There’s so much more to Greek food than just feta and Greek salads!
The cuisine of the Cyclades is incredibly diverse, and what can be found on one island isn’t necessarily going to be one the menu on the next. So what are some of the most delicious, delectable specialties you shouldn’t be missing on your next island-hopping trip?
Fava - Santorini
Perhaps the most famous Greek appetizer, fava is said to originate from Santorini, where fava beans grow in abundance. Yellow in color and sweet in taste, these beans are cooked, then pureed and seasoned with a heavenly mix of garlic, lemon and olive oil. It is usually topped with tangy red onions and salty capers and served with warm pita bread, and is, needless to say, highly addictive: have it once and you’ll keep ordering it over and over again!
Mastelo - Ios
If you think that seafood is a staple on all Greek island, think again. Ios, for example, is an island with a strong sheep-farming tradition, which translates in menus that are scarce in the fish department but incredibly rich when it comes to meat. Mastelo is a shoulder of lamb that is slow cooked in the oven in a special terracotta pot with wine and dill. The result is tender and succulent, and the meat juices are so good you will find yourself mopping them up with bread.
Gyros - Folegandros
Gyros is one of the most popular Greek dishes in the world, and is particularly loved by young vacation goers as it’s a very filling and cheap option: grilled pork is stuffed into a warm pita with a tangy yogurt sauce and tons of sliced red onions… what’s not to love? In the old village of Ano Meria, in Folegandros, you can find some of the best gyros in the Cyclades. And when the bill comes, you will be surprised at seeing you have only spent a few euros.
Volcanic food – Milos
Even the most jaded foodies will be surprised by the concept of “volcanic food”, a specialty found on the splendid Palaiochori beach in Milos. Here the ground is so hot, thanks to geothermal currents, that food can be literally cooked in special ovens dug under the sand: volcanic pork shank melts in your mouth and has a pleasant hint of smokiness to it unlike any other you have tasted before.
Octopus stifado – Donoussa
Octopus is a staple in Greek cuisine and, on the small island of Donoussa, it’s prepared with a much loved traditional recipe: stifado. Freshly caught octopus is slowly stewed with red wine, vinegar and pearl onions until cooked to perfection: this simple yet rich-tasting stew is wonderfully comforting and perfect for those who want to taste the deep flavor of the sea.
Arseniko cheese – Naxos
If you think that feta is the only cheese you will find in Greece, think again! The island of Naxos is famous for producing some amazing cheeses, including the famed arseniko, considered to be the king of them all. Very strong and with a unique flavor, it differs from other cheeses because the goat milk used to prepare it is not boiled, which means that arseniko is packed with live enzymes. The older it gets, the spicier it becomes, making it a favorite among real cheese lovers.
Ladenia – Kimolos
At first sight, ladenia might look like a simple tomato topped bread, but once you will have taste you will keep ordering it over and over again. This specialty from the small island of Kimolos is something in between a pizza and a savory pie, and its simplicity is what makes it so great: bread dough is topped with beautifully ripe tomatoes, white onions and the best olive oil and cooked in the oven until golden and fragrant. Perfect for a snack or a light lunch, ladenia is also a great vegetarian and vegan option!
Sun dried gouna and octopus – Antiparos
One of the images that come to mind when thinking of Greece is rows of octopus hung to dry in the sun: this is especially true in Antiparos, where sundried seafood is a serious business. Freshly caught octopus and mackerel – called gouna by locals – are left to dry in the sun, which intensifies their flavor, and then are grilled on drizzled with olive oil: simple yet satisfying, this is the perfect dish for seafood lovers.
Loukoumi and rakomelo – Amorgos
A chewy candy dusted with sugar, loukoumi is the Greek answer to the popular Turkish delight, and is a must for those with a sweet tooth. On the mystical island of Amorgos, you can have some of the best loukoumi at the Hozoviotissa monastery: after the short but steep walk up the cliff, the monks that still live in this unique building are more than happy to offer visitors their delicious candy, along with a shot of rakomelo. Another Amorgos staple, this liquor is strong but sweet with a rich cinnamon flavor. It will easily become your new favorite spirit.
Kouloures cookies – Sifnos
Buttery cookies are always a great idea, right? When in Sifnos, famous for being the gourmand island of the Cyclades, stop by any bakery and try a kouloures, a doughnut shaped cookie sprinkled with white sesame seeds. Flavored with anise, these sweets have a delicious scent, which will make you hungry first thing in the morning, as the bakers pull them out of their ovens. Give in and enjoy a couple of them with a cup of black coffee and your day will start in the best of ways.