Taste

These dishes with local variations can be found everywhere in Greece and of course in the Ionian region. However the Ionian has a special place in the history of Greek cuisine and for good reason. Given its history of occupations - Ottoman, Venetian, French, Russian and British, its position off the Greek mainland and its long connection with Italian regions such as Venice, it is not surprising that the Ionian has many and varied food traditions. Perhaps the strongest of these influences was Venetian and this is reflected in the main specialities of the region; Sofrito (veal cooked in saucepan with garlic, parsley), Bourdeto (spicy fish stew), Pastisada (beef or cockerel  in red sauce served with thick macaroni pasta), Stifado (meaty stew of beef or rabbit made with baby onions),  Savouro, (fried whitebait or sardines with rosemary, vinegar, garlic brown, sugar, raisins), Bianco (white fish stew), Tsigareli (braised leeks and wild greens), Manestra Bourou Bourou (tomato  based soup with pasta, chopped potato,onions), Briam (a variety of summer vegetables baked in the oven), Tourlou (a variety of summer vegetables cooked in a casserole dish on the stove).

 

There is also a range of sweets that are relatively unique to the Ionian region: Spoon sweets, Koum kouat preserves (a citrus fruit predominantly grown in Corfu), Loukoumi (Turkish delight), Mandoles (roasted almonds with caramel), Mandolato (nougat), Pastelli (sesame, honey and almonds) and Rizogalo (rice pudding),

 

In addition to the above each island in the Ionian has other fascinating culinary traditions. Corfu for example produces ginger beer - introduced by the British in the early nineteenth century. There is a plateau in the mountains of Lefkada, Englouvi, that is famous throughout Greece for its lentils, Kefalonia is known for its famous meat pies and the rose and thyme honey made in the Paliki peninsula and Zakynthos has Skordostoumbi Melitzana - aubergines in a garlic sauce. 

Epirus on the Greek mainland has been less exposed to Italian influences and has interesting culinary delights of its own. Rich in mountains and rivers, it is very much a dairy producing region and produces excellent yogurts and cheese including the famous Metsovone - a smoked cheese from the Metsovo region. It is also known for its famous trout rivers and you can sample fresh trout at riverside taverna. You can also visit tavernas on the island in the lake of Ioannina where you can find trout, eels and even frog's legs. Best of all though are the region's famous pies or pitas filled with xorta (wild greens like spinach), local cheese, meat or courgettes.

 

Last but not least, the Ionian and Epirus have a remarkably varied tradition of wine making ranging from the home made wine found in many tavernas to estate quality wines from major regional producers. In Corfu look out for Theotoky wines and Grammenos Family wines. Kefalonia is famous for its Robola wines; look out for the Robola Cooperative wines, Gentilini wines, Metaxas wines, Si Roke wines, Foivos wines and in Eprirus look out for the Zitsa wines and Katogi wines.

Greek cuisine in its various forms has a history dating back 4000 years. In fact the first cookbook in history was written in 320 BC by Archestratos the Greek poet from Syracuse who wrote about fish, appetisers and wine in his search for the best food in the Mediterranean. A kind of early good food guide! 

The diet of the ancient Greeks was pretty close to the famous Mediterranean Diet of modern times - simple food, bread, wine, cheese, olives and fish and this tradition has continued to this day especially amongst ordinary folk. Traditional Greek cuisine in modern times has expanded upon these basics and there are a number of dishes that can be regarded as the core of Greek food today - fish and seafood such as Kalamari (squid) for example, Moussaka, (aubergine, minced meat, béchamel sauce baked in the oven), Souvlaki (skewered pork or chicken on the spit), Souvlaki with pita (pieces of meat in pita bread with tzaziki, onions, tomatoes, chips and various sauces), Dolmades (stuffed vine leaves), Lachanodolmades (stuffed cabbage leaves), Saganaki (fried cheese), Skordalia (pureed potato & garlic dip), Taramosalata (fish roe dip), Tzatziki, (cucumber, garlic & yoghurt dip), and of course Greek salad (tomato, cucumber, green peppers, onion, feta cheese). Not to forget the range of traditional Greek desserts and cakes: Bakklava (fyllo pastry, nuts, syrup), Kataifi (spaghetti-like phyllo pastry with nuts and syrup), Ekmek ice cream (cream on a base of phyllo pastry with nuts & syrup), Karidopita (walnut cake),

Loukoumades (fried doughnuts, Galaktoboureko (phyllo pastry filled with vanilla cream), Yoghurt & honey, Spoon sweets (made from different fruit and vegetables soaked in honey or syrup), Kolobina (a sweet bread made for Easter with dyed red egg in centre), Tsoureki (a kind of sweet bread), Christopsomo, (a kind of tsoureki eaten at Christmas), Diples (fried phyllo pastry with nuts and syrup), Mosaiko (biscuits with chocolate cream left to set in freezer), Fontan (small balls of chocolate, nuts or coconut), Ypovrichio (submarine) (a thick sweet paste made of mastic resin, served on a table spoon dropped into a glass of water) and Amigdalota (macaroons), Kourabiedes (a kind of shortbread biscuit made with almonds eaten over the Christmas period), Melomakarona (sweetmeats made with semolina and walnuts with syrup eaten over the Christmas), Halva (semolina), Ravani (semolina cake with cinnamon scented syrup) and Vasilopita (a New Year cake with a coin in it to bring good luck in the year for the finder).

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