April 11, 2007

Greece, special topic: loukoumades

One of the foods we'd been anticipating here in Greece is loukoumades -- Greek doughnuts soaked in honey syrup. The concept sounds fairly simple, but the level of execution is critical to how delectable these little treats can be.

Our first realization of the glorious potential of loukoumades was when we were walking through Fira and saw a shop called "Loukamoudoupolis." Intrigued by the bold proclamation, we stopped in after late after dinner at Taverna Nikolas, where a quiet, reserved man was standing alone behind the counter. We must have had a crazed look of anticipation in our eyes. He asked us where we were from, and when he learned we were from San Francisco, he asked with genuine curiosity: "You know loukoumades?"

It was our great fortune to have our new friend behind the counter making our loukoumades. Maybe it was my imagination, but I felt like he made our treats with a special care and skill. He lifted a cheesecloth from a large metal bowl full of a sticky, elastic batter, and hand-squeezed seven perfect, identical spheres of dough.

Into the deep fryer they went, under this craftsman's watchful eye. As we observed excitedly, he deliberately and methodically stirred the frying dough in the hot oil to ensure even browning, holding the whole batch submerged for about 45 seconds at the very end.

He then quickly drained the freshly fried dough and doused them with a honey syrup whose viscosity was thinned just enough to ensure maximum coat-ability. At the end, he pounded some serious hits of cinnamon on top and passed the tray to us with miniature forks.

The first bite was piping hot, wonderfully aromatic, and altogether ethereal. This particular version was made with a dough that rendered a thin, uniformly crispy exterior with a soft, pillowy and elastic interior... delicate, yet toothsome at the same time. The dough also didn't absorb very much oil, so there was none of the heaviness that often accompanies fried food. Instantly infatuated, a good 80% of our conversation for the rest of the night (and much of the next day) focused on the synergy of components of the "perfect" loukoumades, the viability of opening a loukoumades shop next to a Beard Papa, and the profitability of "I Heart Loukoumades" t-shirts.

Now the search begins for other fine purveyors of loukoumades. Coupled with our gyros quest, we're gonna need some elastic pants...

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