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The Island of Symi

Heed this call -you won’t regret it!

“A considerable number of Turks frequently visit Symi. The place attracts wealthy tourists in particular so naturally, it’s a bit pricey. But it is really worth it for the service you receive. I must cut my discovery of the island short because I have to mention two very important restaurants: the famous Manos and the runner-up, Pantelis.”

-Ufuk Kaan Altin

I set foot on Symi for the first time two years ago. “With its untouched beaches, crystal-clear waters, monasteries and churches, clock tower, neoclassical coloured architecture, narrow paths and delicious seafood, this small and charming island does not scream at all, but looks you right in the eyes. Heed this call – you won’t regret it.” This was the introduction to the article I wrote back then. Symi (Sömbeki in Turkish) has changed very little in two years. And it’s a good thing too, for it is so close, charming and beautiful that it doesn’t need any adornments, tarting up or fuss and feathers. And the people here are warm, friendly and charming. Life is in no rush here, just like on the other islands – especially the smaller ones. The sea is very inviting and the seafood is amazing (and I’m afraid I will make you envious when I tell you the details).

Yamas/Cheers!

So let’s talk about the flavoursome stops on our latest visit. I have actually been to both Pantelis and Manos before and I was struck with admiration. I have said many times that one should not stray far from where one is happy and I was not feeling very adventurous in terms of food. I therefore saw no harm in going to the same restaurants as before. Let’s begin with Pantelis (or as the Greeks say, Pandelis).

Great improvement in five years

The young owner of the restaurant is Pandelis Kalliaros, who is from the island. He opened the place just five years ago. This time I opt for a much simpler menu compared to the one I picked two years ago because my next stop is Manos.

For starters, I order Kalamata-like olives and tzatziki (you probably know this already but it may be a good idea to explain it for those who do not: tzatziki is the Greek version of our Turkishcacık but it’s not as watery as ours). The olives are delicious and are made even better by the extra virgin olive oil drizzled on them. The tzatziki is made with slightly salty yogurt – just my cup of tea. They also bring some tuna prepared in brine. This is a real treat; it’s sweet, savoury and slightly sour all at the same time. If you are not used to the taste it can be a little bit strange, but I find it extremely tasty.

Both complex and simple

As the sun slowly sets, I start to grow merry at my simple table. Next up are the more complex dishes. Since there isn’t much of a bar culture in the Greek Islands, they bring your whole order to your table in five minutes unless you tell them to bring everything slowly. So be careful – I forgot to tell them. Make sure you don’t! In short, the mussel saganaki I picked at the beginning comes to my table in 10 minutes. I know I said “complex” above but don’t worry about that. As long as you have fresh ingredients, the recipe is actually quite simple. The mussels are boiled for a short while, and then the tomatoes, peppers, onions and cheese (feta, like our own Turkish feta but not as tasty in my opinion) are stirred in. In fact, it’s just like fried mussels. This is a huge dish and there is no way I can finish it by myself. I couldn’t manage it after all.

I paid €28 for all these dishes including the Raki, which they served in a lovely small decanter. Pantelis is not very cheap but it is worth considering that the things I ate could easily fill two bellies. So the amount you pay per person, provided that you don’t overdo food or drinks, is not any more than what you’d have to pay in a fish restaurant or bar in Istanbul.

Moving to Adana for love

Since Pantelis is starting to get crowded (as it does every night) as it is getting dark, I go to Manos. There is only a 3-5 minute walk between them. This restaurant, which was slowly built up by Manos (Magkos), piece by piece, is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary. 51-year-old Manos is a true man of love. To be more precise, it’s been 30 years since Manos left his home near Athens and moved to Symi. He fell in love with a woman, Mina, and stayed there. After waiting tables for 10 years, he opened his own restaurant. He slowly and confidently moved forward, always following an honest path.

It’s not easy to be a person like Manos

Today, many people from almost every part of the world, especially Turkey, know and love Manos’s restaurant. Success hasn’t come easily. He still acts like a waiter rather than the owner of the restaurant, and I’m not just talking about the way he helps with serving or taking orders. For example, a group of people were leaving their table when he was not around and when he noticed this, he ran after them to say goodbye. This is how you’re supposed to run your business. It’s not easy to be a person like Manos!

Like drinking the sea

Manos essentially put on a show that night. Let me try to explain. First, he brought sea urchins in a shot glass in ice. He waited for me to drain the shot. Let me tell you this: it’s like you’re drinking the sea. He then served some shellfish not widely known in Turkey: fan mussels (the largest kind of mussel), limpets and sea lemons. All raw, with just a little bit of olive oil and lemon juice drizzled on them and served in seawater. They are extremely fresh.        

Praising the eel

We moved on to the following course with the famous Symi shrimp. For those who do not know: these are tiny, boiled shrimps you can eat in their shells. It’s a kind of crunchy snack.

Up next is grilled octopus. This is different as well – they smoke the octopus over a kind of charcoal grill before throwing it on the grill. It is firm and al dente. The fried crayfish dish doesn’t make much of an impression on me, so let’s skip over that. But the last dish is a masterpiece in my opinion: smoked eel. This is also made in-house and is baked in foil. It has an amazing taste – you’ll be sorry if you miss it.

Manos celebrated my birthday

I can’t eat any more. However, I blurt out that it is my birthday, maybe consciously (due to the melancholy of loneliness), maybe not. That was when the night gained speed. Manos ran to the kitchen and brought a cupcake with a candle on top. Meanwhile, at the table next to me, they were breaking plates. He made me blow out the candle and then made me join in with the others’ entertainment. He then took me and these young people from Izmir to the new place opened by his sons. It is called Los is there is nothing else quite like it in Symi. In fact, there is nothing quite like it on any of the islands. This complex is an art centre – I visited the exhibition on display at the time and there were some very impressive works of art –, a bar, and a restaurant all in one. One of his sons is in the DJ booth and his other son, who trained to be a chef, is responsible for both the kitchen and the lounge.

Soon in Istanbul

Manos drops a bombshell at the end of the night: don’t be surprised if you see him in Istanbul, Turkey, in a few years. He tells me that he has received dozens of offers that would bring him great financial rewards, but he has refused all offers from Turkey because he wants to do business in his own way. As you can see, his priority is not making more money. Manos cares about his reputation, which has been built up over years of blood, sweat and tears. Now, he is ready to move to Turkey with his sons. But, once again, he’ll do business the way he knows and wants.   

You get what you pay for

Manos forgot to give me the bill that night but perhaps he wouldn’t take money from me anyway. I can’t give an exact figure, but a dinner including lots of varieties of seafood and Raki would cost around €80-100. Manos is not cheap, that’s for sure. But it is worth it for the peace of mind, knowing that you will get exactly what you pay for.

Pantelis

Address: Symi Harbour Front, Gialos Bus Stop, Gialos 85600 Greece
Tel: 00 30 69772 61710

Manos

Address: Yalos, 85600, Greece
Tel: 00 30 22460 72429

The Island of Symi pinit fg en rect red 28

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