The ultra-thin phyllo-making dance
In the Old Town of Rethymno in Crete, on 30, Vernardou Street, a Venetian mansion houses the workshop of Giorgos Hatziparaschos, the last traditional phyllo master making ultra-thin phyllo pastry (phyllo Kroustas in Greek) and kataifi pastry (thin-strand pastry) by hand.
Phyllo is an essential part of Greek cuisine. Pita (translated to pie), either sweet or salty, a world-famous Greek delicacy, is made of several sheets of phyllo, sheets of thinly rolled out pastry. Their thickness depends on their ultimate use.
By 2017, kyr Giorgos (kyr, added before the name of an old men, is a way to salute or address him in a respectful way, an informal word) will have been running his workshop in the same building for 60 consecutive years. It was back in 1958 when he first stepped through the mansion’s marble door to set up his workshop where he eventually wrote his own story. Countless generations have visited this place to buy the famous hand-made phyllo, while every resident from Rethymno has a story to tell from his childhood years when he/she was sent there to buy phyllo.
The workshop of kyr Giorgos has remained utterly unchanged throughout the years – modernization is unknown here. The area where the thin phyllo pastry (phyllo kroustas) is made occupies the greatest part of the workshop, since phyllo is left to dry over two 3x4m gigantic tables.
The kataifi workshop is much smaller. Kyr-Giorgos empties five kilos of a liquid mixture inside a container equipped with a tap. When he opens the tap, the dough is poured through the container’s 23 tiny holes onto a large, circle-spinning disc of a 1,40m diameter. Once the dough is dried, the kataifi pastry is ready.
Both processes are pure joy to witness. However, the making of the thin phyllo here is unique; Kyr-Giorgos, this dexterous man, speaks to the phyllo and gives a dancing performance as he rolls it out!
Kyr Giorgos expertly tosses the dough ball in the air and spins it with frantic speed as peculiar forms see the light of the day before they disappear too quickly. In the end, a giant bubble is formed. Then, the bubble is rolled out as thin as a cigarette paper before it is stretched like a bed-sheet over the giant tables where it is left to dry.
Kyra Katerina (kyra, added always before the name of an old married woman, is a way to address or salute her and translates to great respect before her, an informal word), the wife of kyr Giorgos, takes on from there. Her job is to cover the phyllo with burlap for the next phyllo layer to be placed on top.
During the last years, Paraskevas has been helping his father, so that kyr Giorgos gets to rest his arms a little bit; the future is already here though, as the grandson of kyr Giorgos seems to be learning his grandfather’s trade too quickly.
In the face of manufactured products, rapid and painless solutions, three entire generations having been championing their unwavering faith in the values and the magic of the art made by the hands right here in the workshop on Manouil Vernardou Street.