Rhodes is the capital of the Dodecanese, a group of 12 main islands spread in the Greek Aegean sea (dodeca means 12 in Greek). During summer the beautiful city of Rhodes is full of tourists, specially in the Old Town and around the port entrance, were the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, once existed.
Although, the city is really wonderful, and not to be missed, to rent a car and adventure yourself through the interior of the island is, I belive, something to be done.
Get your car early in the day and drive along the west side of the island to the Temple of Apollo, a few minutes from downtown. Once there an excellent option is to do some jogging, yes, that`s right, jogging. It`s a wonderful feeling to jog in an ancient stadium, and almost alone, as the place is virtually free of tourists during early morning. You can almost hear the crowd that used to gather here to watch Greek games, more than 2,000 years ago, cheering you up.
From here you can keep driving to the Petaloudes, or Butterfly Valley. Expect some tourists there. If you prefer the sea, stop in one of the beaches and refresh yourself (a good option after the jogging). If you prefer to go through the interior of the island, what we did, do not miss the small church of Saint Nicholas (Aghios Nikolaus) near the town of Psinthos. Since the place is out of any tourist route you`ll probably find yourself completely alone. When we got there a man was taking care of the garden, and after some little friendly talk he seemed to be more than glad to let us inside the building.
Now it`s lunch time, and that`s what matters here. Drive to the small town of Empona (or Embona), at the base of mount Attavyros. There you’ll find a couple of small restaurants one of them (sorry, I don`t remember the name) looked just right for lunch during a hot summer day, as it was completely open and received a much welcomed refreshing breeze.
I ordered Stifado (or Stifatho) which is an easily recognizable stew, as it includes lots of onions.
The word “stifado” is believed to come from the word “stufado” (inflated, full), brought to Greece by the Venetians in the 13th century, after the fall of Constantinople (1204). I`ve seen many stifado recipes employing tomatoes, but since such vegetable was introduced in Europe by the Spanish only after the discovery of the Americas, in the XVI century, it`s completely impossible that it was present in the most traditional versions of the dish. In fact, as expected, it was absent from the one we had in Embona.
The recipe was rather simple, as explained by the waiter. Meat is sealed in an adobe pot with olive oil (Greek oil, of course), to which garlic and several spices are added (minced rosemary, 2-3 cloves, 1-2 laurel leaves and 1 small cinnamon stick). Onions are separately fried (also in olive oil) and reserved. After cooking for 1-2 min some red wine vinegar (2 table spoons), red wine (100 ml), honey (1 table spoon) and water (about 0.5-1 glass) are added. The pot is then closed and left to cook on low heat for a couple of hours, being occasionally stirred (also check the water, as it should not be let to dry). After the beef is really tender the onions are added and left to cook for an additional 30-45 min. Don`t forget to season. Our stifado was served with a home made garlic, mint and sesame seed bread, along with olive oil. Unforgettable!