To get initiated into a manhood, the Indian boys have to go through the rites of passage. Likewise, to get a slice of the Cretan spirit, regardless your gender and age, you have to be inaugurated by shots of raki - the Cretan local spirit. Raki is a fuel, a vital element to ensure the smooth transition of unknown visitor into a guest and even a friend. Raki is the drink that lifts your spirit and therefore it wouldn't be the exaggeration to say - it is a Cretan holy fire drink.
The idea is deeper than that - raki is part of the eternally burning fire that keeps the Cretan spirit, zest for life and vitality alive. The Cretans are willing to share it with you and to pass on this fire to you, to initiate you. Than, leaving this island you might become one of those initiated ones, the ambassador of the island, the carrier of Cretan vitality, like the runner carrying the Olympic light, for the next stretch of your life ... till you come back to Crete to fill it up again.
To be offered a shot of raki is a ritual that suggests the hospitality, friendliness. Raki is distilled from grapes and entails the very essence of Cretan climate, mountain sea breeze and sunshine. However plain, brusk at times Cretans might appear when met atthe airport, the candid and genuine warmth and hospitality envelops you as you delve in the depths of the island.
How to make raki?
So where does the raki come from? You find raki distilleries or so called 'kazani' all over Crete - they are almost in every village. After the harvest of grapes and the wine making, the 'moesta', the remains of the grapes have to ferment for 6 weeks, after which the distillation of raki can begin. Kazani or raki distilleries start working around mid October and are active till Christmas. Distilling raki anything but technical - it is a social gathering, opportunity to get together and have a celebration. Families come with large barrels with moesta to making raki. Especially at night it is nice in the raki factory or kazani: with the music, food grilling meat and lots of fun. Everybody is full of anticepation for the first drop of raki! Actually you hear in every factory the same: my raki is the best of Crete. Raki should not be confused with rakia from Turkey, that tastes the same as ouzo. Greece is the land of ouzo, Crete is the island of the raki and it tastes very different then ouzo. If you have a cold or the flu, warm raki with honey is a good alternative medicine!
What is a kazani night? Participating in kazani night might look like some kind of unsolicited paganistic Cretan night fire ritual - 'raki' makingis a ceremony and only few consecrated and blessed ones can take part in raki-makers, family and friends. As it appears watching the whole process, the kazani masters and raki 'gurus' are performing archaic, almost primordial ritual to bring out the grape-fire-water out of aged grape residues (that, after wine-making have been preserved from 2 weeks up to one year).
When it comes to 'kazani' tradition, it's a "man's man's man's world" … and ‘raki’ (the spirit) is the king! Lots of preparation for Cretan parea and kazani masters to bring out warm, fresh, virgin raki that refreshes your body, purifies soul and strengthens the friendships. ...but, for sure, it wouldn't be "nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl"... Don’t worry overdoing is almost nonexistent and its not to be compared to the drinking habits of vodka.
Having traveled for over 30 years, since 6 years now, I have found the whole world in one of the most fascinating and unique places on earth – Crete. It is a diverse, rich and inspiring island which even after so many years does not stop surprising me - its rich history and unique traditions, its people, the delicacies of Cretan cuisine, its landspace and its stunning nature. Here I reveal some of its secrets.
I see Crete through turquoise - pink glasses.