WARNING: if for any reason, you cannot eat a lot, Neraida is a not the right place for you!
When I went to Neraida for the first time, I was 7 months pregnant in a hot summer day. My quite big belly and the high temperature were not the ideal conditions for a place where you want to try all the menu! And indeed you want to try them all, simply because everything is so different of what you expect from a Greek tavern, hidden in a small village in the southest part of Peloponnese.
Giannis and Pantelis who run Neraida, met each other many years ago. Their first gastronomic tango was in the 80s, with a cantine in Simos beach in Elafonisos, well-known back then for free camping and drove all the European hippies crazy with their gourmet “beach food”. After the disappearance of free camping, the cantine project ended and Giannis and Pantelis followed different roads. Luckily, a few years later Neraida (which means Fairy) did its magic tricks and brought them back together again in the village of Agios Nicolaos in Neapoli.
I would describe Neraida’s menus as “glocal”: local dishes subtly touched by international influences and mainly by the eastern cuisine. Looking behind the menu, or maybe in the first page, I was amazed by the fact that they make everything from scratch and they even produce some of their ingredients: They offer a home wine from their vines, they make their bread with their grains, they make ice cream with their fruits and generally, whatever their farm gives them, they transform it to a yummy dish. Talking about menus, before you order, you’d better check also the dessert menu: About 10 different desserts freshly made from scratch only with the purest ingredients are there to complete your glocal food experience.
Start your gastronomic journey with some appetizers:
Eggplant in tomato sauce and Greek yogurt: a light and refreshing dish with seasonal eggplants, very intense in flavor, cooked with spices and tomato sauce and served with cool thick Greek yogurt.
Pitaroudi: a fried pie with handmade phyllo filled with feta cheese and peppermint
Beef ragu with smoked eggplant puree: Do not miss this plate! Intensely smocked eggplants, mashed to a creamy and fluffy puree, topped with tender beef slow cooked with tomato and spices for hours until almost melt.
Kopanisti: is the local cheese made by ship and goat milk. It’s a rustic white cheese, quite hard, not creamy as feta but crumbly and much more intense, salty and pungent. Kopanisti in Neraida is made by Neraida’s team.
Small pies with pastourma: Pastourma is a highly seasoned, powerfully flavored air-dried cured beef, found primarily in the Armenian, Greek, Syrian and Turkish cuisine. Those pies are with handmade phyllo filled with pastourma and cheese and then deep fried. They are served with a fresh yogurt cream that balances the spiciness and the umami of the pastourma.
And now let the real game begin! Hereinafter, there is only one option and it is called “Kotsi”. It’s slow-cooked pork knuckle with local caramelized onions. In the area they have a local variety of onions called “Vatikiotika”, they are smaller but much sweeter. Also, in Greece we love the skin and bone-in hunk of the pork leg. So, when those two are combined and slow-cooked in the oven for hours the result is divine! The onions are caramelized and sweet keeping their texture and the meat is meltingly tender, falling off the bone, while the skin is sticky, sweet, spicy and grassy, of course.
If there is still some space left in your stomach, fill it in with a dessert. Ask for the fresh homemade ice-cream of the day that is usually made with local seasonal fruits such as fig or herbs like the rose geranium. My favourite is kaimaki ice-cream, typical from the 1960s, served with a couple of spoons of “spoon-sweet”, preserved fruits in syrup. Kaimaki is flavoured with salepi that it gives the ice cream an interesting elasticity, typical of a good quality kaimaki. A sweet and sour spoon sweet, like cherry or quince, is the ideal topping to balance the sweetness of the ice-cream. Chocolate lovers never get disappointed either.
But if you think that you have finished, you are very wrong. Giannis always goodbyes the guests with a shot of homemade liqueur flavored with walnuts or fruits. And now you can have a soda!