Kadri Memis - Arap Restaurant
I fear I can’t be objective about Arap’s taverna in the ‘Turkish’ quarter of Kos, also known as Platani or Kermentes. For the very simple reason that I feel connected both sentimentally and ideologically.
I first got to know it in 2004. Those were the days of the Chrysoi Skoufoi (restaurant) awards, when ‘life style’ and glamour were at the height of their glory in poor little Greece, and my friend, Roula Saloutsi, and I were writing a column on Places, History and Gastronomic Civilization for Aegean Airlines’ Blue Magazine, which had recently been launched. We had chosen Kos as the subject for one issue, and naturally we’d picked Arap’s taverna as a special destination. This provoked sharp criticism: ‘When you had all the island to choose from, why did you pick Turks?’ How to explain in those times, that these people were actually Muslim Greek citizens.
I returned to Arap 13 years later, in the summer of 2017, with some trepidation, wondering whether it had changed.
And yet, everything was as it had been. The mother of Yasar and Kandir was making dolmadakia (stuffed vineleaves), assistant cook Souleiman had been promoted to grillmaster, the menu was the same, the portions just as generous and attractive. And Platani itself had not followed the rapid pace of the rest of the island. Even the music was the same mix of Turkish and Greek – Angelopoulos and Kaizantzidis, the same taste.
Yasar recognized me, and so did Souleiman, and we were all pleased to see each other again. We sat down and nibbled on dolmadakia made with cabbage leaves, vineleaves and courgette flowers, Pasha’s spaghetti (a divine treat), bourekakia (little pies), yiaourtlou, atzem pilaf, adana kebab and a mix of little kebabs.
‘We don’t accept tourist groups’, said Yasar, ‘only individuals and parties of friends. Naturally we have both Greeks and Turks – growing numbers of them in recent years. As well as Europeans – Germans, Brits and Scandinavians.’
The existence of Arap, as I found it after all these years, quieted not only my culinary worries and idiosyncrasies (as far as meat and ‘heat’ are concerned) but also my psychological and philosophical concerns. Amidst this constant drive towards novelty and modern fashion, the preservation of some stable values is balm to the spirit. Among them are the so-called comfort foods and reassuring tastes that nourish the soul.