbery dough fly once more!!
Where am I? Rethymno is in Crete and it is one of the largest and most historic towns on the island. The quickest way to reach it is by plane (to Chania) and then driving a car.