From a mythical sea creature to a real one now: octopus. The Greeks have caught and cooked octopus since ancient times. On the islands, where the catch is usually fresh, octopus is grilled over charcoal and seasoned with sea salt and fresh lemon. As part of our summer series The Global Grill, Joanna Kakissis sent this postcard from a place that specializes in octopus.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: The village of Perdika is in the south of Aegina, an island of pistachio trees just off the coast of Athens. On a hot summer day, people in shorts and sundresses stroll along the tiny village port that's lined with sailboats.

And just above that port are the psarotavernes, the fish tavernas. The busiest one is called Miltos, a whitewashed little place with blue doors.


KAKISSIS: A street musician with a sunburned face plays a folk song on his clarinet. He stops at every table, serenading local families, Spanish tourists and me and two journalist friends from Athens.


KAKISSIS: A young waiter runs through the menu.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking foreign language).

KAKISSIS: Sea urchin salad, fish roe dip, sardines, red mullet and octopus. The grilled octopus is especially good, he says. He motions over his shoulder to a man with a bushy mustache and a graying ponytail. That's Spiros Nikolaidis, the grillmaster here. He's sprinkling sea salt on foot-long octopus tentacles cooking on a hot charcoal grill. (Speaking foreign language). I stare at a sizzling tentacle. How long does it take for that to cook, I ask. Thirty minutes, maybe 45, he says. It depends on how much sun it's taken in.

He points to the tavern's rooftop terrace. Two pink octopi - or is it octopuses - are hanging like shirts on a clothesline.

MILTIADIS TRIMIS: (Speaking foreign language).

KAKISSIS: I walk to the terrace with Miltiadis Trimis, or Miltos for short. He used to travel the world as part of the Greek Merchant Marine. Then he settled down on Aegina and opened his fish taverna in 1987.

TRIMIS: (Speaking foreign language).

KAKISSIS: We get our fish straight from the fishermen's boats, he says. Fresh fish grilled right away is always delicious. But octopus is more complicated. After trapping and killing an octopus, a fisherman must slap the carcass on a rock up to 100 times. That's one way to wring out the water. If the octopus is too wet, Trimis says, it will taste rubbery when grilled.

TRIMIS: (Speaking foreign language).

KAKISSIS: So we have to dry the octopus in the sun, he says. We hang it on the clothesline first thing in the morning and don't take it down until evening. We raise our glasses of white wine and our grilled octopus arrives. The tentacles are cut into one-inch pieces and served with lemon. This is the first time my friend Deepa has even tasted octopus.

DEEPA: You know what's really interesting? I thought it'd be more rubbery than it is. It's kind of crunchy and chewy at the same time, if that makes any sense. It's been grilled very well and it's just, you know, light and refreshing at the same time, and it'll go down really well with this wine.

KAKISSIS: The grill master, Spiros Nikolaidis, adds more tentacles to the fire. He's been grilling octopus for 17 years, but he says he's actually repulsed by the idea of tasting it.

SPIROS NIKOLAIDIS: (Speaking foreign language).

KAKISSIS: I won't eat octopus, he says. I will eat anything but octopus. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis.

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