Taste Traditional Pomak Food at Taverna Kottani 

Situated roughly 20km off the Greek-Bulgarian border, in the municipality of Xanthi, lies a traditional Pomak taverna similar to which you will not find anywhere in the whole of Greece, it’s named Taverna Kottani. 

The two owners of the taverna, Cemil and Muzeyyen Haliloglu, are Greek Pomaks who live in the nearby village of Kottani, an isolated village inhabited by Pomaks with Cemil and Muzeyyen being the only two permanent registered inhabitants! The taverna is so well-known in the stretch of the country that even politicians and celebrities from Athens travel up here to enjoy the delicacies and the spectacular mountain views. Looking at the lush green hills expanding in front of me as I type this, I cannot fault them. 

Travelling to Taverna Kottani is tricky but worth it. You can get here by car from Xanthi but if you fly to Alexandroupoli from Athens it is best if you cross the Greek-Bulgarian border at Makaza (just off Komotini), drive up to Zlatograd and then enter Greece from the local border which is only 4km away from the city. The road through Bulgaria is much better and you get to see a bit of the neighbouring country, too. 

The road is long but the journey is calm. The landscape changes constantly as you pass through the Pomak villages of Ehinos and Thermes (with the famous hot springs and traditional baths), up to Medousa. Here, time stays still! As we entered the beautiful village of Medousa, we did not encounter a person who did not wave back at us. We saw women with colourful headscarves hand-weeding their vegetable patches, men playing their ‘koboloi’ while sipping Greek coffee, and teenagers driving their bicycles up and down the streets. The arched medieval bridge at the end of the village right next to the mosaic-covered mosque is undoubtedly the landmark of the place. We chatted with the locals who told us that the blue mosaic of the mosque denotes fruitfulness and effectiveness to the faithful. At sunset, it glitters as the walls covered in blue, radiant, tile mosaics shimmer in the sunlight. Pure magic!

The last 6 km, from the village of Medousa to Kottani are on a dirt road in a deplorable state, apparently quite popular among the motorcycle riding buddies who come up here just for the views.

Taverna Kottani is located on the top of a green hill, at the foot of which passes River Kompsatos, making the place even more calm and idyllic. The building is a two-story stone inn that is more than 200 years old. Cemil told us that he was born in this very house and he lived in the building up until the ’70s. As it belonged to his great-grandfather, he wanted to preserve everything as it was by keeping the rooms with their original furniture and everyday items. Indeed, on the top floor, the walls are covered with family pictures, there are folklore Pomak uniforms on display, the tables are covered with hand-embroidered cloths, and in the kitchen, there is a beautiful tea set nicely arranged on the counter. 

The actual taverna with the open kitchen is on the ground floor where you will see Muzeyyen cooking, layering pastry phyllo, and baking in the traditional oven. Cemil is the master of the grilling, she tells me proudly as I go down the stairs, “I do the cooking using old recipes that have been passed down to us from our grandmothers.” 

Insights Greece - Taste Traditional Pomak Food at Taverna Kottani 

The menu varies seasonally but a few of their famous dishes are the cheese pie and patatnik (potato pie), the grilled aubergines with cheese on top, tas kebabs, wild boar stew, and the famous sweetbreads glukadia.

As we were enjoying our meal, Cemil joined us and confessed with much sadness that despite the taverna’s success the government only provided electricity to Kottani in 1998. Add to that the fact that the road connecting Kottani to Medousa still has not been built and that there is no internet coverage in the area, makes it quite difficult. “Winters are quite harsh, he said, limiting us to operate the taverna only during the weekends. And we only accept cash payments as there is no wifi connection for a POS.” 

We tried to finish our meal on a happy note and talked about his family and grandchildren under the sound of birds chirping and falling waters from the nearby canyon.

Cemil and Muzeyyen are two proud lovers of tradition and their roots who will welcome you in their taverna all year round. Even though the taverna is off the beaten path, the food, the views, and the fantastic hospitality will leave a sweet taste in your mouth. It will also give you an insight into the friendly, picturesque Pomak villages with their close-knit communities and people whose faces shine like children when they talk to you. If there is a magic potion of happiness, perhaps the Pomaks have already found it!

Images by Anastasia Fountouli ©

Culinary Delights in Santorini: A Gastronomic Journey Through Top Restaurants

Santorini, a stunning Greek island in the Aegean Sea, is not only renowned for its breathtaking sunsets and charming blue-domed buildings but also for its delectable culinary scene.

The island boasts a plethora of restaurants that offer a diverse range of dishes, blending traditional Greek flavors with modern culinary techniques. From seaside tavernas with panoramic views to cozy eateries tucked away in narrow alleys, Santorini’s dining options cater to every palate. Here’s a comprehensive guide to some of the best restaurants on this enchanting island.

OiaAmmoudi Fish Taverna: Nestled at the base of the iconic cliffs in Oia, Ammoudi Fish Taverna offers a quintessential Greek dining experience. Known for its fresh seafood, this waterfront taverna allows guests to savor the catch of the day while enjoying uninterrupted views of the caldera. The grilled octopus and lobster pasta are standout dishes, complemented by the warm and friendly service.

FiraArgo Restaurant: Situated in the heart of Fira, Argo Restaurant is celebrated for its traditional Greek cuisine with a modern twist. The expansive terrace overlooks the caldera, providing a mesmerizing backdrop for a romantic dinner. The menu features a variety of mezze, moussaka, and succulent lamb dishes. Don’t miss the opportunity to pair your meal with a local Assyrtiko wine.

AkrotiriTo Psaraki: For a taste of authentic Greek cuisine away from the bustling tourist areas, To Psaraki in Akrotiri is a hidden gem. The restaurant, located by the beach, specializes in seafood, and the grilled sardines and calamari are highly recommended. The rustic setting and the sound of the waves create a serene atmosphere.

Pyrgos Selene Restaurant: Located in the traditional village of Pyrgos, Selene Restaurant is a culinary institution on the island. Renowned for its commitment to using local, organic ingredients, the restaurant offers a gastronomic journey through Santorini’s flavors. The tasting menu allows diners to savor a variety of innovative dishes paired with exceptional Greek wines.

KamariTo Pinakio: If you find yourself on the black sand beach of Kamari, To Pinakio is a charming taverna that captures the essence of Greek hospitality. With a menu featuring grilled meats, moussaka, and fresh salads, this family-run restaurant offers a relaxed atmosphere and is an excellent choice for a leisurely lunch by the sea.

PerissaTranquilo: For a laid-back and trendy dining experience, head to Tranquilo in Perissa. This beachfront restaurant and cocktail bar combine Greek and international flavors, offering an eclectic menu with options like sushi, burgers, and creative cocktails. The vibrant atmosphere and live music make it a favorite among locals and visitors alike.

MegalochoriRaki: Tucked away in the picturesque village of Megalochori, Raki is a traditional taverna known for its homestyle Greek dishes. The welcoming ambiance and friendly service create a sense of dining in a local home. The moussaka and souvlaki are crowd-pleasers, and the extensive wine list showcases the best of Santorini’s vineyards.

FirostefaniVanilia: With its romantic setting and candlelit tables, Vanilia in Firostefani is a popular choice for couples seeking a memorable dining experience. The menu features a mix of Greek and Mediterranean cuisine, with an emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients. The sea bass and prawn linguine are highly recommended, and the extensive wine list complements the diverse menu.

Exo GoniaMetaxi Mas: For a truly authentic experience, venture to the inland village of Exo Gonia and discover Metaxi Mas. Housed in a historic building, this taverna exudes charm and serves classic Greek dishes prepared with a homemade touch. The grilled meats, stuffed vine leaves, and local wine selection make it a favorite among both locals and tourists.

International traveler

Obtaining a travel visa depends on various factors, including your nationality, the country you plan to visit, and the purpose and duration of your trip. visa requirements can change, so it’s crucial to check the most recent and reliable information from official government sources or the embassy/consulate of the country you plan to visit. Always start the visa application process well in advance to avoid any last-minute complications.

To wrap it up, Santorini’s culinary scene is as diverse and enchanting as its landscapes. Whether you prefer dining by the sea, on a cliffside terrace, or in a charming village, the island offers a wealth of options to satisfy every taste. From traditional Greek tavernas to upscale restaurants showcasing modern gastronomy, Santorini’s eateries promise a delightful journey through the flavors of the Mediterranean. So, indulge in the local cuisine, savor the wines, and let the magic of Santorini’s dining experiences enhance your unforgettable island getaway.

A Connoisseur’s Guide to the Finest Greek Wines

We chat with Greece’s first Master Sommelier Eleftherios Hanialidis for the inside scoop on his curated guide to the must-try Greek wine regions, perfect pairings, and some of his favourite spots to savour fine wines around Greece.

Interview by Gina Lionatos 

First up, congratulations on your recently appointed Master Sommelier status! The Master Sommelier’s Diploma exam is the world’s most challenging wine examination, and there are just 300 of you around the globe (and now, 1 in Greece). What does it take to become a Master Sommelier? 

It was a long process that took me years of studying and training. My average day started at 5:30 am with studying and tasting wines from around the world. After a full day’s work, I would often spend the late afternoons in blind tasting sessions. As you can imagine I had to prioritize, so there was not so much free time for a social life and to be honest, I don’t regret it. I feel blessed to have achieved my dream and I really hope I can help and motivate others who have an interest in wine to follow theirs.

It’s rare to be in the company of such a wine expert, so, let’s talk about wine! Which are some of the Greek wine regions (and producers) that you’re most excited about at the moment? 

Mantinia is making some great aromatic wines from the Moschofilero grape. Producers like Troupis and Tselepos are exploring the potential of this grape variety, by creating innovative expressions that are really impressive. 

Kefalonia is another region that makes a difference, in my opinion, with the Robola grape. Producers like Sclavos, Panos Sarris and Gentilini, each create their own interpretation of this amazing grape variety and their farming approaches range from low-intervention and biodynamic to single-vineyard bottlings.

Naousa in Northern Greece has always been one step ahead, and it continues to raise the bar higher and higher as time goes by. In this region, the Xinomavro grape makes breathtaking and age-worthy red wines that have nothing to envy from other “high-end” wines from legendary regions of the world. We come across some great classic examples from producers like Foundis and Karydas, but also more “polished” and modern approaches from Apostolos Thymiopoulos and Kostis Dalamaras. 

Last but not least, Santorini has been in the spotlight for quite some time with the Assyrtiko grape, responsible for very characteristic, mineral-driven, age-worthy white wines.

Even for the Oenophiles among us, perusing wine menus in Greece can sometimes be daunting for those who want to try the local offering. What are some Greek wine varieties that everyone should try when in Greece, and what might we pair them with?

Let’s start with white…

An exceptional wine, that is also extremely well-priced, is Roditis 2021 from Tetramythos Winery, which shows the great potential of this grape with its refreshing and complex character. It can be paired with a wide variety of dishes but I think fried small fish, like Atherina would be great. 

Another wonderful white wine is Robola of Kefalonia Panochori 2022 from Panos Sarris, sourced from high-altitude old vines giving a superb mineral-driven wine that would be ideal to be paired with deep-fried cod or a grilled lemon chicken. 

As for red…

I have to mention Xinomavro Reserve “Barba Yannis” Old Vines 2019 from Alpha Estate of the Amyndeon region, an excellent example of this grape variety showcasing its depth, complexity and elegance. A great classic pairing would be roasted lamb or beef stew.

Limniona 2021 from Oenops Winery, perfectly displays the elegance and fruit purity of the Limniona grape. A great pairing suggestion would be Greek baked meatballs in red sauce. 

Pet Nat, Orange and Retsina reimagined!

As for new-trend wines, Mylonas Pet Nat from Savatiano Grape is impressive, as is Kidonitsa Orange 2022 from Gofas Winery

Last but not least, it is worth tracking down some quality Retsina wines, like Tear of the Pine from Kechris and Pine Forest from Gikas Winery! 

I have to agree with you, sampling Tear of the Pine changed my perception of Retsina for the better! So now that we’ve explored the wines of Greece, what are some of your favourite spots to stop in for a glass of wine in Athens and also around Greece? 

Oinoscent and Materia Prima stand out for me in Athens. They are both great wine bars with great wine selections and friendly staff. Chef John Tsikoudakis at Oinoscent makes some of the best dishes I have ever come across in any wine bar in Greece. 

I should also mention Paleo in Piraeus and Warehouse in Exarcheia (Athens) which both have great wine selections and should not be missed by any wine-lover visiting Athens. 

For those visiting Northern Greece, I highly recommend Classico Bistro Moderne wine restaurant in Thessaloniki, Terroir Wine Restaurant in Kozani and Dionisos Restaurant in Pella.

Ouzo, Watermelon and Mint Granita Recipe 

The anise flavour of ouzo and the sweetness of watermelon come together in this granita to make the perfect after-dinner digestif that’s best served on a warm summer’s night. 

Serves 4

Ingredients

-230 g (1 cup) caster (superfine) sugar

-50 ml (13/4 fl oz) freshly squeezed lime juice

-1 kg (2 lb 3 oz) watermelon, peeled and roughly chopped

-80 ml (1/3 cup) ouzo 

-large handful of mint leaves, finely chopped, plus extra leaves to serve

Method

-Place the sugar and lime juice in a saucepan over low heat, bring to a simmer, stirring, for 5–6 minutes, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

-Meanwhile, place the watermelon in a blender and blitz until smooth. Strain the juice through a fine-mesh sieve into a measuring jug (you will need 600 ml/201/2 fl oz of juice) and pour into the lime sugar syrup, along with the ouzo and chopped mint, stirring to combine.

-Pour the granita mixture into a 1 litre (34 fl oz) capacity shallow tray and freeze for 1 hour. Use a fork to scrape the mixture from the edges of the tray into the centre, then spread out again. Return to the freezer for 30 minutes and repeat the process until the granita is completely frozen into a sandy texture of ice crystals.

-To serve, scoop the granita into glasses and top with extra mint leaves.

This recipe has been shared with IN+SIGHTS GREECE courtesy of Helena and Vikki Moursellas.

You can find this recipe and many more Greek feast ideas in their new book Peinao, out now. 

Kafeneion Ermis, One of the Oldest Cafes in Greece 

Kafeneion Ermis in Mytilini is one of the most historic and oldest cafes in Greece- with the antique décor and authentic vibe reflecting the traditional living history of the entire space. 

Having first opened its doors in 1922 in Ali Agats (nowadays known as Aliağa) in Asia Minor, by the Spanoudakis family – during the Great Smyrna Catastrophe they took Turkish coffee from the bank as an exchangeable commodity and moved to Mytilini, where they opened Kafeneion Ermis. It quickly became a place that was visited by working-class people as well as great local, political figures of the time and artists including Theofilos and Stratis Myrivilis.

Today, a fourth generation of the Spanoudakis family has taken over the business, with Eirini Laskari (along with her mum Kyveli) returning to the island to continue her grandparent’s legacy. 

We had the chance to chat with Eirini about Kafeneion Ermis and her love of keeping her family’s traditions alive. 

How do you feel having taken over such a historic café?  

I feel particularly lucky that this historic place landed in our hands. It is very moving to think that where I spend most of my day, generations back have, respectively, spent their days too. I can sense their existence in every detail and corner of the Kafeneion. The old floor with tiles that are well over 100 years old, the ceiling with the antique air ducts – everything inside this space reminds us of the past and instantly transfers visitors into another century! However, like any other business on the island, it takes lots of sacrifices and commitment to keep it going. 

Describe a typical workday for you

I start work at around 9 a.m., which is much better than the 4 a.m. that I was used to a few years back. First on our list is to order all the ingredients we need, and then we start to prepare the appetizers. In the morning we serve freshly baked Greek coffee, teas, homemade lemonade and spoon sweets. During lunchtime, we serve a range of dishes, ouzo and wine. In the afternoon some coffee and then more appetizers and ouzo during the evening.

What are your favourite appetizers on the menu?

All the meze recipes are from old Asia Minor, and they have been handed down to us from our grandmothers. Visitors must try the Smyrna meatballs, wine-braised octopus, cuttlefish with vinegar, giuslemedes (traditional cheese pies), zucchini flowers stuffed with rice or cheese, sougania (local onion dumplings), and last but not least the white beans and fava from peas – which may sound simple, but they are delicately prepared. Another hit is the imam bayildi with eggplants and the wine-braised spleen, which is one of my Grandfather’s recipes.

Do you still have well-known people visiting? 

Over the years, we have hosted numerous cooking and travel shows from Greece and abroad. We have visitors from the entertainment world, artists, and political figures, who are either on holiday or on a business trip and come in to see us. It is a very famous café, mentioned throughout itineraries and travel books to Mytilini – not only because of its historic importance but also because our menu is truly unique and delicious.

Tell us about the products and ingredients used in your dishes. 

Most of the ingredients we use in our kitchen are locally sourced. Our focus is on products that come from the island of Lesvos and the Aegean Sea, however, if there is a certain ingredient that we cannot find on the island then we source it from other parts of Greece. We strictly follow “seasonality”, and this is what gives variety and freshness to our dishes. “Everything in its time,” as Greeks say! That is why Lesvos must be seen and tasted, throughout all seasons of the year.

What other places would you highly recommend when visiting Lesvos? 

It’s a big island and you will most certainly need a car to explore and see it all. The first city a visitor meets upon arriving on the island is Mytilini. Visit the famous 6th-century castle, perched on a steep hill – as it offers the best views of the city and harbour. Spend some time at the aristocratic Kioski neighbourhood located just below the castle, go for a stroll around the new and old port to admire the 40m tall dome of Agios Therapontos church and have a wander around the historic refugee neighbourhood of Epano Skala. Then, there is the Carsi Hamam, the Yeni Djami and Valide Mosque, the Ancient Theatre and the various archaeological sites that are scattered around the city. Other must-see places are the village of Petra- known for the church of Panagia Glikofilousa, the stone-built village of Molyvos with the magnificent castle, the healing springs of Eftalou, Sikaminia, Plomari, the Castle of Agioi Theodoroi (also known as Ovriokastro) on the peninsula of ancient Antissa and Sigri Park where you can see the Petrified Forest of Lesvos.

A: 2 Kornarou Street, Epano Skala, Mytilini

Experience the Flavours of Autumn

Ranging from Michelin-seasoned chefs to open flame sunset dining, these gastronomic events taking place around Greece showcase the best of seasonal farming and produce throughout the Autumn months.

KEFI EXPERIENCE GASTRONOMIC RETREAT

This three-day multi-event getaway is the perfect escape for those who want to experience Greek gastronomy by connecting with local producers and enjoying unique, curated food experiences.

Where: Guests will be accommodated at a modern villa located in Agioi Theodoroi facing the Gulf of Megara, located 1hour outside of Athens. The activities will take place around Nemea and Corinthia, in the Peloponnese. 

When: Thursday, October 5 – Sunday, October 8 (retreat runs for three days)

What’s special about it? The Kefi Experience focuses on providing a deep dive into Greek gastronomy, specifically that of the northern Peloponnese. Guests will go to an olive grove and pistachio farm to sample and taste what makes the fall season so unique in the region. By going beyond the well-known destinations, you’ll meet local farmers, cultivators, and chefs. Special culinary events include an exclusive open flame 6-course meal with an organic natural wine pairing, all in a sunset location. All the details are seen to by the Kefi Experience team over the course of the 3 days. 

Cost: The full 3-night stay starts at €1200 for one person (twin room) and €2700 for 2 people (double room, en-suite). Mention IN+SIGHTS GREECE when enquiring and you’ll receive a 15% discount. 

Want to check out some of the curated events but can’t spend the full 3 days away? Special day passes (without transfers) are also available starting from €250.

What it includes: The cost of accommodation (three nights) with a private pool and beach access, and all experiences are covered in the ticket. This includes all meals and special dining events, drinks, a pistachio farm visit and sampling, an olive grove visit and tasting, a vineyard visit and tasting, and all transfers. 

Ideal for: Solo travelers and/or couples/friends looking for a getaway to relax and take a deep dive into Greek culture and the gastronomic scene.

Tickets/more info: kefi-experience or @‌kefi_experience

MONA’S SUPPER CLUB SERIES – FALL EDITION  

Following the success of its Supper Club Series in June 2023, Mona returns this Autumn with a new programme of pop-up culinary events at its downtown “Living Room” space in Monastiraki. The sold-out Summer edition featured a melange of international guest chefs and cuisines from Italy, Taiwan and the Middle East, and the Fall series of events promises to be just as enticing, featuring chefs seasoned in Michelin-star restaurants ranging from Turkish-Italian farm to table, to Greek herbs and seafood purism to a creative tasting menu touching upon French, Italian, Japanese and Nordic influences.

Where: Mona Athens Hotel

When: The series of dinner events will take place from late September through to early November.

September 26 + 27 – Stories from the soil | Chef Osman Serdaroglou, Izmir

October 18 – Herbs and Ocean Tales | Andreas Nikolakopoulos, Greece

October 31+ November 1 – The Eclectic Tasting | Federico Vigano, Zurich

What’s special about it? The invited chefs will be showcasing their dedication to seasonal fare across five dates. Each distinctive dinner will be paired with a selection of Greek natural wines, all served to an accompaniment of eclectic tunes in the setting of Mona’s intimate restaurant space.

Cost: Tickets range from €55-65.

Ideal for: Foodies, solo or groups, who appreciate interesting flavours and crave a social aspect to dining out.

Tickets/more info: more.com

PARADISO ATHENS OUTDOOR SERIES

Paradiso events transform ordinary spaces around Athens for guests to enjoy seasonal food and sample natural wines in a beautifully designed setting.

Where: This series of intimate dining events will take place at a secret location within the National Garden in the center of Athens.

When: Over the weekend of 22-24 September, you can opt for an early evening experience on Friday 22 September, or enjoy the mild midday sun on Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 September. 

What’s special about it? Every Paradiso event links design, culture, food and wine in a comfortable social setting. Guests may show up as strangers but they’ll often leave as friends. 

Cost: €60 for wine tasting and meal. Products used are exclusively seasonal and organic ingredients from Greece. Wines will be curated by Habiba wines, an exciting boutique winemaker.

Ideal for: Anyone with a passion for food, wine and design will appreciate the details that go into the experience curated by Paradiso. The social environment makes it ideal for solo visitors as well as couples or smaller groups.  

Tickets/more info: available via @paradiso_athens

Chat With Chef Alexandros Tsiotinis

Award-winning chef Alexandros Tsiotinis talks about his journey to opening up his own restaurant, his favourite cuisine, and which ingredient he loves cooking with most. 

Born and raised in Athens, Tsiotinis’ interest in food began at a young age, and his desire to become an innovative chef led him to Paris, where he worked alongside culinary pioneers such as Alain Passard, Helene Darroze, Eric Frechon and Pascal Barbot. 

It’s no surprise Tsiotinis would go on to achieve great things, including the opening of CTC Urban Gastronomy, a Michelin-awarded restaurant in Athens’ Keramaikos neighbourhood. Featuring both an elegant terrace and a cozy indoor dining space, here, Tsiotinis invites “guests” to sit back and enjoy a memorable dining experience via his creative degustation menu, which consists of one transcendently impressive dish after the other.

During our recent chat, he also let us in on where to go to taste the freshest fish! Read on to discover more. 

Tell us a bit about your childhood and how it influenced your passion for food. 

When I was a child, my Sunday table was always a point of reference. My family’s love of food and that nice feeling of sitting around a table is what made me realise that this is what I want my everyday life to be like.

When did you start your career as a chef? 

When I was 17, right before finishing school, I decided to become a chef. Soon after that, at 18, I entered culinary school.

How did you find the transition from Athens to Paris? 

After I began my studies in Athens, I realised that not only did I really like this profession, but that it also suited me. At the same time, I noticed the focus in Greece was far behind and if I wanted to improve, I needed to see things from a different perspective. Paris (and France in general) is the Mecca of gastronomy, so I decided my culinary future should unfold there.

What led you to open your own restaurant in Athens? 

To me, a chef must be a traveller to gain both experience and knowledge from around the world. I also believe a chef should complete his “journey” at home. So, I decided to return to Athens and create my own space where I could express myself freely. 

Having received so many accolades, including a Michelin star, what’s been the highlight of your career so far?  

I really believe in crossroads, and I think the two most important ones for me were the day I started culinary school, followed by May 1st, 2015 when I became a restaurateur. This move opened up a completely different world for me.

What influences your creative dishes at CTC Urban Gastronomy? 

Absolutely everything. Any image, taste, or even a memory can be transformed into a dish.

What standout dish have you created that’s been a huge hit with your guests? 

I’ll tell you about a dish that was created within ten minutes and has been with me for the last ten years. It’s our signature sweetcorn velouté flavoured with lobster, truffle and a bergamot espuma. You will find this dish on all our menus.

Which ingredient do you love cooking with most?   

I love citrus. I admire the way its flavours change like a chameleon; becoming sour, bitter, or even sweet- depending on the needs of each dish.

Having travelled the world, what country has impressed you with its cuisine? 

I must mention France, with its culinary culture that captivates me to this day. But also Japan. As with everything else, the Japanese have created an incredible philosophy around food, which they adhere to.

Your ideal way to spend an afternoon away from the kitchen?  

At home with friends, watching movies, playing games, and having a laugh. 

What excites you most about Athens’ current dining scene? 

That the locals have now become more knowledgeable about food. That they’re interested in something different. And they are embracing new efforts.

Finally, if you had friends from overseas visiting Athens for the first time, where would you take them for a night out? 

To Kavos in Corinth, where they can discover the real taste of fresh fish. 

Whipped Feta, Chargrilled Piperiés and Almonds Recipe

There is always a dip or two on most Greek dining tables. Here, Greek-style yoghurt provides a creamy and smooth base for tangy, salty and crumbly feta, which, once combined, creates a dreamy bowl that pairs perfectly with the smoky peppers and roasted almonds. 

Note: Serves 4 

Ingredients

-250 g (9 oz) Greek feta, roughly chopped

-180 g (6 & 1/2 oz) Greek-style yoghurt

-150 g (5 & 1/2) Roasted red piperiés or store-bought roasted red peppers (capsicums), finely sliced into strips

-35 g (1/4 cup) roasted almonds, roughly chopped

-1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Method

-In a food processor, pulse the feta and yoghurt for 1–2 minutes, until smooth.

-Take care not to over-whip the mixture or it will become too runny.

-To serve, spoon the whipped feta into a shallow serving bowl, top with the sliced piperiés and chopped almonds, and drizzle with the oil.

This recipe has been shared with IN+SIGHTS GREECE courtesy of Helena and Vikki Moursellas.

You can find this recipe and many more Greek feast ideas in their new book Peinao, out September 2023.

Grizo & Prasino: Organic Tea Experts

Grizo & Prasino is a family, all-things-tea-related business run by husband and wife Kostas and Aggeliki, from their botanical farm in Thrace. The seed for this idea was planted almost a decade ago and the couple took its first steps towards making it happen right after their wedding day! We recently had a chat with the duo to discover their story.

Tell me more about yourself and your company Grizo & Prasino!

In 2012, Kostas and I got married and we spent the money that our family and friends gave us for the wedding to buy the equipment for our first business (similar to Grizo & Prasino) called ‘Drogi Biological Herbs’.

As an agriculture engineer, Kostas had a personal interest in herbs and aromatic plants since 2008- I have vivid memories of his enthusiasm each time he would taste a new herb. I also had a bee in my bonnet for their medicinal properties and read every book under the sun about them. At the same time, we run our separate businesses, I, as a lawyer and Kostas, as an Organic Farming consultant. It was these jobs that would fuel the bank and allow us to make our hobby happen and turn it into a business. In 2016, things changed with the arrival of our baby. Our time was limited so we decided to turn into business coaching to get more information about running a business and how this hobby of ours could potentially turn into our full-time income source.

In 2017, after a serious health issue, I decided to leave my career in law and so Grizo & Prasino was born at the end of the same year. Since then many things have changed – the way we work, the time we dedicated to the farm, and even our original goals! We grow as our business grows and we learn from our mistakes. Thankfully we make plenty of them!

How did it feel when you had your first sale?

I cannot remember much about our first sale however what I do remember is that by the time our website went live in December 2017, we were exhausted! We had spent so much time building our branding strategy, setting up the website and clearly communicating who we are, our vision and values; that when we started receiving positive feedback from our friends and loved ones we felt pride, happiness and an impatience to see where this would lead us.

Where in Rodopi do you go foraging?

Wild foraging at a commercial level could be harmful to nature so we have our own farm where we cultivate the herbs we use. We steer away from practices that would potentially damage the environment and our customers. Take as an example the case of Malotira in Crete, the famous Cretan tea that is nearly extinct due to over-foraging. Then, there is always the matter of quality consistency. With wild foraging you cannot control certain parameters such as the rainfall and the conditions of the top and sub-soil, that affect the taste, flavour and therapeutical properties of the herbs.

What do you love more about this job?

We both followed our dream, quit our day jobs and turned our hobby into our business, working every day on something that we both love. It wasn’t an easy task but our love for botanology and herbs gives us the strength to keep going. There is an innumerable number of products that could be based on herbs and I am not even sure if one life is enough to learn all about them and apply them to our products. Grizo & Prasino allows us to be creative, to constantly think of new ideas and make them happen. It is also a job that brings us closer to nature as we spend plenty of time on the farm. But beyond everything else, it is a job that allows us to produce commodities that helps others and makes their life better. We don’t just sell stuff, we believe in their magic, too!

How has your life changed since Grizo and Prasino?

I am not going to bore you with the details but, as I mentioned, I used to be a lawyer so you could say that life has changed massively ever since. I no longer chase deadlines nor do I have to support cases I am not agreeing with. I am not visiting the farm as frequently as Kostas does but when I do it does me good and I it lifts my spirit. As for Kostas, even though he is an agriculture engineer and working as a consultant for all those years, he too found himself getting out of the office more than he used to. If you knew Kostas in real life, you would see that the outdoors suit him more than the office. He loves agroecology and trying new practices for our farm. Some of those practices look outdated but they are far from it! He is always on the hunt for new practices and techniques that are applied on other farms in Greece and abroad. It is a very creative process and come to think of it, creating a farm is like painting on a larger scale, isn’t it?

What are your top places around Komotini to reconnect with nature?

We love the little village of Pandroso and the beach of Molyvoti (also known as Kursumlu). Those are the first places that come to mind when we need to get some fresh air and enjoy the great outdoors. Rodopi is full of interesting places to visit and it is truly amazing how there are still so many pristine and unspoiled spots to explore.

Last but not least, what are your favourite Grizo and Prasino tea flavours and
which flavour one must definitely try?

My preferences vary with the change of seasons. Around this time of the year, I like to drink the “exhale” (sage, pergamot and juniper root), but before that, I frantically drank “mantarili” (mandarin, honeysuckle and chamomile). However, the flavour that I love and keep going back to again and again is the “xana & xana” (rosemary, althaea and louiza) with no sugar, please. Kostas’s favourite is the “orange tzitzimenta” (mint, ginger and orange) and he believes it’s the best of our creations! I guess he is a mint kind of guy as he also likes “pu & pu” (mint, sage and calendula) no sugar for him either.

Images by Anna Paraskevidou- art traces ©

 

Best Greek Wines to Pair With Chocolate

Every year on July 7th World Chocolate Day allows chocolate lovers around the world to indulge in their favourite treat without any guilt. And to celebrate we’ve rounded up the best Greek wines to pair with the chocolate of your choice.

Over the years, Valentine’s Day has become synonymous with chocolate, in the consciousness of the world. But each year, on July 7, we commemorate chocolate’s introduction to Europe in 1550.

Chocolate offers a broad range of flavors and flavor complexity, just like wine. When wine and chocolate are paired successfully, the result raises both elements to a higher level and creates a perfect duo for the tongue and mouth. 

Insights Greece - Best Greek Wines to Pair With Chocolate
Chocolate and wine

As with any pairing of food and wine, there are no set rules. Palates are subjective and experimentation is the key to discovering new loves. However, there are some tips and established norms for those who prefer shortcuts over trial and error. Let’s see some pairing suggestions below. 

Dark Chocolate 

Dark chocolates with 70% to 100% cacao are the most intense. By definition, dark chocolate contains a minimum of 35% cocoa solids. They have a rich flavor and they call for a wine that offers full-body, robust aromas and intense flavor sketches with bold fruit. A Zinfandel wine would do the job in this case, but The Zinfandel variety is not vinified in Greece so dark chocolate lovers won’t be able to combine their favorite chocolate with an appropriate wine. Ok, I’m joking. Cabernet Sauvignon and dark chocolate usually work well together, because Cabernet Sauvignon is generally full-bodied and it needs to be matched with intense flavors, so raising the cocoa content in the chocolate is key.

As the cocoa content decreases (50% and below) we may consider a wine from Syrah or Merlot grapes. 

If I had to opt for some Greek labels, those would be the Avlotopi of Tselepos Estate, an 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and the Les Rois Des Montagnes of Papargyriou Winery, an intense and concentrated 100% Syrah wine.

White Chocolate

Even though it is referred to as white chocolate, this dessert isn’t technically true chocolate as it doesn’t include cocoa, but cocoa butter, sugar and milk solids. Its sweet flavors of cream, milk, honey, vanilla, caramel, or fruit make it quite a versatile pair with wine. Italy’s Moscato d’Asti with its subtle bubbles would make an ideal candidate. Another route, for pairing wine with white chocolate, based on Greek vinifications is Muscat, which tends to be lightly aromatic and fruity, i.e. characteristics that lift and refresh the palate. Gewürztraminer with its slight sweetness plus typical lychee fruit tends to also hold up quite well to the buttery mouthfeel and intense profile of white chocolate.

Recommended labels: Lenga, a semi sweet Gewürztraminer from Avantis Estate and Lagopati, a Muscat of Alexandria, Limnos from Chatzigeorgiou Winery. 

Milk Chocolate 

Milk chocolate has a smaller percentage of cocoa and a higher percentage of sugar, compared with dark chocolate. This factor, plus the milk content means it’s milder, and sweeter transmitting flavors of brown sugar, cocoa, vanilla, honey, caramel, milk, cream and nuts. The ripe, red fruit and often lighter body and silky tannins of a Pinot Noir or a medium-bodied Merlot will match well with the smooth character and cocoa butter components of milk chocolate. From Greek varieties, an Agiorgitiko could also hold up quite well to the mild mouthfeel and integrated profile of milk chocolate. Also, a sparkling wine could pair well. The bright acidity and fusion of bubbles bring out the intense fruit flavors and chocolate accents particularly well. 

Suggested labels: Aurelia Sparkling from Zoinos Winery and Nemea from Gofas Estate i.e. a 100% Agiorgitiko. 

If you are being skeptical about the above combinations and have doubts, you should go with a classic. The rich textures, ripe fruit factors, hints of chocolate and sweet profile of sweet Mavrodaphne makes it a no-brainer for pairing with many kinds of milk and dark chocolate choices.

Summers in Greece are very hot and chocolate consumption decreases during the summer months. The 7th of July is in the heart of the Greek summer and if a chocolate bar seems an unlikely option, then… how about celebrating the day with a refreshing chocolate ice cream … 

So, if you want to enjoy a scoop of your favorite ice cream alongside your glass of wine, look for a sweet, ruby-hued, semi-sparkling dessert wine with floral notes and hints of red berries.

Insights Greece - Best Greek Wines to Pair With Chocolate
Akakies

Akakies Sparkling from Kir Yianni Estate is an easy-to-find and budget-friendly option. Add fresh raspberries or strawberries to this already delicious combination. Perfection!

So, whether you enjoy a simple chocolate bar or something more elaborate, remember that with a bit of flexibility and delicious experimentation, you are sure to find remarkable wine and chocolate pairings that achieve the balance and seamless synergy of a well-paired union.

Happy “World Chocolate Day!”

For more wonderful wine explorations, follow George on Instagram @george.winestories

 

Niko Koulousias, Greek Chef Selected by the Royals

Distinguished Greek chef Niko Koulousias, who descends from Neapoli in Kozani, has been working with leading restaurants in England selected by the Royal family and in 2018, he was chosen among dozens of other top chefs to prepare the menu for the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle; this year Niko also created dishes for the Queen’s 70 Year Jubilee celebrations. 

By Julia Vagiani 

Since he was a child, Niko knew that cooking would be his life choice. In an interview, he said “Instead of playing football or any other games with children from my neighborhood, I was at my uncle’s vegetable garden. I enjoyed watching how vegetables grow and smell.”

By sixteen, when he could finally follow his dream, Niko enrolled in a culinary school. He holds a diploma and degree in culinary arts from New England Culinary Art Institute as well as a Culinary Master’s degree from Claude Dornier-Schule Friedrichshafen. He also holds other professional certificates in culinary Arts and business facilitation with vast experience in the hospitality industry; especially all over the world.

Niko is a globetrotter chef who is also usually referred to as “Future Nokia” by his peers, based on the trait of connecting people and entities together all over the globe for business and other professional purposes. He is phenomenal in bringing like-minded individuals together to work out potentially viable plans for regular business, he is also a Business Representative Partner in charge of Europe’s operation.  

Another great achievement of Niko was when he played an instrumental role in the building and growth of the Ghana Chef association as a professional chef in Ghana. His skills of influence have taken him to the corridors of power for numerous governments in the world and he has previously cooked for several world-famous personalities. 

Niko has an enviable approach to marketing and presentation of products to prospective clients from a European perspective, which most of the time ends up in business relationships. One of these classical traits was demonstrated through his achievement of linking Ducasse Education of Paris to establish a culinary art school in Lebanon and being one of the numerous chefs that did the catering for Harry and Meghan’s royal wedding in England, because of his cooperation with one of the shops that were in the “Crown List”, which is a list of suppliers chosen by the palace. That event, lead to winning Queen Elizabeth’s trust and the recent taking over the coordination and organisation of the Queen’s 70th Jubilee celebration, and for the second time, he left his gastronomic “seal” in the palace.

In 2007, Niko was named “Best Chef in Northern Greece” and has since received several awards for his rich cooking with spices, truffle, Kozani’s saffron and honey, ingredients based on the Greek cuisine. He dearly loves Greece and wears the Greek flag on his chef’s clothes. “The Greek flag means a lot to me. I want to show our flag, to talk about our culture, our lifestyle, and our history. Naturally, I get strength when I can wear it on me, I feel proud to be Greek”. 

His latest plan is to choose geographical spots and restaurants across Greece and other regions, who wish to host the chef’s vision. Niko’s desire is to offer a unique experience by inviting everyone on a journey of sensory education in the “origin of taste” that was born to offer a simple but fundamental approach to gastronomy, for culinary enthusiasts.

Experience Cretan Culture With a Food Tour in Chania

Chania is known for its wonderful people, warm hospitality, and fresh produce. And if you would like to learn about the Cretan cuisine and culture, this unique food and wine tour run by a local will allow you to experience all the gastronomical delights this beautiful city has to offer on foot. 

Awaken your senses as you leisurely stroll through the picturesque streets of Chania that are adorned with a fascinating history; and immerse yourself in the aromas and flavours of Cretan cuisine, as a hospitable local Cretan host guides you to spots where you can taste authentic savoury and sweet treats. 

Kelly Michelakis from The Greek Odyssey, says her tours are designed for guests to “learn about the food that makes Crete so special, as you will be able to sample many Cretan delicacies and learn what the Cretan culture is all about by a local. 

“Sip on a Greek coffee and enjoy every bite of the famous Cretan bougatsa, as well as enjoy a light lunch at an iconic Cretan eatery. Our guests can learn about the different cakes and biscuits on display as we browse the local bakery, sample Greece’s famous loukoumades, try local cheese that you can’t find elsewhere and view the regional and seasonal produce of the passionate traders who are so proud to share their knowledge,” says Kelly. 

With two tours currently available, there is a three-hour Food Day Tour through the backstreets and little-known pockets; where guests can sample Cretan specialties, in between visiting some old traditional stores to learn about Cretan culture and heritage.

There is also a Food and Wine Night Tour that allows guests to taste Cretan delicacies as they sip on local wine and spirits. This is where you can enjoy every bite of traditional Cretan appetizer, while admiring the stunning views of the city by night.

To learn more head to The Hellenic Odyssey