Foodie Heaven: Eating Your Way Through Greece
Greece has been around for ages. So it’s no surprise that they’ve mastered eating. All those extra millennia gotta count for something, right? Factor in the indelible influences other cultures have brought in and it becomes evident that this part of the world could very well have been the setting for Hansel and Grettel. Or at least the inspiration for the evil witches’ edible candy house. We could eat our way through Greece and still want more. Every corner in Greece has its own little thing when it comes to food. Tomatoe, tomato. In the end it really doesn’t matter, as long as the raw materials are what they’re supposed to be. (TTIP, anyone?)
And in Greece, you’re guaranteed fresh produce, devoid of carcinogenic pesticides or any other engineered malice. And that’s always good. The reality is that you’re unlikely to get served a bad meal anywhere in Greece. Some places will be good, some places will be really good and some places will just be off the charts.
It would almost be insulting to begin anywhere else but Crete. The Mediterranean diet is in fact a Cretan diet. Famous around the world for its therapeutic properties, it often goes unspoken that the local produce is what makes it special. It’s the reason why that tzatziki dip you’ve tried making at home isn’t quite up to scratch.
In Crete, as in all of Greece, you eat what’s in season. Goats and lamb are the animals more acclimatized to deal with the notoriously rocky terrain. Hence, the majority of meat consumed there is not of the bovine variety. One of the most popular dishes is the stamnagathi stew, marinated with several herbs, one of which is the ‘must’ ingredient of this wild green. This can be done with lamb or goat. Other meat delicacies are the pork ‘apaki’-a really tasty cold cut.
Because lamb and goat are the animals du jour, the Cretans have created some delicious cheeses, which have resulted in some truly spectacular cheese pies (kaltsounia).
In addition to that, there is the traditional ‘gamopilafo’ rice. It’s usually brought out in weddings, and if you’re lucky enough to stumble upon a wedding in a village in Crete, chances are, you’ll eat ‘gamopilafo’.
Naturally, one shouldn’t leave without trying the ubiquitous ‘dako’. And that’s before you get round to the raki…
Any northerner will gladly tell you that Thessaloniki is the food capital of Greece. And in some ways, it is. Owing to its cosmopolitan nature, through decades of foreign intercultural exchanges (or, you know, occupation) Thessaloniki has really come in to its own.
The Ottomans, jews, slavs and Byzantines all left the city with a few nice building and an extensive recipe list. Cheers, lads! Koulouria, mpougatsa and mpougatsan are some of the traditional street foods to be tasted. With an absurd amount of tavernas, restaurants and eateries, you just can’t go wrong. The recipes from Constantinople are kept alive and you’re invited to join.
Naxos is yet to be fully discovered as a foodie destination (not entirely true after Anthony Bourdain descended on it for Parts Unknown). And that can only be a good thing. There is a finite amount of Naxian potatoes. Or citrus fruit, grapes and olives. And basically every vegetable grown on this fertile island.
In Greece, where you live determines what you consume to a large extent. Coastal villages rely on fish, whereas mountain hamlets rely on goat, lamb and other assorted four legged animals. Naxian cheese is out of this world and the recipes coming out of this little wonder of an island include garlic stuffed porkbraised in wine (pig rosto), free-range rooster stew in wine as well as marinated chub mackerel, goat served in lemon, rabbit stew and just a long list of mouth watering dishes.
The secret here, folks, is the freshness of the produce. It’s hard to put into words just how different a tomato tastes like on a Greek island than it does anywhere else. A taste of it and you’ll be hooked for life.