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Raise a Maibock to Maifest at the Hofbräuhaus, JW Marriott Dubai

This was no ordinary hot dog – in fact the Bavarian sausages on the platter in front of the two contestants were each about 18 inches long, a couple of inches thick and fairly hot. How long would it take them to gobble it up in one go?

Sasha, the younger contestant, seemed to have been the crowd favourite. Surprise, surprise! Francis Mathew the older of the two not only finished the sausage in less than half the time it took Sasha, but did so without much of a pause and without losing his cool. Francis may well have set a new sausage eating record, though none of us present at Hofbräuhaus, JW Marriott Dubai, celebrating Maifest, made a note of the time. I reckon it could have been well under 10 minutes.

Maifest, is the festival of spring celebrated with great gusto by the Germans all over the world marking the end of cold winter and the arrival of warmer and sunnier weather.

The launch party on 1 May had all the traditional trappings including a live Bavarian oompah pah band. You can catch the celebrations and join in the lively festive atmosphere at the Hofbräuhaus until 31 May. A sumptuous buffet awaits you featuring dishes made especially during Maifest. Start with a Maibock (May punch) – a German beer brewed only during this season or a non-alcoholic drink called ‘spacey’ which is a mix of Coke and Sprite. Unless you are made of steel you will not be able to resist the delightful spread that the Bavarian chefs have cooked up. Indulge yourself without worrying about piling on calories, you can dance it off to the sounds of the live band belting out robust German numbers. Yäh!

-Kokila-

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Mövenpick, a welcome addition to ‘old downtown’ – Deira

April 23rd, 2011 Leave a comment 1 comment

Downtown Dubai used to be Deira – the hotspot with elegant hotels, oh not so long ago. At least until the new ‘old town down town’ emerged with all the iconic developments. The New Dubai has been hogging all the limelight in recent years.

MovieMedia, the film and video production house behind dineoutemirates.com, has been in Deira since it opened doors in 1994. We have been so engrossed watching the happenings on the ‘other’ side of the creek we were not conscious something was emerging in our own yard. So much so I was almost startled to receive a press release about a new five star hotel opening up in our neck of the woods. Mövenpick Hotel Deira according to its press release is the first five star hotel to be opened in Deira in 10 years. I must admit I had not realised that fact, perhaps because we have not been lacking in good choices.

It’s a great addition and we are happy to have more places to go to for a quick business lunch or host our clients to a leisurely dinner. Welcome to our neighbourhood, Mövenpick, and wish you all success.

-Kokila-

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Crème de la crème of cooking creams

March 29th, 2011 Leave a comment No comments

At a glitzy event at the Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi last evening (March 28) top chefs in UAE watched Fonterra, one of the world’s largest dairy exporters, unveil a special kind of cooking cream by Anchor.

There was quite a song and a dance made while announcing the Anchor Extra Yield Cooking Cream which they dubbed a new ground-breaking ‘star’ in their repertoire.

Why so? Because it enables chefs to produce an extra 20 per cent yield in the kitchen with higher versatility and taste, said the Fonterra executives.

“This is not simply a product launch”, declared Marwan Hassan, general manager for Fonterra Brands Foodservices addressing the guests. “We could have simply announced to the culinary industry in the region that Anchor Extra Yield Cooking Cream is now available, but we wanted to show the chefs first-hand the different unique properties and characteristics of the product so they understand how valuable it will be to their kitchens.”

Fonterra is a farmer-owned New Zealand co-operative, the largest processor of milk in the world, producing more than two million tonnes of dairy ingredients, value added dairy ingredients, specialty ingredients and consumer products every year.

Chef Peter Hallmanns, Fonterra’s advisory chef in Dubai assisted by Chef Maher Naddaf, Fonterra’s advisory chef in KSA took to the stage to give a live demonstration of the versatility of the cooking cream to the guests.

Chef Peter Hallmanns believes this product will allow chefs greater flexibility and will save time during prep and in service. “I can’t say enough how revolutionary this product is, there really is nothing like it currently available in the market,” he said.

“I work with hundreds of chefs across the GCC and I constantly find the same issues arising when working with cooking cream. We have listened to the market and developed a new-age cooking cream that is heat stable, requires no further reduction and can be used in the hot kitchen, cold kitchen and pastry kitchen equally. This cream does not split or curdle; it is acid stable, has excellent coating and is extremely resistant to heat. The product has been developed using the latest dairy technology and even boasts a seven-month shelf life. It is like liquid gold for the chef.”

The guests were further entertained by the Laser Man show from Paris and the Illusionist, the group’s first performance outside of Europe.

-Kokila-

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Caviar – a common fare turned coveted delicacy

Today only the rich can afford it, but a long time ago Caviar was a poor man’s food in Russia. Imagine such an elitist gourmet item having such humble beginnings!

“Yes, indeed,” said Sara Morales, global sales and marketing director, Caviar Nacarii of Spain, when I met her at the Gulf Food Exhibition in Dubai at the Caviar tasting session she had invited me to attend.

“The Tsars of Russia loved the sturgeon meat but they had no love for caviar which was fed to the poor people. Then an innovative chef decided that it is food fit for the royals and started serving them caviar,” she replied to my question on the history of caviar.

I was sitting in front of her poised with a dollop of caviar perched on the base of my thumb with my hand closed in a fist ready to pop it into my mouth as soon as it ‘warmed up’ to body temperature level. Sara had introduced me to this etiquette of tasting caviar when I met her about 18 months ago at a Spanish trade reception in Dubai.

“The Russian royal chef felt caviar was magical and full of special properties such as lecithin which is good for health. From that time it became very posh. Then after the revolution in 1920s when members of the royal family and high society had to flee to France they took with them the tradition of caviar eating. France was very glamorous and so caviar entered the world of high society and high fashion and so they make it very fashionable to have caviar,” explained Sara.

To really savour all the flavours of caviar there are many do’s and don’ts. You have to taste caviar plain in order to know its quality and taste. Caviar must be kept cold between -2 C and + 2 but you don’t have it cold.


“To know the temperature you put a small amount on your hand and wait for it to be warmed by your body heat,” she said as I waited for the caviar on my fist to reach that level. Sara had scooped the caviar from its tin container with a small mother of pearl teaspoon, which according to her is the most neutral material to use. You may also use spoons made from bamboo, some of which she had on her table.

“Even though it is stored in tins you should never use a metal spoon to taste caviar,” she said. You start the session by having some water to your mouth for the taste of caviar. “You can also have a sip of champagne or dry white wine, though vodka is the best like they do in Russia,” she said with a laugh.

Of course, at this session we settled for water. When the caviar on my fist felt warm enough I tipped it into my mouth and held it between the tongue and palate and let it gradually melt savouring the burst of flavours as it did.

Sara tracked the stages as she closely observed me. “You first feel a salty flavour of the sea, then yellow of the egg, and then flavours of nuts such as almonds,” she said.

Caviar Nacarii from Spain is a provider of high quality caviar to the high end market. It is available in Kuwait and is looking for a UAE distributor. The company offers caviar of three maturity levels: fresh caviar which ranges from a day to three months, caviar du temps between three to six months and mature caviar of six to 12 months.

“We produce 800 kilos of caviar a year. This is very little but we are exclusive and cater to a very discerning clientele. Up to 25 per cent of our produce goes to France, 20 per cent to Japan, 10 per cent each to Germany and Switzerland, and the rest we sell in Spain,” said Sara.

“We are the only one in the caviar industry to have ISO 9001 (food quality) and ISO 14001 (environmental quality). We are also being certified on May 19 for ISO 22000 governing food safety management systems, the Friends of the Sea and the European Certification for Ecological Production, the first caviar producer to do so,” she said.

Caviar Nacarii was founded in 1999 in the Val d’Aran region of Spain with its farms on the banks of river Garona just 20 kilometres from its source. It is owned by the energy company NeoElectra. “The company is a pioneer in sustainable energy with a firm commitment towards preserving its natural surroundings,” said Sara. The company has a very strong corporate social responsibility ethos which it strongly emphasises in its marketing campaigns. (Visit www.caviarnacarii.com )

Sturgeons are an endangered species in its natural habitats and protected by UN regulations. “All legal caviar today is fish farmed. We follow the labelling laws of the EEC (European Economic Community) and the CITES (certificates from the International Organisation of Threatened species of Wild Fauna and Flora),” said Sara.

“Biologically sturgeons are like humans – they live up to 60 – 65 years. They are ready to produce caviar when they are around 13 years in their natural habitats. In farms like ours they are ready by the age of seven years. Each sturgeon produces up to 10 per cent of its weight, about 700 gms per fish,” explained Sara.

There are more than 26 species of sturgeons and the caviar from each is different and quite special say the experts. Sturgeons, like the sea lamprey, are said to be one of the first species on earth and that means they have been around for millions of years.

-Kokila-

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Chopsticks, a Lebanese chain of Chinese restaurants, opens its doors in Dubai

February 28th, 2011 Leave a comment No comments

It’s Monday, 28 Feb, 3.30 pm – I am back in office from a food tasting session at the newly opened Chinese restaurant called Chopsticks at the Dubai Mall.

Actually ‘food gorging’ session is a more appropriate term since we were plied with several of the chef’s signature dishes and the portions were very generous indeed. Some of the dishes were very good, a couple were average, but there was one which definitely had the ‘wow’ factor, and the desserts were divine. I shall not reveal more since our food critic Karen Osman was there and you will get all the details in her review which will be posted this week on our Review page. Oh well, I will let you in on one thing – you get to pick your own live lobster or crabs from their tank. Enough said. More to follow, keep visiting us!

Murad Alnasur, general manager, Prime Hospitality, the franchise owners in UAE, said Chopsticks was started in Lebanon in 1999 and had been waiting for the right partner to enter the UAE market. With the first one up and running they have plans to open a couple more including one in Abu Dhabi.

Here’s a tip: Claude Osta, the restaurant manager, knows all the chef’s favourite dishes, so heed his advice while placing your orders!

Chopsticks is located on the second level of Dubai Mall facing the Dubai Fountains.

-Kokila-

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So they think they can cook?

February 19th, 2011 Leave a comment No comments

Junior chefs of top UAE hotels prove they can rustle up a gourmet meal with a basket of mystery ingredients.

On Tuesday I stopped by Fonterra’s Culinarium in Al Quoz to watch four teams of chefs from leading hotels in Dubai battling for the title of Anchor MasterChef Champions 2011.

This was the final ‘mystery basket’ round and promised to be exciting to watch.

A total of 11 teams (two chefs in each) took part in the challenge and the four teams who reached the finals were from Grosvenor House Dubai, The Address Downtown Dubai, The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort and Marina, and the Grand Millennium Abu Dhabi.

Ultimately Daniel Edward, speciality sous chef and Dedy Supriady, executive pastry chef from The Address Downtown prevailed over the others to be crowned as champions.

They must have nerves of steel. Imagine arriving at the venue not knowing what ingredients the ‘mystery basket’ would contain and having just three hours to rustle up a gourmet dinner for four under the watchful eyes of their peers, never mind the few members of the media as well.

Chef Peter Hallmanns, Fonterra’s advisory chef, who designed the challenge, said the teams were very nervous when they gathered at the Culinarium at 8.30 am. “They didn’t know what to expect. I told them go have a look inside the mini-fridge in each kitchen where you will find the compulsory ingredients – you have to use them somewhere in the menu.”

The mandatory ingredients were lamb kidney, whole rib eye cut, local sole fillet, Saudi prawns and fish scallops. In addition the teams could pick from a communal table of proteins, freshest selection of vegetables available in UAE, high quality chocolates (from 65% to 35%), fruit concentrates, a good selection of liqueurs and cooking wines.

They had an hour to look at the ingredients and plan their menu. I asked Chef Peter why he chose those mandatory items. “Because of their complexity – it is not easy to work with them, what do you do with three lamb kidneys, one sole fillet, two scallops and come up with four portions? How do you put that into four plates?” he said.

“Initially they walked around – they said they did not expect it. They were surprised at the quality variety and choice and then they were at ease. I have competed in many challenges in my young days and for me the disappointing thing was when organisers were disorganised. So I selected a basket in such a way that I set up the chefs to succeed and not to fail,” said Chef Peter.

At 9.30 am the teams took positions in their respective kitchens and started. At 12.30 pm they had to serve the starters to the panel of three certified judges. At 1 pm they had to serve the main course and at 1.30 pm they had to serve dessert. The time gap between courses was to give the chefs time to do the plating. They were judged on taste, texture, preparation skills, innovation and hygiene by a panel of independent and accredited chefs, adhering to WACS (World Association of Chefs Societies), recommended standards.

I got there at about 11.30 am by which time the chefs were all concentration focused on the job at hand. At 12 noon they were reminded that they had 30 minutes to go. Things started getting hectic as the deadline approached.

At 12.30 pm, giving their last minute touches, they placed their starters on the table.

I left as the judges sat down to evaluate the work as anxious teams stood by.

Over the past weeks Chef Peter said he saw some amazing talent. In the first round the chef’s had produced a three course meal of their signature dishes and the judges got to taste some outstanding food. The Anchor MasterChef Challenge is just one of a number of culinary events being hosted by Fonterra between January and July 2011.

This is the second year that Fonterra has hosted the Challenge and Chef Peter said this added to the competitors’ motivation. “We all saw what the teams last year were able to produce and this set a very high standard for this year’s competitors. Across the board, the imagination and thought that went into the menus really was remarkable.”

“This competition is designed for young chefs with an ambition to succeed and their commitment and drive is so encouraging to see. Competitions like this really do bring out the best in the chefs, and it is important they see for themselves what their peers are producing to make sure the region’s culinary industry stays one step ahead.”

- Kokila -

PS: The Address Downtown, Dubai received AED 15,000 per team; runners-up, Grosvenor House, Dubai, received AED 10,000 and Grand Millennium Abu Dhabi in third place received AED 5,000. The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina were awarded fourth position

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Junior chefs in Dubai take on the MasterChef challenge

February 5th, 2011 Leave a comment No comments

Over an informal lunch last Wednesday the media met the men behind Fonterra Foodservices’ MasterChef and Pastry Chef Challenges which kicks off in Dubai today (Sunday, 6 February).

Peter Hallmanns, Fonterra’s in-house chef, is passionate about the competition introduced last year for junior chefs. This stems from his eagerness to train the younger generation of chefs to impart his skills garnered over 38 years.

The days of chefs not sharing their recipes is over according to him. “We have to build tomorrow’s chefs today,” he said. And this philosophy underpins Fonterra’s activities in Dubai – from establishing a ‘culinarium’ where culinary workshops are held to launching the competition series.

“One of the stepping stones that sets us (Fonterra) apart from others is that we don’t sell products we sell solutions,” said Chef Peter. He started his career as an apprentice chef in Germany in 1970, and since then has evolved into a key influencer in the food service industry. He has been instrumental in the development of several products and designed and implemented training programs for universities, as well as large corporations in different parts of the world notably Australia and South Africa.

Several teams from leading hotels in Dubai are competing in the first round of the challenge either today or on Tuesday 8 February or Thursday 10 February. Four teams will be chosen who will then compete in the final on Tuesday 15 February and one winner will be chosen.

Marwan Hassan, Fonterra general manager, added that the competition was getting to be popular and there are long term plans to make it a regional challenge.

The media lunch was at the culinarium at the Al Seer Corporate Office in Al Quoz. Chef Peter had prepared quite an eclectic variety of dishes representing the multiculturalism of Dubai. There was Moroccan hareesa, tom kha Asian soup, chick pea sweet potato kous kous, pap and potjie (a traditional South African dish), spinach tart with home-made nachos, home made bread made of broccoli, feta cheese and pesto, and ‘tipsy tart’ with sticky chocolate sauce. And if that was not enough he brought his special home made chocolate mousse dessert to ‘sweeten’ us further!

Before we left he threw us a further challenge “let’s have a culinary contest for the media.” I heard a muted murmur in the room.

-Kokila-

Note: Fonterra, the farmer-owned New Zealand co-operative is one of the largest processors of milk in the world, producing more than two million tonnes of dairy ingredients, value added dairy ingredients, specialty ingredients and consumer products every year. The Anchor MasterChef Challenge is just one of a number of culinary events being hosted by Fonterra between January and July 2011. The New Zealand-based company is committed to providing young chefs with the opportunity to develop their skills through demanding competitions and challenging workshops.

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‘A spoonful of heaven’ – Spain’s Serena cheese

January 30th, 2011 Leave a comment No comments

Let us bring you gourmet food that can transmit forgotten emotions on the table…

The introductory text in Extrexport’s brochure appeals as much to one’s emotions as one’s palate. It sets the mood for what you will read in it and hear from the owner of the company whose brochure it is.

Extrexport, the company Antonio Tena founded, represents premium off the beaten path organic gourmet food produced by small family run companies in the Extremadura region in southern Spain.

Top of that list is a type of cheese called ‘Serena’, a traditional cheese which enjoys the Protected Denomination of Origin (PDO) of the same name. PDO guarantees quality and origin of the cheese, which can only be produced in this case in the Serena shire, a tiny traditional rural area in southern Spain of no more than 10,000 inhabitants. By the regulation of its PDO it cannot be produced outside the shire.

Extremadura is ‘a real paradise for cheese lovers’ and its cheese is ‘a spoonful of heaven’. Such descriptions entice you into buying it. However, the cheese is not available in the UAE yet. The reason is logistical.

“The cheese is a creamy artisan merino sheep milk cheese, delicate but with a strong flavour and aroma which is appreciated by gourmands. But it cannot be sent by sea. It has to come by air and hence expensive,” explained Antonio. It is therefore not price wise competitive, especially as the market in the UAE is for inexpensive industrial cheese.

Serena shire is famous for its merino sheep of which there are about 400,000 grazing those pastures! Merino is famous for its wool, but it is also known for the quality of its meat and milk. “But to make it more complicated, the sheep have a very low production of milk. That’s why a dozen sheep are needed to produce a single kilo of cheese,” added Antonio.

“There are two secrets: merino sheep milk and the rennet. The rennet is vegetal, we have been using the same rennet since age old times, a flower called wild thistle (cynara cardunculus). This is the rennet used to coagulate the milk, and it gives also its very peculiar taste. Vegetable rennet is important for Dubai market, as that is halal,” he said.

Another interesting fact is that this cheese is produced from raw milk. “People usually are not aware of the differences between cheese produced from raw milk and pasteurized milk. Pasteurized milk is used in industrial production, that’s why this is the kind of cheese we usually find in supermarkets, but the taste is nothing compared with artisan cheese,” he noted.

“Another thing people have to understand is that when cheese is made with raw milk, it is something alive, as contrary to pasteurized cheese. That’s why when they go mouldy outside it’s not a sign that it has gone bad, but it’s just a natural process,” said Antonio.

The final result of the process is a cheese which looks like pure cream, even when it is cold. The traditional way to eat it is to cut the top of the cheese, scoop it up with a spoon and spread it on bread. The photograph inset demonstrates the traditional way to eat it.

“Our cheese is creamy, buttery, spreadable like pure cream, with intriguing and rustic flavours. It gives some nutty notes, with almond finish. Its creaminess even when cold is something really unique in the cheese world,” explained Antonio.

Check out the website www.extrexport.com for more information.

- Kokila -

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Olive oil – forget the colour, it’s all about flavour and aroma

December 7th, 2010 Leave a comment No comments

You want to know about olive oil? Talk to a Spaniard.

Olive oil is to Spain what petroleum is to this part of the world.

Spain is the largest olive oil producer in the world and accounts for about 30 per cent of the global production.

Antonio Tena, general manager, Extrexport from Spain, who I met at The Speciality Food Festival in Dubai, sighed when I asked him noting that olive oil was a bit ‘complicated’.

There is so much misunderstanding about it, especially in the Middle East and UAE market, he said.

“I find it frustrating that people judge olive oil by its colour. Olive oil is best preserved in black/dark/opaque bottles because sunlight/light is not good for it. But people here prefer it in clear bottles so they can see the colour. Actually colour means nothing,” he said.

Antonio explained that olive oil has only two characteristics – flavour and aroma. He calls it ‘flagrance’.

“You have to smell it and taste it. Professional tasters sample olive oil in blue tinted glass so that they are not distracted by the colour,” he said.

Spanish universities offer master and doctoral degrees in olive oil studies, even for oil tasters. It is a specialised field taken very seriously by the Spaniards.

Extrexport sources the finest extra virgin oil from the Extremadura region in southern Spain. “It is pure with no additives or preservatives with plenty of herbal flagrances,” said Antonio.

“Quality matters – that’s why Spain offers the quality standards under the Protected Denominations of Origin (PDO) as determined under the strictest European Union regulations that guarantee food traceability and quality certification on animals’ breeds, ingredients, processes and facilities,” explained Antonio.

You have to look for PDO ‘Monterrubio’ on the label of the olive oil bottle, which means it is exclusively from Monterrubio. This is an area of Extremadura which has been producing olive oil since ancient times and even mentioned in the classics.

Olive trees were believed to have been cultivated in Spain and the Mediterranean for more than 6000 years.

Years ago, in one of its articles on olive oil National Geographic called it the ‘Elixir of the Gods’. I have been cooking with this elixir for some years now simply because it is considered healthy.

-Kokila-

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Chef Yiannis Baxevanis – the Greek ‘aroma magician’ casts his spell on Elia

December 1st, 2010 Leave a comment No comments

Chef Yiannis Baxevanis who is famous in Greece follows a golden rule – use organically grown natural herbs and keep it simple and healthy.

“You should get the flavour of the ingredients. Too many spices kills flavour,” the award winning celebrity Chef said during his recent visit to his restaurant Elia at the Majestic Hotel in Bur Dubai. There aren’t many Greek restaurants in UAE, but Elia more than makes up for that.

Greek cuisine is known for using a lot of natural herbs, of course, but Chef Yiannis made his mark and name in his home country by going back to his cultural roots and using aromatic and medicinal herbs growing in Greece’s beautiful country side and coastal areas. He has made ordinary herbs fashionable and his style is contemporary while drawing richly from traditional culinary practices. They call him the ‘aroma magician’ in Greece.

A chef’s skills may be important but Chef Yiannis insists that 70 per cent of the success of a dish lies in the ingredients used.

I asked him which herbs were most commonly used in Greek cuisine. The most important ones he said were oregano, thyme and ‘hortah’, a seasonal herb growing wild on the mountain sides everywhere in Greece.

His signature dish is ‘Seafood Youvetsi’ in which he uses herbs called ‘almira’ that grow in Greece’s coastal areas and therefore have a naturally salty taste.

The dish combines shrimps, calamari and mussels with a rice shaped pasta.

In the good old days the Greeks made this pasta painstakingly by hand, shaping each rice out of kneaded dough.

“That’s a lot of hard work,” I said, to which Chef Yiannis smiled and nodded.

“Greeks care a lot about good food and so the efforts were considered worthwhile. Now it is automated of course,” he said.

Chef Yiannis has his own restaurant in Athens called Duo-mazi (which means ‘two together’). After opening Elia in Dubai in 2007 he is a frequent visitor to UAE.

So you may catch a glimpse of Chef Yiannis if you visit Elia, where in a cosy setting you can enjoy trendy Greek cuisine and music. In fact all things Greek except the breaking of plates to the sounds of ‘whoppa’, which all us believe is an essential part of dining in Greece.

Now that’s truly not a Greek tradition, insist all the Greeks I know.

“It’s purely a Hollywood creation popularised in the film ‘Zorba the Greek’,” said Semina Markopoulou, the restaurant manager.

“We don’t break plates and you certainly won’t see it happening here in Elia,” she said.

-Kokila-

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