Most everyone has had Greek food. Sharp feta, tangy black olives, crisp sheets of filo all come to mind, with lots of olive oil. I found all of those things in both Athens and Santorini, but they were not at all what I expected. First of all, I encountered none of the heavy cream sauces that characterize so many Greek dishes in American restaurants. Secondly, everything was exceptionally fresh and simple because the ingredients were so good.
During our first real meal in Greece I was seated next to Sofia, one of our hosts from Wines of Santorini, who told me that I was about to discover all of the things described above. It wasn’t that I did not believe her, but some things just have to be experienced to be believed. Two more things that fall under that heading are the tomatoes of Santorini and the wines made from the island’s Assyrtiko grape. Much more on the wines will be forthcoming, but I will try to describe the tomatoes knowing full well that it is an entirely futile exercise.
The soil of Santorini is rocky and dusty, the result of the volcano that has both created and destroyed the entire region. The weather is hot and it rarely rains. As a result, just like the vines that produce the grapes, the tomato vines struggle for existence. This results in fruit that is truly remarkable. Small and intensely flavored, these tomatoes are sweet and tangy, and completely unlike the tasteless, mealy varieties available in most supermarkets. We were even served a delicious desert made by baking them down to caramelize and intensify the natural sugars. I suspect that it will be a long time before I enjoy a supermarket tomato again, if ever.
At the risk of appearing to becoming a photoblog, here are some of the amazing things we were served in Greece. No photo can do this incredible food justice, but I hope they can give you at least an inkling of what real Greek cuisine is all about. Kali Orexi!
Click on any of the photos to see the full-sized images. I suggest donning a bib or apron first if you are prone to drooling.
Amazingly fresh shrimp, simply grilled with vegetables and a little lemon.
These are some delicious sautéed local greens with a little olive oil and lemon. Since I can’t find the name of them in my notes they shall remain “sautéed greens” unless Sofia reads this and tells me what her favorite dish is called again. If not, they were delicious with or without a name.
I had never eaten caper leaves prior to this trip. They are very delicious, as are the fresh capers that grow all over the island. In this salad they are joined by fresh, creamy, tangy goat cheese, cucumbers, and the aforementioned Santorini tomatoes. This is the kind of dish that could almost make being a vegetarian tolerable. Not quite, but close. I’ve already tried to describe to tomatoes, but the cucumbers also deserve mentioning. Try to remember what watermelon tasted like on the Fourth of July when you were a kid. That comes fairly close.
I had to kill and eat this poor little thing right after this photo was taken. Oh please, quit judging, you would have done the same damn thing if you were in my shoes.
The restaurant makes this spectacular cinnamon-flavored ice cream in-house. It is covered with a caramel sauce and served with the delicious local Vinsanto, which will be discusses in great detail later. They brought us this at the end of an hours long meal featuring what seemed like thousands of local delicacies. Most of my companions were so stuffed that they had to forgo this delicious ending to the meal. That only meant that there was more for me to eat as they watched on with a mixture of horror and envy. I did my best not to make too many piggy noises.
And finally, our new friend Tammy demonstrates the look that real Greek food will put on your face. I wish my face was doing that right now.