I found the heart of Santorini after just 1 day of walking. I intended to stay just a day or two, but ended up being adopted, making new friends from all over the world, and eating a lot of amazing food…
I was on my way to the lighthouse at the Southern end of the island when I came across “The Good Heart”, a shop selling local products. Outside was Anna, a smiling bright-eyed lady, and the owner of the shop. She was sitting with a bowl full of almonds, removing the skins in preparation for a typical wedding sweet. When she saw me she jumped up and screamed happily “WELCOME”, before presenting me with a tasting plate. “All local products, homemade…open hand, sit down”. I couldn’t really say no, could I?
As I munched on the delicious treats, I started to chat with her – Anna speaks a little disjointed English, enough to communicate with the tourists, so it was a good opportunity to practice some Greek. Anna’s husband Mihalis arrived, a huge grin settling on his face, and we sat peeling almonds together.
Soon after a group of Italian tourists stopped, and I watched in astonishment as Anna reproduced the same scene: “buona sera! All local products, homemade…open hand, sit down”. Looking at their faces I saw the same bewildered expression I must have had myself. I started chatting in Italian with the new group, and before long I had a dinner invitation. Anna, meanwhile had a question to ask…she had seen me talking Italian and knew I was English, and wanted to know if I would help with the tourists in the shop the next day. I thought for a moment before accepting. It would certainly be an experience. And I was not wrong! “But where will you sleep?” she asked. I pointed to a space just behind the shop. “In my tent right there”.
The next day I stepped into the shop and felt like I was in an episode of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. The shelves were totally disorganised and overflowing, nothing was marked, the floors were a mix of different things, and Anna was excitedly running around doing various jobs, screaming at the 2 Katerinas, the 2 girls working in the shop. Meanwhile, every time somebody arrived at the shop, Anna would shout “disco”, which meant a tasting plate would appear, and the new arrivals would be encouraged to take a seat on the beautiful terrace outside. However, the tasting plate consisted of a complex mix of…everything. All the homemade products: goats cheese (xloro), sundried tomatoes, tomato paste, fava, pickled white aubergine, Olive tapenade, jams and spoon sweets, sweet vinsanto wine, red and white wines, and a selection of other products from the island. It would take a few minutes to prepare, and at the same time dishes stacked up in the sink, around whoever was working there. It created an incredibly hectic disaster zone, especially when a sudden rush of tourists had Anna screaming “disco, disco disco”. A crazy rush as Anna screams, tourists look around the shop, and general mayhem ensues.
Into this environment I stepped, and despite agreeing to help for 1 day, I ended up staying 2 weeks! I was invited into the family (after the first night in the tent I was invited to sleep in the house) and spent my time helping in the shop, cooking with Mihalis and chatting with all the incredibly interesting tourists. It was a fantastic experience, and I really saw how passionate Anna and Mihalis are about their work. Everything is homemade with love and attention to detail. And the recipes? Well they’re a secret!
Every day the family get up at 6.30am; their oldest son, Eleftheri, goes to milk the goats, Anna cleans and opens the shop, and Mihalis and his helpers begin chopping, preparing and cooking whatever needs to be made that day. At 9am Eleftheri returns with the fresh milk, and the cheese making begins. At lunchtime Mihalis would arrive smiling with a plate of freshly prepared food- meatballs, tomato keftedes, bbq pork chops, or some other fantastic creation. In the evenings I would put on my running shoes, take my yoga mat, and go off to explore the beaches and coastline in the area. At 10pm we would close the shop and then head off to one of the tavernas in the area, run by friends of Anna and Mihalis. Everyone is so friendly, and I was accepted unquestioningly by all. Every day Anna would ask me how long I am going to stay…a week? a month? a year? And always I would reply “dhen xero…I don’t know”.
Anna and Mihalis are incredible and they understood that I was there because I wanted to be. And so a wonderful bond grew between us. Something so simple. They looked at me with wonder sometimes, as if to ask “why?” And the only answer was that being there was a pleasure…and the name of the shop really does explain everything about Anna and Mihalis. You could not wish to meet more generous, warm and hospitable people. They really have very good hearts 🙂