Mandra is a small village in Greece less than an hour's
drive from Athens. To get there take the E-94 from Athens
going toward Corinthos, exiting just before the toll
booths, then continue driving north. From this point
follow the road signs.
It is said there are many wealthy bachelors who live
there. This information came, of course, from my kooky,
marriage-mad friend, Irini, who was determined to marry
me off when we traveled together recently. As we were
about to visit her cousin and family, she had fairly
up-to-date information on Mandra and its suitability
as a possible nesting ground for me, which she delighted
in detailing. Despite my laughter (was that a hoot coming
out of my mouth or some strange bird calling its mate?)
she continued her mission, being sure to inform me whenever
an available man was nearby. Now the possibility of
men-in-groups was even more exciting for her: I could
almost see doors in her mind opening on greater prospects.
I'm not sure if it was my imagination or not, but there
did seem to be many more men than is usual in a small
village. A drive through the town square during both
the noon hour and the later evening hours took me past
countless Tavernas and psisteria and confirmed the presence
of many men sitting alone or in convivial groups. Many,
Whether they were bachelors or not it was impossible
to tell, for almost every village in Greece is replete
with men sitting outside of coffee houses and restaurants
playing Tavli, clicking worry beads, or simply talking
while passing time over an ouzo and mezze or small cups
of thick Greek coffee.
Although I was not interested in the marital state of
the men I saw, my presence in Mandra, through Irini's
extended family, confirmed something more important
for me: the Greek people I have met are exceedingly
generous: kind, caring people whose lives encompass
a richness and generosity of spirit I can only hope
to achieve in my lifetime. Through them I was able to
see how well a self-sufficient family functions on a
daily basis, brushing texture and pattern onto mere
Although Auranea's husband is the owner of a nightclub
in Mandra and their home spacious and modern, indeed,
full of the latest appliances, the family has not lost
sight of the agrarian beginnings common to people living
in villages: most of the food they eat is from their
own soil, or the product of their toil and sweat.
The wealth I saw there in spirit and everyday living
is available against a backdrop of continuous sunshine,
with air sweet with the pungent scents of growth, and
soil so full of minerals that the vegetables and fruits
are of a different color and taste.
It was in Mandra that I ate Cholo, a macaroni product
that is the specialty of that village.
Irini, originally from Greece and now New York City,
had insisted Nana Loiselle, half-owner of Telly's Taverna
of Astoria, New York, and I join her for a visit to
her cousin, Auranea. An invitation to visit the horio,
sample new experiences and visit a part of Greece I
had never seen was welcome. She promised me an experience
that I would remember, food I could never forget, and
people whom I could easily grow to love. I was not disappointed
in any of these areas.
Due to traffic conditions, and the reality of "Greek
time," we were two hours late for our visit, yet
we were welcomed warmly, scolded only slightly. Within
twenty minutes we were invited into the kitchen where
a table was set for seven. There was Auranea and her
daughter, her sister and her daughter, and the three
of us. On the table were two large platters of Cholo,
two platters of roasted lamb, and two tomato cucumber
salads, plus home-baked bread, home made Feta cheese
and tsatziki, a yogurt-cucumber-garlic sauce. The cucumbers,
the depth of their color always surprising me in Greece,
were the richest green I had seen and were grown in
the soil just behind their home.
I thought there was an excess of food for so few people.
How wrong I was. After tasting the food, it astonished
me that anything was left on any serving platter; everything
was so tasty we all kept eating. We sat at the table
for at least an hour after we consumed the bulk of the
meal, picking away slowly at each platter as we conversed.
Everything tasted better than good.
What I was to discover throughout the afternoon and
evening of visiting was that, with the exception of
growing the lamb and milling the flour, everything on
the table, including the wine and Feta cheese, was made
or grown at home.
The delights of the day continued even as we began our
drive home. Auranea sent us back to Athens with fresh
loaves of bread she had baked that morning and several
pounds of her homemade feta cheese. Then, as we rounded
the corner of the house on our departure, an open door
displayed a large vintner's room where huge wooden barrels
held the season's crop of home made wine, the very wine
I had had with my lunch: a delicate white Retsina that
is light on the tongue. A light, fruity wine, it was
easy to drink, a perfect compliment to food. And what
The Cholo itself, a macaroni product, was simplicity
itself, liberally covered with grated Mizithra (a Feta
byproduct that has the whey removed. For making the
version for grating, the curd that remains is collected
and drained, then salted and pressed until it is rock-hard).
Made locally, the flavor, mild with a delightful tang,
was unique to cheeses of that area. The dish was also
sprinkled with lamb cracklings: thin slices of lamb
fat cooked until it is as crisp as bacon, then broken
up into tiny, crispy crumbs that add much flavor to
A collector of unique and delicious recipes wherever
I go, I sat Auranea down and requested a lesson in cooking
her food. I ended up with recipes for two dishes: one
for an unusual tyropita, and the other, the Cholo. A
generous woman, she pulled out a supply of flour and
demonstrated both recipes.
1/2 kilo flour
Make a well in the center of the flour.
Dissolve the salt in about 1/2 pint of warm water, then
pour into the well.
Work the flour into the liquid to make a dough similar
in consistency to bread dough, but just a little firmer.
If necessary, add a little more warm water, but do not
let the dough become too soft. Knead until smooth and
Break off pieces of the dough and roll into cylinders
about 1 1/2 inches thick by 12 inches long. As soon
as the cylinders are formed, cover them with a damp
cloth to prevent them from drying out.
Cut each cylinder into inch-long pieces, shape them
into balls, then roll them against the small holes on
a grater to create a raised pattern on the surface of
Cook in lots of boiling, salted water for about one-half
hour. Serve with grated Mizithra and sprinkle with lamb
Dough as in recipe above
Shape dough into balls about 3 inches in diameter. Place
a portion of Feta cheese into the center of each piece
of dough, re-forming the dough around the cheese, then
roll out into a circular shape about 8 inches in diameter.
Make a hole in the center of the tyropita.
Be sure the Feta is completely covered by dough.
Fry in hot oil until the Feta is creamy and the dough
is golden, turning once.