Capers Flower buds and berries are preserved in sea salt, leaves in vinegar; berries are also dried. Traditional uses include with fava, sea bass and in Santorini salad
Chloro Island goat’s cheese; the best is four to six days old. Used in sweet and savoury dishes, as a filling for pies, in salads and as a dessert with fruits and honey
Fava Dried pulse grown on many Cycladic islands, but only Santorini fava has PDO status. Served as a purée, with capers, caper leaves, olive oil and a little chopped onion, with bread on the side, or as a soup
Glyka tou koutaliou ‘Spoon sweet’, or glyko for short. Any fruit, and many small vegetables, are made into sweet, syrupy glyka – tomatoes are a Santorini favourite
Keftedes Meatballs or vegetarian versions are popular throughout Greece; on Santorini they are made with tomatoes, flour and fresh herbs and fried in olive oil
Khorta Generic term for wild greens. The best here is sea chicory, collected from cliffs and shoreline
Kritama Rock samphire, crunchy and sea-salty; often eaten pickled, but delicious fresh
Loukanika Sausages made from chopped pork mixed with wine and herbs (usually fennel), smoked, then hung in the hot wind for up to five days
Melitini Traditional Easter open pastry, now popular year-round; filled with mastic-flavoured anthotyro cheese
Petimezi Grape must; different varietals impart their own special flavour. Used in cakes, biscuits and paximathi, they’re especially good with poached figs
Saffron Collectors are immortalised in Minoan wall paintings; used today in pastries and superb island bread
Tsipouro Distilled spirit made from the vine remnants after the grapes are pressed. Sometimes made from mulberry or prickly pear. Also known as raki or tsigouthia
White aubergines Shaped like a large egg; beautiful, creamy-white and often with purple streaks. Served in many dishes when in season, and always with olive oil
beans or aubergine lathera (slow-baked in olive oil), for added flavour.’ Throughout the spring, they pick caper leaves too. ‘Only the young, tender ones, with rounded not pointed ends.’ Caper leaves are stored in vinegar and are at their best before they’re a year old. Appropriately enough, rutin-rich capers are said to alleviate the symptoms of arthritis – a reason, perhaps, that they were imported into medieval England and sold to the upper classes.
You are never far from the sea on this crescent-shaped island, but although extraordinarily beautiful, the caldera acts as a stark reminder of the fearsome power of nature. Anthi Arvaniti, one of three daughters in a long line of Akrotiri Faros (lighthouse) fishermen, is on the deck of her family’s fishing boat pointing out a tiny, whitewashed church at the base of a cliff. St Nicholas is the patron saint of fishermen, and on his birthday many congregate here in their boats. On deck, Mohammed, who has worked for Anthi’s father for 15 years, is emptying the 12 shrimp baskets that he laid and marked 300 metres offshore yesterday evening. Anthi is pleased: ‘We have about four kilos [a mid-size catch] and two octopuses. We’ll return the smaller one as it’s not big enough.’
Mohammed pulls in the nets, and for the next 30 minutes, he swiftly and steadily creates two tidy piles – one, with the net holding fish, the other without. He collects fish suitably sized for the table – tiny-beaked parrot fish (their liver is a delicacy when very fresh), cuttlefish, barbounia (red mullet – more expensive than a slave in Greek antiquity), and many in the rockfish family, and gently tosses them into a container. Inedible ‘garlic fish’ – so bony that even cephalopods won’t eat them – and smaller fish go back into the sea. ‘We [local fishermen] are working together to stop over-fishing and keep the seas fertile,’ Anthi tells me. Meanwhile, Mohammed is pulling in a 3kg eel with a small fish still in its mouth, a good-sized ray and a lobster. ‘In his taverna, my father never stores a lobster near its mortal enemy, the octopus. For in its fear the lobster will lose a great deal of its weight.’ As we head back to shore, Anthi fries shrimps for us. Never has seafood tasted better.
It tastes as good, though, in two island tavernas we visit, both owned by Cretan chefs. In Metaxy Mas, Kostas Chryssocherakis prepares meltingly tender marinated fresh tuna topped with capers and a dish of rock samphire to perfectly match a 2014 Hatzidakis. A few miles south, in Perivolos, Michalis Troulakis shows me how to make a Cretan fisherman’s dish: he places a 3-4kg whole, cleaned grouper in a heavy saucepan, adds eight small potatoes – a deep yellow colour from the volcanic soil – covers it all with sea water and lets it simmer for 40 minutes. Then he whisks lemon juice into the gelatinous liquor and serves us up a feast.
The huge respect these chefs and winemakers demonstrate for the products of their strange, sensitive terrain and ferociously hot and windy climate appears at other moments, too. As I enjoy chef Eleni Kokka’s delicious breakfast dishes at the Aressana hotel – sfougato (egg and potato pie), cheese pies with thyme honey, revani (gooey honey-soaked orange cake) – owner Evangelia Medrinou appears with a tray of plump katsouni
(Santorini cucumbers). As she cuts one in half and scoops out the seeds, she tells me, ‘We like to take katsouni to the beach, where we find a limpet, eat it, then use its serrated shell, still salty from the sea, to scoop out the sweet pulp.’
With its huge number of summer visitors, I fear for this small island’s wonderful produce, and the community of – predominantly ageing – foragers and farmers who know exactly how to find and cultivate them in difficult terrain. Because like in many aspects of life, it is out of true hardship that the finest things are grown. Rosemary Barron and Gary Latham travelled courtesy of The Greek National Tourism Organisation. visitgreece.gr
Places to visit
Akrotiri Let your imagination run wild in this wonderful Minoan city, with its cobbled streets, squares, craftsmen’s workshops and large clay pot-filled food storerooms. Its beautiful frescoes are now in museums but there’s no mistaking the ‘good life’ the Minoans built here. Check times before visiting. £10 for adults; £6 for children. 00 30 22 8608 1939
Emborio and Pyrgos Two small, hill-fort towns with narrow, twisting paths built to flummox 16th-century pirates. Allow an hour or so to explore their maze-like, traffic-free cobbled lanes, tiny churches and clever architecture.
The Museum of Prehistoric Thira Excavation finds from Akrotiri and Potamos. It’s worth visiting before Akrotiri, for information on the history and smaller artefacts. £9 with concessions. Fira, 00 30 22 8602 3217
Opposite page, from top: white aubergine at Domaine Sigalas; night-time delights with views of Oia. This page, clockwise from left: explore Fira’s cliff-clinging bars; Greek salad at Rocabella hotel; grilled sardines at To Psaraki; Hatzikadis winery label is drawn by the owner’s children
‘You are never far from the sea on this crescentshaped island,
but although extraordinarily
beautiful, the caldera acts as a stark reminder of the fearsome power of nature.’
From top: Fira perches high above the caldera; book a stay or meal here or in, Firostefani, Oia or Imerovigli for the best views over the blue waters