Oregano adds the familiar fragrance to a Greek salad, but it also provides relief for a sore throat. Olive oil is an essential component of Greek cuisine, but it is also medicinal. Honey is a sweetener that also contains more than 180 nutrients. Ancient Greek gastronomy, the ancestor of the food culture of Rome, is the source from which many features of European diet and cuisine are derived. But that’s not all. Ever since antiquity, the Greeks have not only sought to satisfy their hunger or to find enjoyment in foods. Many foods were used to prevent or treat a number of health conditions.
A plant native to Greece, the olive tree was being cultivated in the Aegean as far back as 2000 BC. The olive and its precious oil have been omnipresent components of Greek life ever since: in the diet, in religion, in mythology, in medicine, in literature and in art. Olive oil was particularly important at the palaces of Knossos, Mycenae and Nestor (Pylos). It was a key ingredient in most cooking, used in bread-making and even eaten with bread for a light meal. However, it also had important uses beyond cooking; it served as a fuel, as a cosmetic and as a medicine (60 medicinal uses are referenced in the Hippocratic Corpus). The olive tree was endowed with rich symbolism as well: it was the sacred tree of the goddess Athena, and its branches were used to make the kotinos, a crown given as a trophy to Olympic champions.
The mainstay of the Mediterranean diet to this day, olive oil is critical to good health. It is ideal for the heart and prevents blood clots. Its polyphenols reduce bad LDL cholesterol and increase good HDL cholesterol. Its cancer-fighting and anti-aging actions derive from its valuable antioxidants (flavonoids), vitamin E, provitamin A, minerals and trace elements. It helps to regulate glucose levels in diabetes, plays a key role in central nervous system development, and also aids in the normal function of the digestive system, decreasing the possibility of ulcers and improving intestinal tract motility.
“But why Greek olive oil?” you may ask. Well, first of all, because of its unique flavor. Secondly, because more and more research is confirming that olive oil produced in Greece is higher in polyphenol content – polyphenols are the precious chemical compounds that promise to rid us of many health problems – than those produced in other parts of Europe.
Its official botanical name is in fact Salvia officinalis, which is partly derived from the Latin verb salvare, meaning “save,” and alludes to its therapeutic properties. The ancient Greeks used its fresh leaves to treat wounds and snake bites, and as a drink to enhance female fertility. As a beverage, sage-infused “Greek tea,” as the French call it, or “Greek sprout” for the Chinese, remains popular to this day, either on its own or combined with other aromatic herbs.
Sage is also associated with some less scientific benefits. In Syros, for example, they say it exorcises gossip. You will often find little bunches of it hanging outside homes. A beneficial herb, sage has anti-catarrhal properties (for asthma, bronchitis and coughs), as well as anti-fungal and anti-infective action (for flu, gingivitis and insect bites). It is an effective antispasmodic (in cases of dysmenorrhea) and healing agent. Its broader effects include stimulating the nervous system, improving memory and boosting blood circulation, while its antioxidants act against free radicals.
According to gastronomic history, modern-day trahana has evolved from a porridge-like mixture of milk and wheat eaten by the ancient Greeks and Romans. The noted gourmet and recipe collector Apicius (1st c. AD) refers to this food substance as tractae. In Byzantium, it was popular as tragos or traganos. Until a few decades ago, when the refrigerator was still largely unknown in most Greek households, it was a practical method for using up leftover milk and was critical to a family’s survival – trahana could be stored for more than a year in a cool place.
Trahana is made with fresh cow’s, sheep’s or goat’s milk that has soured, to which wheat is added. The wheat can range from coarse to fine – Cretan xinohontros, for example, uses coarse wheat. Trahana is rich in carbohydrates and is a good source of energy. It’s also a source of fiber, which aids intestinal health. The lactobacilli in the sour milk have a beneficial effect on the digestive tract, too.
Trahana contains protein, magnesium, iron, phosphorus and calcium in a form which the body can easily absorb. It also has carotenoids, such as lutein, a powerful antioxidant that works to prevent the harmful effects of free radicals, thus helping to maintain healthy eyes, skin and heart.
Trahana can be made into a thin or thick soup, and is low in calories (100 calories/100g). In recent years, many chefs have enriched the classic trahana soup recipe with bits of meat and vegetables or fish. It can be added to savory pie fillings or used in stuffed vegetables or grape-leaf dolmades instead of rice.
According to Greek mythology, knowledge of cheese-making was gifted to humans by the gods of Olympus through Aristeas, son of Apollo. There are references to cheese products in the writings of Aristotle and in the comedies of Aristophanes, while Homer famously referred to them in the Odyssey as well, citing the production of cheese from goat’s and sheep’s milk by the one-eyed Cyclops Polyphemus who was eventually blinded by Odysseus. Could this cheese have been anthotyro? It is quite possible.
Soft, white and rind-less, anthotyro is made in most regions of Greece from whey (left over from making another type of cheese) and the addition of sheep’s or goat’s milk, or a combination of the two. Lightly salted, it combines a pleasant rich flavor with high nutritional value. It provides all of the substances that dairy products offer (protein, calcium, potassium, phosphorus), but contains less fat (it is not high in cholesterol content) and is just 200 calories/100g Compare that to 470/100g calories for graviera cheese, 420/100g calories for kefalotyri, and 350 calories/100g for feta.
Anthotyro is served as a side dish with meals, used in savory pies and salads or as a spread on bread. It pairs deliciously with fresh fruit and nuts, and makes an excellent dessert when topped with honey.
These greens are a variety of wild chicory (Cichorium spinosum), and have a bitter flavor. They are a key element of Cretan cuisine. The Greek name originates from an old habit the Cretans had of placing these greens over the mouth of the water jars to keep bugs out of the water. The Stamnagathi plant is a source of dietary fiber, antioxidants, iron, calcium, potassium and vitamins A, C and E, and beta-carotene. It is an excellent tonic and diuretic; it helps to detoxify the liver and has slightly cathartic properties. The ancient Greeks considered it medicinal. The greens can eaten raw with a lemon or vinegar and olive oil dressing, boiled on their own, or cooked together with lamb or goat. They can also be pickled after parboiling.
The ancient name for rusks was dipyritis artos, meaning “twice-baked bread.” Rusks have been a staple of the Greek diet since before refrigeration or preservatives, when a way of keeping bread for as long as possible was needed. Rusks, particularly those made with barley (which thrives better in the Greek climate than wheat), are considered a key ingredient of a healthy and balanced diet.
They are a good source of vitamin B complex, selenium, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, silicon (which helps to rebuild and protect bones), chromium (for better control of glucose levels in diabetes) and dietary fiber (especially beta-glucan, linked to lower cholesterol). They also aid in better intestinal and liver function and help reduce cellulitis. It should also be noted that barley contains less gluten than wheat.
So, why not try replacing your breakfast toast with barley rusks? Alternatively, you can also replace commercial breakfast cereals, which contain a high level of hidden sugars, with boiled barley, honey and cold milk. And remember that, because their low moisture content eliminates the risk of microbial spoilage, rusks do not contain preservatives, either.
The ancient Greeks considered figs a luxury, with a quantifiable economic value that lent prestige to those who could consume them. But they were also a special delicacy. There was a word – sykoskopos – that referred to someone who brought news of where syka (figs) were to be found; there was also the term sykofantis, used for the person who revealed their illegal trafficking. It was not uncommon in Attic comedies to see the impoverished protagonists dreaming of buying wine and dried figs as soon as they could find a little money. In classical times, figs were eaten fresh as an appetizer, and were usually salted. In dried form, they accompanied the wine served at symposia. The leaves of the fig tree were soaked in brine to remove the bitterness and were then used to prepare foods similar to modern-day dolmades.
The nutritional value of figs, particularly dried ones, is indisputable. Rich in natural fiber (which stimulates intestinal motility), they help in weight control because they enhance the feeling of satiety. They are one of the best sources of potassium, which regulates blood pressure and boosts ligament health: just half a cup provides 300mg. They also contain magnesium, which is important for the function of the nervous system, for metabolism and for bone health. Surprisingly, they contain more calcium than milk does. You can add chopped dried figs to milk or yogurt along with your favorite breakfast cereal, eat them together with white cheeses, or try them on their own as a snack.
The history of apiculture, or beekeeping, in Greece goes back thousands of years. Excavations at Phaistos uncovered ceramic beehives from the Minoan era (3400 BC). Hippocrates, the father of medicine, recommended honey to all his patients. Honey, eaten with bread, was the main food for Pythagoras and his followers. Frequently, the libations to the gods included honey with wine and milk, while ambrosia, the food of the immortals, was said to contain royal jelly. In classical times, desserts with honey were very popular, including honey pies called melitoutta to plakountes, which also had sesame seeds and spices.
With more than 180 nutrients, honey is a food of high nutritional value. It is an excellent source of carbohydrates, antioxidants, vitamin B complex, trace elements and minerals (calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, copper) essential for keeping the body in balance and contributing to everything from bone strength to metabolism. It has a lower glycemic index than sugar. In other words, in small quantities, it is even suitable for people with diabetes. The great biodiversity of the Greek land – 1,300 endemic plants and an exceptional variety of flowers, herbs and trees – also affects the quality of the honey produced in Greece: it is far superior in flavor, aroma and density than honey from other countries.
Closely tied to Christian fasting, tahini, the paste made from roasted sesame seeds, re-entered the Greeks’ diet through migrants from Asia Minor who carried with them the knowledge of how to make it and its cousin, halva, from their lost homelands. It has the delicious essence of roasted nuts and the rich flavor of its precious oil.
One spoonful of tahini, particularly whole grain, is the perfect dietary supplement. First, the fatty acids it contains are mainly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated: these are fatty acids which raise the level of good cholesterol (HDL) that protects the heart. It is rich in high-quality proteins, vitamin B complex (which regulates the synthesis of several hormones, among other things), calcium (acts against osteoporosis), iron (for physical and mental well-being), potassium, zinc (fortifies the immune system), phosphorus, magnesium (relieves stress and migraines), manganese and copper (reduces joint pain). It also contains selenium, which is one of the weapons in the body’s defensive arsenal against oxidative stress.
Tahini is the ideal topping for breakfast (try bread with tahini and honey). It goes well with sweet flavors (honey or chocolate), with tangy lemon and with garlic, pepper, pulses and salads (it makes a great dressing). It can also be used in soups, pies, cookies and hummus.
In the days when there was no sugar, or it was hard to come by, homemakers made full use of everything the Greek soil gave them to expand their cooking repertoire. This is how moustalevria was born. The exact date of that birth is not known. We do know it is a dessert that dates back to antiquity; during the Byzantine period, it was called moustopita and was made with flour and boiled grape must. That is more or less the recipe that survives today, though it is now embellished with nuts and cinnamon.
Moustalevria is a highly nutritious food, thanks to the raw material – grape must – which provides a large quantity of antioxidants. With the addition of walnuts, almonds, cinnamon and sesame seeds, it is enriched even further, not only in flavor but also in nutrients. Sesame seeds are rich in amino acids, minerals, trace elements and calcium. Cinnamon improves glucose levels in the blood, while walnuts and almonds provide valuable omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and phytosterols. What’s more, all this comes with zero fat.
Yogurt has always held a special place on the Greek table, although it is in fact widely consumed throughout the southeastern Mediterranean. The ancient Greeks called it oxygala, and they had a particular liking for it. French explorer Pierre Belon (1517-1564) wrote, “The Greeks and Turks have oxygala, a type of sour milk which they carry in fabric bags hanging off the side of their animals. Though it is quite watery, it stays in the bag without spilling.” There’s been a lot of milk under the bridge since then. Nowadays, as the food industry endeavors to offer products with long shelf lives, most yogurt is processed at temperatures high enough to prevent the growth of unwanted microorganisms. However, this means that beneficial live bacteria are also eliminated and yogurt loses a large part of its nutritional value.
Traditional Greek yogurt, the one with the skin on the surface, it made from cow’s or sheep’s milk and contains valuable bacteria which have a positive effect on the entire digestive tract. These bacteria include the Lactobaccilus, which research has shown to have cancer-fighting properties. In addition, yoghurt enhances digestion, provides all of the nutrients of milk (protein, carbohydrates, fats, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin B complex and others), and can often be consumed by people who are lactose-intolerant. It is, indeed, an all-round superfood!
The ancient Greeks held it to be a symbol of joy: it was used to make wedding crowns. But they also knew of its therapeutic value and used it as a drink to treat poisoning, diarrhea and colic, or externally to relieve skin inflammation. Arcadia and Tenedos are famous for producing oregano. Until a few decades ago, Cretan folk medicine used oregano leaves fried in olive oil to make a poultice for back pain, and oregano oil offered relief for toothache.
Oregano grows practically everywhere in Greece. Fresh or dried, it adds beneficial properties along with its characteristic fragrance to many dishes. Rich in vitamin C, it also contains calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, potassium, copper, boron, manganese and vitamin A. The essential oil of Greek oregano is considered the best in the world, as recent studies have shown it to have the highest content in carvacrol and thymol, both of which have powerful antioxidant and cancer-fighting properties. It has antibiotic and antiseptic properties as well. Oregano can relieve intestinal upsets and abdominal pain; it exhibits stimulatory, sudorific and anti-asthmatic effects; it is used to treat flu, colds, gingivitis and sore throat (in a gargling solution). Amazingly, oregano demonstrates 42 times greater antioxidant action than apples, 30 times greater than potatoes and 12 times greater than oranges.
…or saffron, is probably the result of efforts to tame the wild Crocus cartwrightianus in ancient Greece, as the plant appears frequently in Crete’s Minoan-era frescoes and pottery, as well as in a fresco from the prehistoric settlement of Akrotiri in Santorini depicting a woman collecting the flowers. Saffron was widely used in medicine – the ancient Greeks drank it in a tisane to cure sleeplessness and hangovers. Today, Kozani’s saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world (it takes more than 150,000 flowers to produce one kilogram of the stuff) and is very sought-after for its subtle aroma and flavor, its properties as a coloring agent and its health benefits. Saffron contains vitamins A, C and B complex, as well as iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium and lycopene, which is known to help prevent cancer. It also has powerful antioxidant and anti-aging properties, as its carotenoids protect cells from free radicals. It is good for the digestive tract, boosts the metabolism and improves memory and overall brain function. In addition, it helps fight anxiety and acts as a mood elevator. A mere pinch is enough to give food a rich yellow color, a subtle tang and plenty of aroma. It goes particularly well with rice, pasta, white meat and fish; it is used in salads and soups; and it is also used in sweets. It can be found in powder or thread form and as a tea.
Traces of stored crops and seeds found at Akrotiri indicate that a local species of vetchling, Lathyrus clymenum, was cultivated exclusively on Santorini for more than 3,500 years. Dioscorides, a famed 1st c. AD physician and botanist, distinguished the plant that provided the specific fava from its relatives in other regions. The particularities of the Santorini soil, the climatic conditions and, strangely enough, the lack of water combine to create a unique product with a velvety texture and sweet flavor. Rich in protein (20 percent) and carbohydrates (65 percent), the local fava is an excellent source of vitamin B1, iron, copper, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium. Its high fiber content makes it ideal for maintaining normal levels of glucose and cholesterol in the blood, for promoting the proper function of the digestive system and for preventing cancer of the large intestine. And it’s just 85 calories/100g. The fava is served in pureed form with lemon juice, oregano and olive oil, and sometimes with chopped onion and capers or with tomatoes and olives. You might also see it in salads, made into patties or even served with seafood such as octopus or anchovies.
MASTIC FROM CHIOS
The mastic tree was particularly popular with the ancient Greeks: its shoots were pickled and considered a fine appetizer, while its “tears,” the well-known mastic resin, were chewed to clean the teeth and freshen the breath. These tears were also used to flavor wine. The aromatic resin of the lentisc plant, of the Pistacia lentiscus Chia variety, is not produced anywhere in Greece but Chios, and even there, it only grows in the south of the island.
Prescriptions based on mastic can be found in medical texts dating from late antiquity, when it was already considered beneficial. Modern-day studies have confirmed this. Its antioxidant extracts prevent the formation of atherosclerotic plaque on artery walls, thus protecting against heart problems. Its polyphenols reduce glucose and cholesterol levels in the blood. Regular use of mastic limits the formation of dental plaque. It plays a critical role in preventing and treating diseases of the digestive system. It exhibits powerful anti-inflammatory action, and acts as an analgesic, a cough suppressant, an appetite stimulant, an aphrodisiac, an astringent and a diuretic. It is an amazing multi-purpose medicine! Nowadays, mastic has many uses: as a spice in cooking, mainly for meat and fish, and for ice cream, loukoums, spoon sweets and cookies; in beverages (in mastic liqueur and ouzo, drunk as an aperitif or added to foods while simmering); and in cosmetics. Commonly seen in the form of chewing gum, the resin can be also found in a variety of other forms, including as powders and crystals, as mastic water or as an essential oil.
There is always something new to discover in a country like Italy — even for Italians. Thanks to a special person, I had the chance to visit Bologna and fell in love with it at once. Emilia Romagna’s main urban center is one of the most beautiful and ancient cities in the country, and a treasure trove of artistic riches. And that’s not all: Bologna’s food is delicious, there are a lot of secrets to discover and plenty of other things to do. Of course, there are also numerous sights to visit, but since the weekend only lasts a few hours, we picked the best ones according to G&I Custom Luxury Travel.
Book your trip with G&I Custom Luxury Travel, we are here with a list of activities for you!
Ristorantino Il Tinello (Via Dè Giudei, 1c)
You can’t be thinking of leaving town without trying tortellini, right? In this little place, just a few steps away from the Due Torri, the two towers that are a landmark of the city, you will eat the best tortellini in brodo (tortellini in a broth) in town. The place isn’t very touristy, but still, it is very small so we really recommend that you book. And if you really don’t like tortellini, don’t worry: tagliatelle al ragu — also known as bolognese to foreigners — are the wonderful fallback option here.
Trattoria Del Rosso (Via Augusto Righi, 30)
In case you hadn’t realized yet, we really are giving you insider tips today. This is a trattoria that is part of the city’s history and a point of reference for locals. Their fresh pasta is rigorously handmade by the women working here. From pappardelle to lasagne, everything has the genuine taste of bygone times. I tried their spezzatino di manzo (beef stew)… And I still remember its delicious taste!
Vasinikò (Via Santo Stefano, 40)
Trust us: the best pizza in town is here… And their primi are great, too. This is a rather new place that opened recently, and it is managed by a bunch of young, friendly guys from Naples. It is big and has a lot of tables, and to honor the restaurant’s name, which means basil in the Neapolitan dialect, basil green is everywhere in the decor. We couldn’t help suggesting a pizza place: this is Italy after all!
WHAT TO SEE
Basilica di San Petronio (Piazza Galvani, 5)
This church is the biggest in town and one of the largest in Italy, too. Its unusual facade will already entice you and make you want to explore the church — which is great! Inside, on top of lots of famous paintings and a statue by Michelangelo, there is a work of art that will leave you awestruck: the famous painting that shows Prophet Mohammed in hell — an artistic masterpiece that has caused lots of controversy over the years.
Torre degli Asinelli (Piazza di Porta Ravegnana)
Looking for the best view in town? Then you should head to the top of this tower, the most famous symbol of Bologna. Don’t worry about the fact that it is leaning, it is solid enough to hold your weight while you make your way up the 498 stairs. Take a deep breath, climb up and get ready for a beautiful view.
Finestrella di Via Piella (Window of via Piella)
Guys, this is a true gem, one of those secret tips we love to discover and share with you. At first sight, this alley will look pretty boring — but you will discover very soon why locals love it. The window of Via Piella facing the Moline Canal, that winds through the buildings of the city, is a very unusual site, and absolutely deserves a visit. It looks like a corner of Venice in another location. Canals were very important for the city in medieval times, and some of them were used as waterways. The Moline Canal, specifically, was used to produce the energy necessary to power the 15 water mills of the town — as the name says, since “Moline” means “mill” in Italian.
Complesso delle Sette Chiese (Via Santo Stefano)
This might be a bit of an obvious tip, but this cluster of seven churches in one complex is a must-visit, especially since you can access it for free. You will visit beautiful medieval courtyards, crypts and cathedrals — it’s hard to explain. Just go see for yourself, it’s wonderful and moving.
Everyone knows Bologna is the city where you can stroll underneath arched colonnades: these arches are in the city center, they’re in the outskirts and even on the way to San Luca sanctuary: and this specific sanctuary is a special one, because the way up to it is the longest colonnade in the world! It’s a wonderful way to get a break from the heat in summertime, and in winter, it’s very nice for a little hike. Start training, so it will be easier for you to walk up under the colonnade — the walk is 4km long. San Luca Sanctuary and a beautiful view on the city will be awaiting you on top.
Mercato della Piazzola (Piazza dell Otto Agosto)
Last but not least, a shopping tip for those who will be here at the weekend, this place couldn’t be missing from our list and it is one of the biggest markets of the region — only open on Friday and Saturday. People from faraway areas of Italy come look for all sorts of stuff in the 400 stalls of this market, whose products range from regular clothing to vintage clothes, or flower-print shoes. The good thing is, you can find all sorts of stuff here starting from just 2 euro!
Pilio is one of Greece’s most popular year-round destinations. Offering a perfect combination of the mountains and the sea and with natural beauty within easy reach of cosmopolitan comforts, this is a place where food lovers will find themselves spoilt for choice with the local cuisine.
The area benefits from a rich natural bounty; it’s most famous for its crisp red apples, but it also produces pears, quince, chestnuts and delicious wild mushrooms. You can find many of these food items available as confitures or spoon sweets, and while you’re picking them up, don’t forget to add a few jars of mountain honey to your basket as well.
Pilio’s local cuisine is based on rustic fare such as sausage, game, wild boar and spetzofai (a sausage, pepper and tomato dish), the kind of food that was meant to nourish farmers and workers. Humble but delicious, the region’s food has developed in interesting ways, especially now that a younger generation is at the culinary helm. Reservations are not usually needed during the week, but are a must on the weekend, when both day-trippers from Volos and locals enjoying their days off pack into the local tavernas and restaurants.
“Humble but delicious, the region’s food has developed in interesting ways, especially now that a younger generation is at the culinary helm.”
Niki, the owner and hostess of this simple taverna frequented today mainly by locals, was the first to introduce a grill-house to the area 25 years ago. Everything in this taverna is based on what’s available seasonally and is cooked according to traditional recipes. Try the beef in tomato sauce; the herb-and-vegetable fritters; the meatballs served with fried potatoes; or the goat, either slow-roasted in baking paper or cut up and cooked on a spit. On weekends and holidays, the grill is in full swing, with a selection of hearty meat dishes available. Every meal is topped off with a slice of halva or a spoon sweet made with fruit from Niki’s garden. • Tel. (+30) 24260.226.26
Located on the town’s main square (known as Taxiarchon), Agnanti is a modern taverna revamped in 2007 by owners Maria José from Spain and her husband Constantinos, who took over his parents’ business. The food is Mediterranean with a twist, such as the star anise added to a classic rabbit-and-tomato stew. The mushroom soup also comes highly recommended, as does the rooster in tomato sauce served with pasta, and the beef with smoked cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. A fireplace crackles in the winter, and wines from the region are served, too. • Tel. (+30) 24260.492.10
The inn here has been operating since 1965; the owner of the establishment’s restaurant, Constantinos Rigakis, serves traditional dishes in a rustic environment. In the evening, locals fill the room in order to enjoy tsipouro, the local spirit, and creamy galotyri, a soft cheese made in-house. The specialty here is wild greens cooked in tomato sauce and served with fried eggs, once a staple midday snack for farm workers. Try the spetzofai with a variety of sausages, peppers and tomatoes, or the hearty zucchini-and-cheese pie prepared by the owner’s mother, Eleni. Around 50 reasonably priced bottled wines are available. • Tel. (+30) 24260.311.21 & (+30) 6942.016.166
Inspired by what is believed to be the oldest cook-book in the world, the “Deipnosophistae,” a study on the art of eating from the early 3rd century AD, this elegant taverna/restaurant in a beautiful building with a garden has been around since 1992. The cuisine is Greek/Mediterranean and makes excellent use of fresh seasonal products found in the locality. Crab apples, for example, are used to make a wonderful syrup that finds its way into both sweet and savory dishes, and there are mushrooms and wild legumes picked from the nearby mountains, too. Order a meal of mushroom soup followed by slow-roasted pork knuckle with caramelized crab-apple syrup and, for dessert, the apple tarts served with vanilla ice cream. The wine list comprises about 20 labels, most Greek. • Tel. (+30) 24260.498.25 & (+30) 6977.975.082
This taverna takes its name from the nickname of its owner Yiannis, “the German”, who was given this moniker by his fellow villagers after he returned from a few years’ stay in Germany. Grilled meat is the specialty here, and there’s a great view to go with your meal; the taverna’s strategic location in the main square of Neochori, above the Church of Aghios Dimitrios, means that on a clear day you can see all the way to the Sporades. During the day, locals enjoy coffee, tsipouro and meze, while on weekends and during the holidays, the rotisserie spins constantly, producing delicious roast meat. Also try the rooster in wine sauce, the wild boar with quince and the pies made with wild greens and cheese. Organic wine from the local Patistis Vineyards is served in carafes, while there are also a few bottled labels. • Tel. (+30) 24230.553.90 & (+30) 6946.934.183
The taverna named Stefanos, also known as Pappou’s (Grandpa’s) Taverna, is located on the beach of Lefokastro, which gets busy in the summer but is very peaceful off-season. The taverna’s decor is nothing special, but it’s the fresh fish you’re here for. Choose from a selection of simple, authentic dishes that include seafood appetizers and entrées and wild greens. The amazing fish stew is unmissable, but be sure to order it a day in advance so it’ll be ready for you. Wine by the carafe, ouzo and tsipouro are on offer to wash down your meal in a friendly atmosphere beloved by the locals. • Tel. (+30) 24230.335.51
The Vronti family taverna has been in the same spot since 1950. These days, it’s in the hands of the second and third generation, Nikos and his mother Dimitra. It serves classic Greek cuisine and a few local specialties that are very well prepared, such as the gioulbasi (lamb roasted with garlic and butter in baking paper), stuffed cabbage dolmades and, of course, bobari (a traditional sausage made with offal, herbs and rice). Beef tail is slowly baked until meltingly tender and then served with traditional pasta and tomato in a dish known as giouvetsi, while the tongue is turned into a hearty onion-based stew. Dessert is on the house and comes from a large jar of homemade spoon sweets or from a tray of cakes (milk, walnut and orange feature prominently) prepared by Dimitra. • Tel. (+30) 24280.994.24 & (+30) 6936.908.552
Sisters Niki and Eleni have run this restaurant without a single day off since 2000. A fireplace in the corner sets the tone for this spotless taverna, and the outstanding traditional food does the rest. Start with the pie, with handmade filo pastry stuffed with local ingredients, and move on to the spetzofai made with thin sausages, whole roasted peppers and grated tomato. The trahana ( a grain product) soup with sausage, the beef cooked in tomato sauce with wild mushrooms, and the wild legumes with fried eggs are also delicious. The milk, eggs and some of the meats come from the family’s Karaiskos Farm, located outside Portaria, while the wine list is an eclectic selection of reds and whites. • Tel. (+30) 24280.991.21 & Tel. (+30) 24280.900.06
This place, which was Portaria’s first grocery store, was later taken over by self-taught cook Antonis Tsolakoudis. The taverna retains some of the elements of the original store, such as the store shelves and a mural by the native folk artist Theofilos, while the rest of the décor (a blue wall decorated with birds, chairs dressed in red velvet, a large fireplace and soft lighting) create an attractive atmosphere. The food carries the creative signature of the chef and includes beef tongue served with pumpkin soup, French-style veal in a wine sauce, and chicken in a pepper sauce served with sweet potato, chicory and pumpkin. A good selection of wines is on offer. • Tel. (+30) 24280.999.19
*Originally published at Greeceis.com
Fall is here, temperatures have dropped, and here we are, reaching for our books again! But it’s not time to lock yourself up at home, yet: the last days of sunshine are still making us want to go out and enjoy the beauty of Milan. Our solution to the cooler temperatures is, why not go have a coffee while surrounded by books, in one of the (luckily) numerous bookstore-cafes in town? Here are 5 cafes we particularly love. You pick which one you want to test first 🙂
(Corso di Porta Ticinese 40)
This brand-new bookshops hasn’t even been open for a year, and it is just a few steps from popular spot Colonne di San Lorenzo. It has two floors: downstairs is the bar, while upstairs you will find a few tables to study and work, with open wi-fi. You will be surrounded by a selection of books from independent publishing houses, as well as a few bestsellers.
(Viale Monte Nero 6)
This place’s tag line is, more than books — and we find that is an excellent starting point, don’t you agree?? Large wooden tables and colorful chairs are awaiting you in this wonderful location near Porta Romana. You can have more than just coffee or a hot beverage when it gets cold: you can also stop by for breakfast, lunch or happy hour, which is always a good way to be pleasantly surprised by their several new ideas of food and beverage. Our tip: go for aperitif and order a Spritz: you will be offered 8 different options, including an organic one with pomegranate! Furthermore, from 7pm on, it is also happy hour for books, with a 15% discount on every purchase!
Libreria del Mondo Offeso
(Piazza San Simpliciano 7)
Originally a small independent bookshop, it shed its skin and embraced modernity by changing location, moving to one of the most character-filled squares of the city center, and opening a small bar. Trust us: just walking past will make you want to go inside, and spend the whole day reading! Breakfast, with bread and jam, and aperitif, with a glass of wine are the best moments to enjoy this space, which has a bit of Parisian flair to it.
Gogol & Company
( Via Savona 101)
A vintage touch and an unexpected calm atmosphere make this one of our favorite spots in town. Some people go there to discover new books and new publishers — this bookshop is very intent upon promoting new writers — and some just go to impress someone on their first date. Try a dish from their menu, or maybe a cold pressed juice. You’ll see: reading has never been this pleasant.
(Via Sant’Agnese 12)
A guarantee, both for readers looking for new books, and curious foodies. This place is perfect for lunch, thanks to the menu that ranges from panini to cakes: enjoy both, surrounded by a selection of books that includes classics from the past, as well as modern classics that it will be your pleasure to discover.
Christmas in Greece
Christmas (Xristougenna), the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus is one of the most joyful days of the Greek Orthodox Church. Traditionally, the Christmas holiday period in Greece lasts 12 days, until January 6, which marks the celebration of the Feast of the Holy Theophany (Epiphany). There are many customs associated with the Christmas holidays, some of which are relatively recent, “imported” from other parts of the world (like eating turkey on Christmas day and decorating the Christmas tree). In the past, Greeks decorated small Christmas boats in honour of St. Nicholas and today, they are increasingly choosing to decorate boats, instead of trees, reviving this age-old Christmas tradition.
“Kalanda” or Carols
The singing of Christmas carols (or kalanda) is a custom preserved in its entirety to this day. On Christmas and New Year Eve, children go from house to house in groups singing the carols, accompanied usually by the sounds of the musical instrument “triangle,” but also by guitars, accordions, lyres and harmonicas. Until some time ago, children were rewarded with pastries but nowadays they are usually given money.
Greece’s hobgoblins are called “kallikántzari”, friendly but troublesome little creatures which look like elves. Kallikantzari live deep down inside the earth and come to surface only during the 12-day period from Christmas until Epiphany. While on the earth’s surface, they love to hide in houses, slipping down chimneys and frightening people. Throughout Greece, there are various customs and rituals performed to keep hobgoblins away. Kallikantzari disappear on the day of Epiphany when all waters are blessed, and they return to the earth’s core.
Sweets & Treats
Traditional culinary delights symbolize good luck in the New Year and adorn the white-clothed tables. “Melomakarona” (honey cookies) and “kourabiedes” (sugar cookies with almonds) are the most characteristic and they characterize the beginning of Christmas festivity. Another traditional custom that dates back to the Byzantine times is the slicing of Vassilopita (St.Basil’s pie or New Year’s Cake). The person who finds the hidden coin in his slice of the cake is considered to be lucky for the rest of the year.
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November is the month for distilling grape-based tsipouro and the villages of northern Greece are the best place to enjoy it.
It’s a Friday night, just hours after our arrival in the Pieria region. The weather is chilly and the darkness of the night is far more pleasing than the afternoon’s depressing twilight.
We are in the village Skotina in the Pieria prefecture, northern Greece, located in the southern part of the country’s Macedonian region, and have taken a seat in the yard of the Polyhros family home. We are nibbling on olives and bread dipped in green olive oil.
In no time at all, the housewife approaches and wipes away the table top in one move, not with a standard disinfectant, but instead with tsipouro.
The spirit’s high concentration of alcohol makes it an ideal natural cleaning alternative, highlighting how alive multiple applications of local products remain as a practice in Greece’s rural regions. This “disinfectant” used by Mrs. Polyhrou is precisely why we have made this autumn trip to the Pieria region.
Palaios Pantaleimonas village in Pieria.
So, then, what exactly is tsipouro, you may ask.
It is a strong distilled spirit, similar to Italy’s grappa or arak in the Middle East, which is produced in various Greek regions (Macedonia, Epirus, Thessalia, as well as Crete, where it is known as tsikoudia), usually between October and December.
The spirit is made with the pomace, or grape residue – peel, pips and must – from the wine press. It is produced in copper stills, locally known as “rakokazana“. The pomace, along with water, is placed inside these containers and boiled to produce this clear distilled spirit, drop by drop.
Depending on the custom of each regions as well as the patience and intent of each kazanari, the producer at the helm, the tsipouro is single, double or triple-distilled.
Tsipouro is wine’s smaller but stronger little sibling. It possesses a far more aggressive taste and greater alcohol content (between 36 and 45%), which is why it is drunk in shot glasses, accompanied by small and assorted meze dishes.
OLIVES, CHEESE AND GOOD COMPANY
Food was an integral part of the production ritual at all the rakokazana we visited in Pieria. There are many of these stills, as tsipouro is a way of life in the region. The various foods consumed included white goat milk cheese, olives (brown, black, small or big), pie with greens (hortopita filled with spinach, nettle and other wild greens), cheese pie (tyropita), lamb and goat dishes, as well as a fantastic firiki apple (small and sweet) preserve in syrup topped with a walnut.
The culinary delights we tried – seated next to the distillation tanks, alongside the local producers, who were complete strangers to us just days earlier – while waiting patiently for the tsipouro to drip, were incredible.
The essence of this experience is represented by the eating, drinking and the socializing with familiar and unfamiliar faces by the boiling tanks as we waited for the pulp of grape peel, pips and must to be transformed into a fine spirit that will keep us company throughout the winter.
SPICY OR AGED
As may be gathered, our trip involved lots of drinking. However, excesses aside, the thing I liked most about this excursion to the various distillation tanks around Pieria was the opportunity it provided me to become acquainted with the people, their homes and the unique details of their everyday lives.
There was the young son of Mr. Antonis Katsamagas at the village Rahi, who fed wood into the tank’s fire as his grandfather looked on.
The cats that wondered about the yard at the Hatzis winery close to the village Neos Pantaleimonas who looked completely at home alongside the men by the tanks; and the wild boar pelt hanging on the wall at the winery operated by Mr. Korovesis in the village of Ritini that gave the space the look of a Norwegian hunter’s shack.
The trip also included interesting discussions about other tsipouro varieties, such as a cranberry-based version –, a yellowish spicy tsipouro made with touches of Kozani saffron – and tsipouro aged in oak barrels, which initially causes a burning sensation to the throat, before gradually providing a soothing warmth to the entire body.
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Christmas in Greece is not as religiously oriented as Easter, but it includes a two-week holiday, with children away from school, exchanging of presents between loved ones, sweets and various dishes of supreme taste enhancing the festive mood, and the decoration of Christmas trees, and carols (Kalanda) bring a note of happiness to the streets.
Below you will find the top 3 of the Greek tradiniotal Christmas desserts.
Melomakarona are the most popular cookies baked at Christmas,
a lovely cookie drizzled with an aromatic honey syrup and sprinkled with walnuts.
Vasilopita is a New Year’s Day cake in Greece
which contains a hidden coin or trinket which gives good luck to the receiver.
Celebrating Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Greece is like finding yourself in an expressionist work of art: decorated Christmas trees, shiny bright ornaments, and “karavákia” (small Christmas ships) decked with blue and white lights.
But these Christmas desserts are definitely good for your soul!!
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