My Ikarian Diet

My Ikarian Diet

Hello, dear reader! Thanks for opening this link. So I got you by the title? You want to learn more about the famous Ikarian diet and how people manage to get that old – at least 100 years – in the Blue Zone? Sorry to let you down immediately. If you wish to read about chickpea salads, prepared by an Ikarian ‚Giagia‘, please scroll through, because this text may not be for you.

This text is about food for thought, more about  how Ikaria teaches me to be grounded again, stripping off superflous thoughts and changing perspectives. I call it « My Ikarian diet », because it makes a long story very short. If you are interested in this kind of read, you are welcome to stay.
So where to start with? I think the „Koulouri“ (the Greek sesame roll) is quite a good symbol of my diet. It is simple, for many Greeks it is still their first bite in the morning and it nourishes you well. I am getting mine every morning and a little ritual is going with it. Coming out of my front door, falling more or less directly into the bakery store opposite the house and there it is, waiting for me: fresh from the wood fired oven, smelling nice. And the best topping that goes with it: the smiles of Niko, the baker, and Evgenia, who carefully puts the little roll into my bag. Even though it is high tourism season, the two of them are always giving me a little moment of their time, asking how I am and where I am going. So this is already a good start to the day. With a smile on my face I am strolling around to the platia, stepping into my favorite kafenion, where the owner is already waving at me from far: „Kalimera, Birgi mou“ setting off to prepare my coffee. It goes without saying that he knows how I like it – a double strong black Greek coffee – … he remembers it even after months of absence.

I snuggle up in my chair, ready to watch the sea for the next hour, enjoying its early morning colours and the first coming and going of the people. It is said that the Ikarians live without a watch  – and yes, indeed – you don’t need a watch down here, because the flow and the activities of the people are as precise as clockwork. You know it is around 8.15 a. m., when Dimitri comes to the platia to join his co-workers and his father for a first coffee. It might be around 8.30 a. m., when the police car stops exactly in front of the cakeshop so that the young officers can buy their pies for breakfast, without having to walk too far. And for sure it is around 8.45 a. m., when the two old friends are meeting at the table next to me to start their first game of Tavli. So, why do I need to have a constant hectic look at my mobile phone to know the time and: is that even important?

While watching the blue sky, my educated guess is : No. Not at all … and this might perhaps be the first important lesson I have learnt at this time of the day. Slowing down, being satisfied with little, the importance of socializing are big debates these days. There are famous books  and podcasts about it, they are discussed in magazines and at family tables. But down here, it comes naturally. The greetings of the people around me and their smiles are comforting me. The steadiness of the routines of the people around me are calming me down, telling me: everything will happen in its time, no worries, no need to rush.

A kind of unfamiliar feeling, because my brain is trained to think a thousand things at a time, but it feels good. Somehow it feels healthy. Looks like that  I could be the proof, for what might be recommended by many studies on social behaviour :  some small social interactions are crucial for the well being of a human being. Perhaps for you it might not be a big deal, but for me, living in a big city, where anonymity is normal and a smile from a person sitting at a table next to you is rare, little things take on a different meaning.

I am still in this « slow down » momentum, I have still not touched the Koulouri when a friend sits down at my table and – with a witty smile – passing on a bag to me, filled with some tomatoes from his garden and some cheese from his goats, asks me about my news. It still works like this : news from the island is still spread faster around the platia than you can share it on social media. So no need to be nailed to your expensive smartphone all the time, interrupting every conversation with each tiny blink that pops up on the screen.

Sitting next to each other, talking to each other is the best news feed you can get in the early morning hours – personal comments on local, national or even international politics included. So there is chatting around the tables in the kafenion I am sitting in. Whenever I come back to Ikaria, this is something I have to get used to again, because sometimes „chatting“ has become a kind of unfamiliar noise in famous ‚cafés‘ in the city, where very often silence is the new „normal“, which is only interrupted by the „ding“ when people are receiving new messages on their phone. So I am treasuring these early morning moments with a lot of „food“ for thought, my Koulouri still untouched.

As I am on holidays, I can follow my mood. Today is a good day for « Thalassa-Therapy ». In my terms this means that I am heading off to my favorite tiny beach, where I find shadow and shelter between some rocks and access to some hot water sources. This is the beauty: You can have it all in a simple and beautiful  surrounding: the sea, hot springs, silence, the beauty of wild nature. Nevertheless, this place brings up the idea that it might be interesting to build here one of these comfortable and luxurious „Spa-Centers“, where – wrapped in fluffy bathrobes – you can enjoy expensive detox drinks after your bath in the hot spring.

But do I need this? Do I need to spend a good amount of money to have access to a Spa-Center for a limited time and in the end … wouldn’t I do exactly the same I am doing right now? Enjoying the beautiful view out to the sea, enjoying its colours and the sound of the waves rolling in onto the shore?

Keep it simple, stupid, my mind is telling me, while thoughts about wonderfully decorated massage and Yoga-rooms are coming up, which might offer me well-being and a kind of luxury feeling. Indeed, looking at it, I already have all the luxury I need, this is my well-being-zone, it does not need any more: enjoying this simplicity at the beach, not counting the hours, not being bothered by others, just Mother Nature and me.

While I am still indulging in my thoughts, the sun has long passed its zenith and I am getting a little hungry. So the Koulouri is finally taken out of its bag, I munch on it a bit and  together with the cheese and the tomatoes which I got this morning, this is a perfect picnic, replacing without regrets any other lunch menu I could be looking for.

When my day of „Thalassa-Therapy“ is coming to an end and I am still following „my moods“, I decide to pass by a friend‘s house, « checking out » on her, seeing how she is doing. This is one of the possibilities I really enjoy here on Ikaria : to pass by and to find an open door. No long term appointments or messaging 5 times are needed. You arrive at the doorstep and you see and feel, whether this is the right moment for a visit. Most of the times you are welcome and you are comforted and spoilt, may it be with a good coffee, wine, Tsipouro and in winter time with a seat next to the fire place.

And just a little while later I will lose myself in an easy chit-chat talk that can go on for hours, going forwards and backwards like waves between more serious and personal subjects, gossip, politics and love stories. In between I am enjoying long pauses of silence – a silence where nobody is franticly watching their smart phone, because they cannot endure time-out without words, a quiet that conveys closeness and familiarity and does not have to be expressed in many words.

At the end of the day, coming home a bit tipsy and tired, unpacking my bag pack, I may still find the last crumbles of my Koulouri among my belongings. Somehow, this Koulouri made it through my day, witnessing my thoughts and feelings. And somehow these left overs are a good summary of this day, they explain the very core of my « Ikarian diet » : because this diet is about people and feelings, it is how I am fed by human contacts and interactions, simplicity,  sprinkled with a big layer of love, tenderness, wittiness and laughter.  My « Ikarian Diet » is not about reaching out for the « must have » Ikarian recipes you will find in every article written about the Blue Zone. This diet is about the Vitamin C I receive via lovely smiles, open minds and nice words ; it is a diet about the well adjusted nutrition, when I am spoilt by Mother Nature with all the treasures she could offer me: the sea, the rocks, the good vegetables. It is an easy diet, which I had long forgotten in the big city life, but now being on this rock, it is the easiest and most welcome diet I can get.

So, dear reader, if you made it till the very end of this text, perhaps you get an appetite for your own „Ikarian diet“. It is not depending on the place, it is a mindset, easy to prepare and to follow.

@ Birgit_Urban