This year has been dedicated to the Year of Gastronomy in Santorini. The Greek island is showcasing their unique agricultural products like the sweet Santorini tomato, ripe pistachios, and the white fava bean through culinary events and special Year of Gastronomy in Santorini menus at some restaurants across the island. It’s a good thing we had a climb up the stairs from our suite perched on the cliffside in Imerovigli, because we needed a daily workout after all the research (eating) we did. So here’s our list of the top 10 things to taste in Santorini:
1. Domatokeftethes: Santorini Tomato Fritters
The Greek island is known for it’s special variety of tomatoes that grow nowhere else in the world. And Santorinians love to dice these special tomatoes up with onion and a little bit of mint, mix in some flour, and fry them up into domatokeftethes (pronounced doh-mah-to-kef-TEH-thes). The tomato fritters are an excellent appetizer and can be found on many menus around Santorini.
Where to get it: There were two stand out favorites in the running for the best tomato fritters: Nichteri in Kamari Beach (unfortunately this restaurant is now closed) with their traditional tomato fritters served with a cool Tzatziki (I may have been a bit biased since I helped to make them in a Greek cooking class here!) and at Selene, where they were served on a mini pita with a dollop of fava bean puree.
2. Stuffed Grape Leaves
Stuffed grape leaves aren’t exclusive to Santorini, but they are one of the most traditional Greek dishes. Most commonly they are vegetarian, stuffed with rice and herbs and are delicious dipped in a bit of Tzatziki.
Where to get it: There are variations to the filling and Selene‘s chef Nikos Boukis puts of modern spin on a traditional Greek favorite. Selene’s grape leaves are stuffed with grilled Chloro cheese, which is a rare goat cheese still made in the traditional methods by Santorinian ladies.
3. Tarama Spread
Often served with drinks before dinner, this creamy Greek dip is made from fish roe (tarama) that is combined with milk soaked and squeeze dried bread, lemon, and grated onion. It is then emulsified with olive oil until is has a nice whipped texture. It is served with bread and so delicious, I could have had a meal of bread and tarama spread alone!
Where to get it: We didn’t have a bad tarama spread, which we began ordering with every meal, but our favorite was at To Psaraki Fish Taverna, where the fish is caught fresh each day.
4. Tomato Paste
Remember how I mentioned the special cherry tomato grown only on Santorini? The tomato is called the Santorini tomato and has been submitted to the EU for PDO certification. It’s noted for its high sugar content and flavor, which is believed to come from the combination of minerals in Santorini’s special volcanic soil and that it grows with very little water. The tomato is much thicker skinned than regular cherry tomatoes and for that reason, it is often made in to tomato paste.
Before the earthquake of 1956, there were 13 tomato paste factories operating on the island. Santorini’s tomato paste is still produced and restaurants mix it up with olive oil, salt, capers, basil and oregano and serve it with a basket of bread. Tim doesn’t even like tomatoes and he was gobbling the paste up!
Where to get it: Tim doesn’t even like tomatoes and he was gobbling the paste up, so the clear winner was To Psaraki Fish Taverna!
5. Fried Calamari
Calamari is well-known all over the world, but in Greece it is usually fresh rather than frozen. Once upon a time Tim wouldn’t even touch calamari, but it became a beach vacation staple back in our St. Maarten days. Fried calamari and a Yellow Donkey hit the spot after a day of sea kayaking.
Where to get it: The calamari is indeed fresh, not frozen at Anogi, one of the best restaurants in Imerovigli. The calamari was crisp and had a bit of spicy seasoning. With just a squeeze of lemon, it’s simple and delicious.
6. Fresh Fish
There are still family owned tavernas that operate in the traditional Greek way: the father is out fishing, the son runs the restaurant, and the momma is cooking in the kitchen. The fish is so fresh, there’s no menu. You simply visit the kitchen to pick out your fish from the selection of today’s fresh catch. The fish is weighed, you’re quoted a price, and when all is agreed, off you go to enjoy a beer and some tomato paste or tarama spread while your fish is grilled up.
Where to get it: Visit To Psaraki Taverna in Vlichada, which has lovely views of the marina and beach. And if they have caught a barracuda that day, we highly recommend it!
This pastry is made in every corner of Greece, but what makes it so special in Santorini is that the sweet filling is made with Santorini pistachios grown right on the island. It takes a lot of time and expense to make, so it is a dish usually reserved for special occasions like Greek weddings and it is always served at Christmas, At Easter, it is made with 40 sheets of phyllo dough, representing the 40 days of Lent.
Where to get it: Sample Selene’s Year of Gastronomy menu and select the pistachio baklava for dessert.
Semolina is toasted in oil and then bathed in hot syrup that is flavored with cinnamon, cloves, and orange peel. It is made into a dessert that has the consistency somewhere between pudding and gelatin. Like most Greek food, the ingredient list is short and simple. Semolina halva is referred to as “1:2:3:4”; the recipe only calls for one unit of oil, two of semolina, three of sugar and four of water.
Where to get it: Halva is simple, elegant, and delicious at Anogi in Imerovigli. It’s the just the right amount of sweet to end a meal on without leaving you feeling stuffed.
9. Vinsanto Wine
Vinsanto is the famous wine of Santorini. It is made in a very specific way with late harvest grapes sun dried for 12 – 14 days. It must be at least 51% Assyrtiko grape with the remaining percentage allowed from Athiri and Aidani grape varieties. After the grapes are crushed and fermented, Vinsanto ages for a minimum of 24 months. It takes 10 kilos of grapes to make one small bottle of Vinsanto and the prices are practically double that of any other wine produced on Santorini.
Where to get it: There are 9 remaining wineries on Santorini and they all sell their own Vinsanto, aged anywhere from 4 to 45 years producing different tastes. Boutari Winery and Gavalas Winery were the winners for us and we brought home a bottle from each.
10. Red Donkey Beer
I’m not normally a beer drinker, but Red Donkey was a hit even for me. Brewed on the island at Santorini Brewing Company, the red beer is a special collection of hops including Aurora and Styrian Golding from Slovenia, Citra from Oregon, and Nelson Sauvin from New Zealand. It actually has a tropical aroma and even has tastes of tropical fruits. I liked it so much, I found myself ordering it instead of wine (I know! Tim was shocked too!) at the one and only restaurant we found that served Red Donkey.
Where to get it: Red Donkey is most easily found at the Santorini Brewing Company, where you can pick up a few bottles. Or it is served at Selene and pairs wonderfully with their grilled pork belly in Vinsanto wine sauce.