While the island of Naxos has many great places to eat, my all-time favourite place to go is Βαραββάς (Barabbas), a relatively small ouzeri located just past the main boulevard of Naxos Town, that specialises in grilled food. What type of meze you are served often depends on where you are, and Barabbas really caters to those that come to the Greek islands in search of some great seafood. When ordering ouzo, or tsipouro, they will often serve you a small plate of grilled octopus, marinated gavros (anchovies), or marinated cuttlefish and shrimp. For those not into ouzo, or tsipouro: of course, you are allowed to order a nice cold beer, or wine as well.
My friends and I never come here to only drink and eat the mezedes, though. I think you understand that after you’ve sampled your first little piece of salty, smoky, freshly grilled octopus while various amazing smoky smells are coming from the kitchen, you will not be able to resist ordering more food of their extensive menu. Really, don’t just come here for the drink-snacks! And do bring some friends; the plates served are meant to be shared and it’s a great way to sample different things from the various grilled foods. Don’t know what to order? Well, I am here to guide you. A note to meat lovers: yeah, they also serve some great grilled sausage and kalamaki (meat skewers), but this particular post is for the seafood lovers!
Before ordering, inquire if they have any fresh seafood that’s served on that particular day; especially in summer they may have some fresh items that are not listed on the menu (fried baby shrimp, hello!). Don’t worry, though, if they don’t; their regular menu – hand-written on a little cute notepad – has some great items as is.
First up, there’s that amazing grilled octopus that I’ve already told you about. I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t just only eat the sample and think ‘well, that is that’. I always order another plate… or two. While the dish is very simple – just a tentacle grilled over fire – there is just something about the soft texture of the meat combined with the crunchier, salty, slightly charred pieces that is irresistible to me. Their grilled squid is equally amazing, but if you’d like to try out something a little bit different, go for the grilled cuttlefish. While you can find great squid anywhere in Greece, cuttlefish may be something you have not tried before… or maybe you have and you agree with me that squid’s odd-looking cousin is just a little bit tastier.
Then there’s gouna, sun-dried mackerel grilled over an open flame. Now, this really is something special that you do not often find in big cities like Athens. The mackerel are cut lengthwise, flattened, rubbed with salt and oregano, and laid out in the hot sun to dry. While this practice may look a bit odd to some, the process of sun-drying really brings out the best of mackerel: the flavour of the fatty fish intensifies, while the meat turns incredibly soft. It’s then grilled until the skin turns slightly charred and crisp. The fish is then served whole, minus the guts, but please don’t be put off by the sight! While you may have to spend a little time on picking out the bones, it’s well worth it!
Speaking of fish served whole: if you’re not put-off by fish served with their heads and tails still intact, order yourself a nice plate of deep-fried whitebait, or anchovies. The little fish are cleaned, slightly dusted with some flour and salt, and deep-fried into a crisp perfection: just pop them into your mouth whole. Forget about pre-processed fish-fries, these are the real deal!
Probably by now – after all that grilled and fried fish – you may be interested in finding something a little lighter on the stomach. Something I had never tried before coming to Varavas, but that has quickly become a favourite that’s always ordered, is salatouri, ray-salad. The extremely soft meat of the fish is slightly flaked, dressed with oil and vinegar, and served cold with some red onion and parsley on top. The dish has a very fresh tanginess to it and the softness of the white-coloured meat will have you speechless. Really, it’s definitely a must-try!
Now what about side-dishes? Alongside all of this seafood, you’d do well to order a fresh salad. Get yourself a nice simple horta (boiled greens), or tomato/potato salad. Maybe order a plate of fried potatoes as well. Even better though: while Naxos has some great seafood, its mostly known for its livestock and cheese-production. While many restaurants on Naxos will proudly feature Naxian cheeses on the menu, either incorporated into a salad, or in a grilled cheese sandwich, a real cheese lover should definitely try out a Naxian cheese platter.
At Barabbas you can get an amazing cheese platter, which you can either order to accompany your drinks, to eat alongside the seafood, or to have as a kind of desert-cheese platter, if you’re into that. On the platter, you will not only find the well-known Greek feta and Naxian Graviera, but also some of the amazing other Naxian cheeses such as myzithra, xynomyzithra and arseniko.
Surely, by this time, you are full of drink and food, but wait! The lovely people at Barrabas usually don’t let you leave without having a little complementary sweet, which, depending on what they have at that time, could be a lovely candied orange, or a nice plate of fresh fruit. Just saying, you may want to leave a tiny little space in your stomach… you wouldn’t want to be rude now would you? just kidding