Our eyes meet momentarily as Simos pauses to rest by the cast-iron stove. He seems satisfied, but the sun shines through the lemon trees and stains his velvety gray face. He lets out a disgruntled meow and heads for the shadows. The sleepy British Shorthair in the family seems to be done with the day.
My day, however, has only just begun. It’s 11am in the sleepy village of Kampos on the island of Chios, and I’m getting hungry. At present I am the only guest at Perleas Mansion, a 17th century property off Domain of Perleas it’s been a guest house since 1992. And today lunch is prepared in the private quarters kitchen, which is separate from the main building and overlooks 17 acres of citrus trees.
Our chef is the owner of the mansion, Vangelis Xydas, 57, who has just returned from the supermarket with a promising bag of ingredients. He puts on Kosmos Radio, which instantly fills the room with the joyous sounds of the bouzouki, a Greek string instrument, and gets to work. Vangelis’ kitchen is small and traditional in design – the large stones that make up the walls are exposed, the ceiling is low with mahogany beams. It’s furnished with vintage cabinets, chairs and tables that Vangelis himself has restored in his workshop in the next room, while all around is a random assortment of copper pans, old-fashioned kitchen scales and countless bottles and jars of wine, olive oil, pickles and herbs.
For lunch, we will eat psari plaki, which is fish – in this case cod – baked like a plaki, that is, covered in oil and vegetables. It is a dish traditionally eaten on March 25, a national holiday in Greece that marks both the Greek War of Independence and the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. Only, it’s actually the 24th today — and, since I have a flight to catch tomorrow morning, we’re celebrating this special day a little early.
While Vangelis is busy, I relax with Roula Boura, a family friend, and her nine-year-old twins, Giorgis and Marianna. Roula’s husband, Vassilis Ballas, will join us for lunch later in the afternoon, along with Eirini Mitsi, tour guide and family friend. With seven hungry mouths to feed, Vangelis also cooks up a second cod dish, based on one of her mother’s recipes. It requires the fish to be cooked on the stovetop rather than in the oven and includes white beetroot leaves, an ingredient traditionally only the Chians of the Kampos region throw away.