Tag Archives: #Mykonos

An introduction to the cuisine of the. Greek Cyclades, Part 2: The dishes

The second in a series featuring Greek cuisine and the restaurants of Mykonos.

Two posts ago, we set the stage for a Greek drama: The wonderful cuisine of Greece. We discovered the raw ingredients that comprise some of Greece’s beloved dishes; today, we will explore the dishes themselves. Some are so beloved they have been adopted the world over, while others may be an undiscovered culinary frontier.

The meats:

Souvlaki/Souvlakia

Skewers of marinated, grilled meat, or what most know as kebobs (kebabs) are a staple of many culinary traditions. In Greece, they come from a range of meats – pork, chicken, lamb, and sometimes, beef.

Kefta

These skewers of mixed, seasoned ground meats are ubiquitous in Greek and other Mediterranean cuisines. In Greece, they’re typically a blend of lamb and beef.

Grilled octopus

The simplest is best. Succulent octopus is at its best when grilled fresh. And Greeks are picky about their octopi, so you’d be challenged to find a poor version of it in the isles.

 

Langoustine pasta, a common site at restaurants in the Greek Ies

 

Langoustines 

Europeans and South Americans are well aware of the difference between what North Americans know as shrimp and these massive prawns. Here, they often top a steaming bowl of pasta, sometimes in concert with other forms of seafood.

Mezes

Tiramousalata
Spreadable herring or cod sounds unappetizing, but it’s fluffy, masculine whipped that puts tuna salad to shame. The secret ingredient is soaked bread (or sometimes another starch, such as potatoes), which gives this meze its thick, creamy consistency.

  

Pitta bread
The pita pocket bread many of us grew up with is a poor representation of Greece. True Greek pita bread is slightly puffy and chewy – not quite as thick as its Turkish cousin. As an appetizer or compliment to Tzatziki or meat, topped with herbs, it’s all good!

 

Delicious spanakopita

 

Spanakopita and Tiropita

No, they’re not stuffed pita breads! These delightful pastries, typically made of flaky phyllo dough, are definitely not a weight loss staple. Spanakopita, at least, incorporates a vegetable: its spinach, herb, and cheese filling with hints of lemon is deliciously complex and not so much as guilt-inducing as tiropita. Tiropita consists of flaky pastry stuffed with a savory soft cheese. It’s up there as one of the most unhealthy things one could eat in Greek cuisine. It is rich, yet addictive. Buttery, tart, salty, tangy with a feta alternative, it surely is a crowd pleaser. And waistline expander.

  
Kolokithokefthedes, or Zucchini fritters
The Greeks know how to make vegetables fun. If I had tried these as a picky child, even I would have enjoyed them. Like crab cakes, wide variation exists – some by adding more breading, some egg, some garlic. In general, the best are fluffy, almost weightless, and are easy to overdo. Others are quite heavier

  

Domatokefthedes
I laughed when I first saw “tomato balls” on an English-language menu. Really? I couldn’t picture anything other than fried green tomatoes. Then, I tried them. I would call them an expressionist’s version of tomato. Not unlike the most heavily traded zucchini fritters, most variants were more like heavily breaded fritters or croquettes, where the tomato enhanced the delicious, carbohydrate laden base than the other way around. Still, they were way more delicious than your average tomato!

  
Tzatziki
Calling it a condiment is insulting. The irresistible combination of thick, Greek yogurt, fresh cucumber, garlic, and dill is on every Greek menu, yet every chef or cook seems to put his or her own spin on it – perhaps a bit of lemon juice, red wine vinegar, or a heavier dose of garlic. Good enough to eat on its own, Greeks love to slather French fries in it, and I love scooping it up with Greek pitta or topping burgers with it.

 

Greek salad

 

Greek salad…
…is another item poorly misinterpreted by the Western Hemisphere. We overdo it out west, with our romaine, black olives, and heavy dressing laden with fillers. 

 

Another variant of Greek salad

 
The Greeks go simple: tomatoes, cucumbers, and feta with herbs, thick croutons, olive oil, and perhaps a touch of vinegar. But with that simplicity comes a staggering range of variations. Substitute torn, chewy pitta for baked bread, and the result is more like an Italian panzanella.

Sweets

  

Baklava
Oh, baklava! Your comforting honey and cinnamon-drenched pine nut or walnut filling and flaky phyllo layers are one of my favorite desserts that do not involve chocolate. What separates it from other Mediterranean, Turkish, or Arab versions? Pistachios are far more common in the Levant than in Greece.

  

Loukoumades
Doughnut holes on steroids are a good way to describe these airy clouds of fried dough, drenched with – you guessed it – honey. They may be a bit messy, but they are a delicious mess!

If these Greek specialties don’t make you want to run out and Yelp the best Greek restaurant in town – or travel to Greece, I don’t know what will do so!

An introduction to the cuisine of the Greek Cyclades, Part 1

Sure, you’ve tried a few specialties at your local Greek restaurant and watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding (both of them!). But what is Greek cuisine? Join me on a the first in a series marking a culinary tour of Mykonos (Mikonos), one of the Cycladic Islands. 

In the next few weeks, I’ll profile some of the great dining experiences in Mykonos – some suitable for most travelers, and a few for those foodies willing to splurge for a good meal.

  
Mykonos occupies an arid and rocky 26 square mile swath of crystal turquoise Aegean Sea and is one of the Cyclades, a “circle” of Islands south of Athens and mainland Greece. 

  
If it weren’t for its beaches and scenic mountainside views, tourism may have never elevated the historically impoverished island to the posh, party destination it is today. 

  
Upon arrival, my first observations were the remarkably dry and rocky terrain, the humble whitewashed stucco houses with minimal attempt at landscaping or gardening. I compare that to Lima, Peru, which is essentially a coastal desert but has been tamed through irrigation with an almost lush covering of tropical plants and Palm trees. Most of Mykonos, in contrast, is scrub grass or just Martian looking orange rock, swept by millions of years of brutal north winds. Mykonos has long, dry and windy summers and winters with occasional periods of range. If you visit around Easter, I’m told, you will see flowers and greenery. That’s not the case in September. Natives of Mykonos say that the island has seen greener days, and archaeological evidence shows farming was somewhat easier two thousand years ago. 

  
But once you see Mykonos town or drive to several points on the coast, the striking, otherworldly landscape becomes a thing of beauty. Building code in Mykonos is quite strict. All buildings’ exteriors must either be painted white (and repainted yearly) or be made of natural stone. Window shutters and doors may be customized, but the buildings must be interconnected cubes or rectangles. Call it the ancient Stepford Wives’ precursor to suburban homeowners’ associations if you will, but the result is a traditional look that makes Mykonos feel unspoiled and unique.

  
So what does all this mean for food and wine on the island? Agriculture has a historical precedence, but it’s not exactly a breadbasket. Grains and produce largely are imported from other islands or from the mainland in northern states like Peloponnesus. With such high winds, anything that grows can only do so low to the ground or root vegetables. Which makes its fauna better for grazing animals, and thus dairy is prevalent. 

 

A selection of Greek cheeses

 
Mykonos is proud of its cow, goat, and sheep cheeses, which range from the fresh, soft Katiki which tastes like a sharper ricotta, or the very pungent, fungal Kopanisti Mykonou cheese, the latter of which even a stinky cheese lover like me could barely do more than two bites. And don’t forget Greece’s most internationally known staple: yogurt. Full-fat yogurt, thick like whipped cream, topped with Greek honey or unique marmalades (even a strangely caramel grape), is unparalleled.

 

Langoustine pasta

 
As one might imagine for an island, seafood is a staple: fish, octopus, and large prawns (langoustines) are everywhere. Grilled octopus, especially, can be found on almost any restaurant or taverna menu, and it is pretty fantastic! (This coming from someone who isn’t a huge fan of seafood).

 

ruins on the island of Delos

 
But what Mykonos lacks in internal agriculture, it more than makes up for by importing and using the best of its neighbors’ harvests. Mykonos proudly crafts dishes from all over Greece. While the ancient Greeks pioneered international trade (Delos, a small island just west of Mykonos, was the first known duty free port, the Greeks claim), today’s Mykonos imports workers and tourists. Its roughly 200 day tourist season bolsters its year-round population of 5,000-10,000 to nearly 200,000 during peak season (July and August). Most seasonal workers live in Athens or other areas of the mainland during the winter, but others come from outside Greece. 

 

Risotto finds its way from Italy onto many Greek restaurants’ menus

 
Despite the barrage of international imports, the majority of Myconian restaurants serve Greek cuisine with international fusion, rather than uniquely “ethnic” restaurants. So you’ll find sushi and risotto on many menus, but Japanese, Thai, Mexican, and Irish restaurants and bars are fewer than one might expect.

  
Greek wine, also takes menu precedence over its more celebrated French, Italian, Spanish, or German neighbors’ exports. I personally worried a bit, having had a few not so great experiences with Greek wine in the past. My fears were mostly unfounded, as Greece now offers some really outstanding white wines and drinkable red ones. Let me explain what I mean by drinkable: demand for Greek wine has increased dramatically in recent years, so Greek producers release their wines fairly young. I was shocked to drink several 2015 red wines – and the harsh, young mouth on them could benefit from a bit more aging. More on this later!
  
In next week’s post, I’ll share a primer on some of Greece’s best known – or uniquely Greek – dishes. From Greek salad to Tzatziki, Domatokefthedes to loukomades, you won’t want to miss it!