On your journey around the Aegean Sea, you are bound to be overwhelmed by captivating scents. This is a region of countless gastronomic discoveries: delicious white or tomato sauces, tenderly cooked pulses, home-grown vegetables, bread and rusks with a robust flavour given by the local wheat and barley varieties as well as the flavourful fresh goat cheese compose a mouthwatering cuisine.
Divine Sea and Sun
The Aegean is blessed with sun, wind and sea lending its local produce with exquisite aromas, offering appetising dishes that date back to antiquity. The islands’ microclimate helps their land produce aromatic herbs, spices, olive and citrus groves as well as local products, which in many cases are worldwide unique; oregano, thyme, bay leaves, lemons and olive oil promise to tickle your taste buds.
Fresh fish and seafood appetizers
Fish can be cooked in a variety of ways as long as you use your imagination… and imagination is what Greeks have. Small or medium sized fish are meticulously salted, floured and fried in sizzling olive oil delivering some scrumptious crispy treats also served and preserved in a sourish marinade-sauce called ‘savoro’. In many islands this sauce is made with olive oil, quality vinegar and rosemary or oregano. Particularly on Tinos Island they add petimezi (grape must molasses) lending the sauce a unique flavour. Other treats to die for are red mullets in a crust of barley rusks on Mytilini; oven-baked fish with sesame paste on Rhodes; capers and chub mackerel, onions and grouper stew, picarel omelettes and pancakes on Santorini and Syros; silverside pie on Kimolos; stuffed squid, cuttlefish with fennel and olives and many more.
Other little special meze (meaning appetizers) to accompany your tsipouro or ouzo drinks are dry salt sardines from Mytilini, sun dried chub mackerel grilled over live coals known as ‘gouna’ (meaning fur) from Paros, salad with herring roe from Syros and marinated anchovies.
The semi-wild goats (known as fouriarika on Crete Island) are the indisputable kings of the Aegean Islands; they are fed off the scant flora and drink brackish water from springs located near the sea. Goat meat in the area is accompanied by wild greens or seasonal vegetables, such as lettuce, artichokes, zucchini, fresh broad beans and eggplants as well as the most commonly homegrown vegetables or pulses -chickpeas being a definite favorite. The meat is cooked in tomato or egg and lemon sauces. Try mastelo (oven-baked goat with herbs and wine), kapama from Rhodes Island (goat meat stuffed with rice), vizanti from Karpathos (oven baked goat meat) and pilafi from Kassos.
Some savoury mezedes that go great with Greek strong red wine are syglino (smoked pork bits in lard), apaki (lean fillet or steak), kavourmas (fried pork bits preserved in fat) and all kinds of aromatized pork sausages.
Greens and Aromatic Plants
The Aegean landscape with its seemingly barren hills, volcanic soil, arid olive groves and rocky shores hides lots of surprises. Boiled greens picked from the mountains, sprinkled with olive oil and lemon accompanied by grilled meat and fish. A tremendously large quantity of aromatic plants and herbs such as oregano, thyme and marjoram transform marinades and lemon-flavoured stews. A special group of wild plants that grow by the sea-shore are caper and kritamos (samphire), which make some excellent meze (appetizers) to accompany the traditional spirit, tsipouro.
You can find black eyed beans, chickpeas, green peas, lupin and lathyra (grass peas) on most of the Aegean Islands. Chickpeas are Sifnos Island’s leading flavour, as they are sealed in an earthenware casserole and slowly cooked for hours (usually all night long), in a traditional outdoor oven along with chopped onions, bay leaves or oregano and plenty of olive oil.
Santorini’s fava is a renowned pulse (threatened with extinction), which is served with chopped onions, oregano, capers and extra virgin olive oil. Alternatively fava and chickpeas are also served as croquettes flavoured with onions, spearmint, parsley and flour.
The Aegean Islands are famous for their delicious goat cheese. On Sifnos and Folegandros Islands taste manoura cheese, which ripened in wine sediment. Kalathaki (meaning small basket) is a white goat cheese from Limnos Island that takes its shape by the knitted wicker basket in which it matures. On Kos Island make a point in savouring krasotyri, a ridged, log-like form wine-cheese. Other wine-cheeses can also be discovered on Nisyros and Leros Islands. Sitaka is Kasos’ Island creamy cheese made with goat or sheep’s milk; it is slightly salted and baked in low temperatures in a traditional oven. Sitaka is often served with delicious local pasta and caramelized onions. San Mihalis cheese on Syros Island; chloro from Santorini, eaten fresh or aged over pasta. Last but not least the renowned Cretan graviera cheeses are just some of Aegean’s cheese tradition!