By Director of Culinary Enrichment & Executive Chef Kathryn Kelly
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to explore many places in Greece, meet the locals and be invited into their homes and restaurants to share a meal. When most think of Greek food, they immediately think of gyros and spinach pies – both of which are delicious – but there’s so much more to the cuisine of this country, which is one of the most diverse and ancient in the world.
In Greece, it’s difficult to separate cuisine from lifestyle, which is why traveling here is a must for anyone who considers themselves a culinary explorer. Below, I share a glimpse of what makes the various island regions so distinctive and special.
THE DODECANESE | Considered the heart of Greece’s gastronomic history, these islands are home to a traditional cuisine that reflects the meeting of cultures that occurred here long ago. The proximity of the islands to Constantinople and Spice Road means the cuisine has been influenced by the Levant, so the dishes feature a rich variety of spices and worldly influences. You’ll taste notes of coriander, allspice, anise and cinnamon in everything from meat dishes and bread to tarts and cookies on islands such as Patmos and Rhodes.
Dish not to miss: Baklava
IONION ISLANDS | Due to the strategic seafaring location of these islands, they have been occupied by the Romans, Venetians and Sicilians over the centuries, so you’ll notice a strong Italian influence on these decidedly Greek islands. One of our guests’ favorite dishes from Corfu is pastitsio, a baked pasta covered with ragù and béchamel sauce.
Dish not to miss: Sofrito, a typical Corfiot dish of beef or veal cooked in a garlic wine sauce
THE CYCLADES | Here the elements have clearly influenced what will grow. For example, Santorini is in the crater of a volcano so the soil has a very high mineral concentration. Likewise, the island not only produces some of the best wines, they also grow delicious tomatoes. Cycladic islands such as Mykonos are also famed for their sausages and preserved meats, along with capers and sundried tomatoes.
Dish not to miss: Tomatokeftedes, or tomato fritters
THE PELOPONNESE | In these lands, olives and citrus are in great abundance and the landscape is dotted with vegetable gardens and orchards. Locals often add oranges to their sausage and lemons to their tomato stew. The fresh grilled fish with lemon and herbs that you’ll find at neighborhood restaurants and taverns in destinations such as Gythion and Monemvasia is divine.
Dish not to miss: The catch of the day
CRETE | As the southernmost island, Crete is the birthplace of the Mediterranean diet and is a true culinary mecca. To this day, the island has maintained a very traditional cuisine. In fact, one of the most typical foods, paximadia, or barley rusks, was once kept in shepherds’ pockets for long mountain journeys with their sheep and then later dipped in water and eaten with feta.
Dish not to miss: Dakos, which are rusks topped with fresh tomatoes, local oregano and olives
The best way to get a behind-the-scenes look at the culinary traditions of these famed islands? With one of our Culinary Discovery Tours™, of course. I hope to see you at the markets this summer!