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 ©

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 


-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


-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.

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 

Connect With Local People, Places and Culture When Visiting Greece 

Zorbabook provides an incredible discovery of local food and wines, landscapes, history, language, and the rich culture of Greece, with off-the-beaten-path experiences that are designed to give guests holistic and meaningful adventures in popular as well as undiscovered destinations. 

Insights Greece - Connect With Local People, Places and Culture When Visiting Greece 
Dimitris Palaiogiannis

Created by Athenian-born Dimitris Palaiogiannis, who believes in supporting local Greek producers; Dimitris has spent years sourcing innovative and responsible Greek brands across the country that offer authentic experiences while promoting the preservation and protection of Greece’s cultural heritage and traditions. 

Whether it’s a visit to the seaside or the mountains you are looking for- these unique tours celebrate Greece’s simplicity, authenticity and hospitality- with guests given the opportunity to discover local foods, history, music and traditions.

It is ideal for those who want to meet friendly, passionate locals, determined to preserve their cultural heritage while treating their visitors with care. During the tours, guests become a part of local life, make new friends, and enjoy a variety of regions, while appreciating the delightful flavours, dishes and delicacies each destination has to offer.

Above all, Zorbabook was created to promote sustainable tourism and to inspire people to leave places better off from when they arrived.

From olive oil tasting in Mykonos to phyllo pastry making in Pelion, we recently had a chat with Dimitris about the authentic experiences he carefully designs for those who want to connect with local people, places and culture when visiting Greece. 

How did the idea of Zorbabook come about? 

I grew up in Athens and attended an international school. From a very young age, I felt very connected to other cultures and was also passionate about inspiring others to discover the beauties of Greece.

In 2013, I travelled to the UK to study International Tourism Management at the University of Brighton. This was the beginning of my journey in world tourism; during my studies, one of the most memorable experiences was a trip to The Gambia for a community-based tourism project to help locals protect their natural assets and develop alternative sources of income through responsible tourism practices. 

After working in Greece as a tourism consultant for various municipalities and investing time in understanding the contemporary issues of tourism in the country, I decided to launch Zorbabook. The mission is to assist in the development and promotion of responsible tourism practices in the authentic experiences value chain, by creating a unique local ecosystem and international network.

How would you describe Greece’s culinary scene? 

Although my field of study and specialty is tourism, having travelled extensively in Greece and through my efforts to connect gastronomy with tourism, I have developed a personal philosophy for Greek gastronomy and its identity. Five things come to mind when thinking about authentic Greek gastronomy; simplicity, locality, seasonality, quality ingredients and last but not least cooking with love.

How has food tourism changed over the last few years? 

Globally, food tourism and its development have been both a trending and challenging topic over the last few years. Developing a local gastronomy identity is one thing, but connecting it with tourism and involving the agriculture value chain is challenging. Greece is undoubtedly a broadly accepted food destination, however, if we are to develop a holistic and inclusive food tourism sector we must focus on educating, developing, and promoting it in a strategic way. 

The niche of food is critical for the Greek tourism product, its future and the sustainability of Greek cuisine and produce. Let’s not disregard that food tourism plays a crucial role in creating alternative sources of income for producers and each destination community as a whole.

What part of your work do you love most?

Travelling around the country gives me the opportunity to learn about our heritage, admire the natural beauty and diversity as well as discover authentic experiences. More importantly, meeting and speaking with locals helps me to better understand their problems and needs as well as advise them on options and alternatives they might have not thought of.

Tell us more about Zorbabook’s tours, tastings and experiences. 

We offer experiences that give the opportunity to visitors who are interested in broadening their knowledge about our products and food heritage, which goes back in time. We believe our offers contribute to visitors’ appreciation for nature, quality, wellness and the importance of responsible tourism.

Our handpicked partners have designed innovative, holistic, meaningful and immersive experiences in both popular and undiscovered destinations. Some of our partners’ businesses go back five generations, so you can imagine the uniqueness and richness of knowledge, expertise and passion they share. 

What do you think people who have never visited Greece would find surprising about Greek food and culture?

To start with, our culture’s richness is reflected by the 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites! History dating back 4,000 years is evident even in the most remote village and people realise our contribution and influence in science, arts, philosophy, literature, etc. 

The same holds true for food! Visitors taste products and food and experience cooking methods with routes in ancient times. They are usually surprised by the amazing taste of locally grown vegetables, herbs and other ingredients, especially during their farm-to-table experiences. They appreciate the simplicity of our dishes and love the way everybody joins and enjoys a dinner without formalities, with lots of music, laughs and dancing.

What are a few of your favourite destinations in Greece? 

Well, this is a difficult one, since every region is special depending on the local heritage, seasonal offerings, nature, customs and traditions. During the winter I personally prefer visiting the mountainous mainland for skiing and hiking, as well as the bigger islands where you have the opportunity to spend more time with the locals and experience the local way of life. Some of my favourite regions for winter, are Epirus, Central Greece, North Aegean Islands.

In the summer I choose destinations that combine beautiful villages and more secluded beaches (Peloponnese, Thessaly), or not-so-crowded islands in the Cyclades, the Dodecanese and Ionian seas.

I have to mention that both spring and autumn should be on visitors’ plans to visit Greece both on the mainland and on the islands.  Greek Orthodox Easter time is really unique with different customs, and traditional food offerings and exploring nature in spring and autumn is something else.

What dishes/delicacies do you highly recommend people try when visiting Greece?

Our pies, vegetarian dishes, handmade pasta and dishes cooked in a traditional way would be on the top of my list, followed by the meze – a variety of hot and cold dishes paired with ouzo or tsipouro. Also, spoon sweets, walnut pie with ice cream, mastic submarine, and local traditional desserts and sweets are just a few. 

What regions you would suggest for foodies? 

It depends on the season, and I will just mention a handful as there are so many places where you will find a number of great local dishes and desserts. Epirus and Thessaly are famous for their pies, each island has its own special dish and dessert, Northern Greece is famous for its desserts, North Aegean islands for meze, the Peloponnese for meat and wine, Crete for its abundant choices of local produce and dishes.

What authentic cultural experiences does Zorbabook offer? 

The cultural experiences we offer are mainly related to promoting regional and local heritage spots related to crafts, customs and traditions. Our aim is to promote those with routes in our long history, which should be preserved, promoted and sustained for the future. 

Do you create bespoke experiences for visitors?

Yes, depending on the visitors’ interests, season and available time, we work closely with our partners to offer unique holistic experiences which also result from our network’s collaborations. 

Are there any new tours/tastings you are adding to your 2022 list?

We have kicked off our spring travels in order to visit both our current partners as well as prospective ones. It is of prime importance to experience what we offer prior to promoting it. Last but not least, the relationship with our partners goes beyond the strict business scope, it is based on mutual understanding, respect, trust and passion for our offerings and we are always looking to add new unique experiences we believe in. 

Discover more about Zorbabook here

Images by Zorbabook ©

Best Greek Wines for Your Easter Table

Easter is nearly upon us once again and as with any holiday it sets new conundrums for wine pairing. It seems that no sooner has the dust of the busy Christmas and New Year period settled, we are again arranging for our Easter festivities and deciding on menus and most importantly, wine lists; just how are we going to pair these for our celebratory table? 

During childhood, Christmas is easily everyone’s favorite season. And why not, there’s Santa Claus and gifts; traditional desserts, reindeer, and snowmen. But as one grows older and wiser, it dawns on every Christian that Easter is indeed the core event of the Christian experience.

The very foundation of Christianity revolves around the Holy Week (which starts on the Sunday preceding Easter). Unlike Christmas, which has become more about offering gifts than commemorating the humble incarnation of Christ, Easter still retains the very essence of the faith. After the 40-day period of Lent, which includes abstinence — from meat, fish, dairy, alcohol, and smoking — and days of fasting and prayer, Easter is celebrated with a feast.

Insights Greece - Best Greek Wines for Your Easter Table
Santorini of Argyros Estate

Lent fasting ends on Holy Saturday with the Resurrection where we all gather at home to crack each other’s red-dyed egg and enjoy a dish of the hearty, viscous and sweet-smelling magiritsa, which is a Greek traditional soup whose main characteristics are the aromas of fennel, dill and the sour taste, that match respectively to a glass of wine with good acidity and rich aromas.

Personally, I would choose an Assyrtiko from the beautiful island of Santorini, which affords some of the best and most notable versions of the grape. The “Santorini” of Argyros Estate with its full body and “aggressive” acidity, will penetrate the greasiness of the dish, refreshing the mouth and balancing at the same time the lemonish character of the soup. Alternatively, the “Santorini” of Sigalas Estate or the “34” of Karamolegos Winery will fit with our magiritsa ideally. 

The lunch table on Easter Sunday consists mainly of lamb or goat cooked in the oven or grilled and kokoretsi. Kokoretsi consists of lamb or goat organ meats like intestines, lungs, liver and sweetbreads. All the above dishes call for wines with a rich body, intense acidity to break down the fattiness of the meat and noticeable tannins to bind to the protein.

Insights Greece - Best Greek Wines for Your Easter Table
Chateau Julia Agiorgitiko from Domaine Costa Lazaridi

“Chateau Julia Agiorgitiko” from Domaine Costa Lazaridi is a rich and elegant wine. There is cassis, sour cherry, chocolate, baking spices, and cedar on the nose. The palate is straight-up fruit with a sleek balance between flavor and feel. It is a carefully crafted medium-bodied wine with a long finish. It will match perfectly with the kokoretsi dishes.

The main dish of the Easter menu meal is the lamb of course either roasted in an oven or grilled on a charcoal barbecue. Lamb meat is juicy, fatty and spicy. The wine of choice to accompany it should be exuberant and full of aromas of fruits and spices, in order to match the intensity of the meat, as well as the spicy character of the entire dish. That would be a wine with intense tannins for spiciness and good acidity to balance its greasiness. The choices of Greek labels are countless and concern the personal taste of each one. From the red varieties, I would choose Xinomavro and Syrah while from white, nothing else than Assyrtiko. 

Insights Greece - Best Greek Wines for Your Easter Table
Diaporos of Kir Yianni Estate

A beautiful blend of 87% Xinomavro and 13% Syrah makes a very nice lamb pairing, no matter how you have chosen to cook it. “Diaporos” of Kir Yianni Estate is a classic example of the Naousa region, which is known for reds dominated by Xinomavro. This medium-bodied wine reveals a bright red fruit bouquet alongside flinty minerality and chewy, gripping tannin structure reflecting a profile similar to Italy’s Nebbiolo-based wines. Syrah adds some spicy notes. It cuts through the fattiness of the lamb, and the result of the combination is impressive and slightly rustic, highlighting the best of both.

Insights Greece - Best Greek Wines for Your Easter Table
Nykteri from Hatzidakis Winery

If there is a white wine that pairs beautifully with lamb, it’s Assyrtiko. Assyrtiko’s traditional place of origin is Santorini, but vilifications are found all over Greece. This white grape has searing acidity that cuts through the high-fat savor of lamb. It also has plenty of lemon flavors to match the lamb roast with lemon potatoes. A full-bodied Assyrtiko, like those aged in oak barrels, is the best choice. “Nykteri” from Hatzidakis winery is an oaky full-bodied, creamy version of Assyrtiko expressing more elements of lemon custard, fresh pineapple, crème brûlée, and some baking spice. A complex wine that will pair nicely with our roast lamb.

Insights Greece - Best Greek Wines for Your Easter Table
Muscat of Rio Patras from Parparousis Winery

Although the Easter table includes intense dishes in terms of flavor and fat, there is always room on it for a variety of desserts, mainly syrupy ones. One of my favorite sweet Greek wines is the “Muscat of Rio Patras” of the Parparousis winery. It has aromas of apricot, bergamot, lime, orange peel, honey and elegant notes of lily and jasmine. Concentrated and complex, in the mouth, but without tiring as it has enough acidity that gives it balance and elegance. It will fit ideally with cheese platters but also with sweets that contain syrup or are based on pastry, cream and fruits.

I leave you with my best wishes for a HAPPY EASTER HOLIDAY.

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

Best Greek Wines to Pair with Lent-Friendly Food  

As Great Lent is in full swing in Greece, discover which Greek wines pair well with lent-friendly food and dishes! 

The fast of the Great Lent, along with the weekly fast of Wednesday and Friday, is the oldest and only fast in the Greek Orthodox church, which have an Ecumenical dimension, that is, they were ratified by the Rules of the Ecumenical Council.

The fast of Great Lent in Greece begins on Shrove Monday and ends on Holy Saturday. It lasts 48 days! Traditional fasting is observed as follows:

Generally, foods allowed are vegetables, legumes, potatoes, pasta, nuts, olives, fruits, honey and in general foods that do not contain animal or fish products with the exception of mollusks and shellfish due to the fact that they do not contain any blood.

Insights Greece - Best Greek Wines to Pair with Lent-Friendly Food  
Lent-friendly food includes vegetables, legumes & shellfish

Prohibited foods: meat, fish, dairy products, oil, alcohol. Exceptionally, oil and wine are allowed on Saturdays and Sundays, except for Holy Saturday, which is the only Saturday of the year in which oil and wine are prohibited.

Although the allowed food categories seem limited, in reality, they include a vast number of ingredients that are either cultivated or gathered from the Greek countryside offering an abundance of choices to prepare a fasting dish.

My general philosophy on fasting is not one of strict abidance to its rules so, some rule-bending will most certainly be tolerated if not encouraged throughout my propositions. Therefore, I will assume that oil is fully allowed during Lent, which is actually true in part and we will see which varieties of wine match the above categories of food. 

Vegetables simmered in tomato

Greek specialties can be found in several internationally known dishes such as Mousaka and Souvlaki, but also in some suitable for fasting, like the Briam (Greek version of ratatouille). Red wine provides those dishes with the perfect complement to their stewed, cooked character which offers more complexity than when paired with the average green vegetable; and sometimes, with the addition of cheese (fasting rule breaker!), it’s possible to consider fairly powerful wines with low acidity (the tomatoes providing plenty of overall acidity) and a slightly stewed aroma, which complements the essential character of the dish itself. Here, the wines of the Peloponnese region are in their element and specifically Agiorgitiko either in its light red version or in the rosé vinification. 

Cooking legumes and matching them with wine

Legumes are a food rich in proteins and carbohydrates, with pretty low-fat content. Beans, lentils and chickpeas certainly are the most common legumes used in Greek recipes. Beans are usually intended for the cold evenings of Lent. If we choose to cook them in tomato sauce then a Xinomavro rosé will fit it great. Otherwise, if we opt to cook them in lemon broth, the soft and discreet character of Muscat of Alexandria promises us balance with our plate. 

Do you eat lentils? Many of us do not anymore. I love lentils, particularly if they are well cooked with plenty of herbs, with their mellow flavors and gentle spicing. In that case, we would opt for a wine to match the aromatic character with that of our plate. A Retsina (Assyrtiko) pairs well in this case, with its crisp acidity, rich mouth, fine resinous cues and a sense of herbs. 

Finally, the underrated chickpeas, cooked with onion and lemon, offer a rich flavor, which combines the brilliance of onion with the acidity of lemon. An aromatic Messlagousia or a blend of Malagousia and Assyrtiko would maximize enjoyment.

French Fries and Bubbly…

Insights Greece - Best Greek Wines to Pair with Lent-Friendly Food  
French fries and bubbly go hand in hand

Suppose we all liked French fries, despite the fact that it is increasingly considered junk food. Fresh potatoes don’t stand out for their flavor or taste! But when fried, their crispy sensation paired with the flavor of cooking oil and the taste of fried starch transform this otherwise uninteresting tuber into, probably, the most popular side dish in the Western World. What’s more, some if not all children believe they could live by eating only fries and ice cream or chocolate. So, which wines could best accompany that “unhealthy” temptation?

Surprisingly, the answer to this would be sparkling wine. A dry (Brut), lightly sparkling wine with citrus, mineral, and bread notes is the perfect complement to fries. The acidity and bubbles are the perfect balance to their saltiness and crunchiness. The acidity of the wine balances the oil’s fatty texture and the bubbles wash away its greasy sensation. The simplicity of sparkling wine and the saltiness of the French fries balance perfectly without one overpowering the other. My recommendation, in this case, would be a sparkling wine from Moschofilero or Assyrtiko. 

Eating spinach? Spanakorizo and wine 

A classic Greek food that is always present on the Lenten table is spinach cooked with rice. It is cooked either with lemon (white) or with tomato sauce (red). I personally consider spinach rice, apart from being a super healthy and nutritious food, to be extremely tasty and interesting, as long as the right balance among its ingredients is kept during its cooking. In the case of the lemon-white version, I would choose a wine of a white variety with generous aromatic richness to match the greenery of the food and the acidity of the lemon. A Malagousia or a Vidiano from Crete would be ideal matches for our fragrant spinach-rice plate. If we choose to cook it in tomato sauce, a rose wine from Limniona could be our match. 

Fava … a classic dish during Lent 

Fava is one of the most popular appetizers of Mediterranean cuisine and it usually accompanies seafood dishes or fish. Santorini claims the tastiest, most aromatic as well as the most expensive fava variety in Greece. Fava is usually served with finely chopped dry onion, parsley and plenty of oil. Alternatively, you can add sun-dried tomato or capers. For Fava Santorini, we would choose an Assyrtiko, from guess where? But from its birthplace of Santorini, of course. This way we would match the special taste of fava beans and the oiliness of olive oil with the intense acidity and mild aromatic character of the wine. Alternatively, a less expensive Savatiano from an attic vineyard would fit nicely with our dish. 

Food and wine pairing with squid and octopus.

Insights Greece - Best Greek Wines to Pair with Lent-Friendly Food  
Octopus pairs well with a glass of wine

The lengthy period of Lent (48 days) makes it almost impossible to confine our food consumption, to legumes and vegetables solely. For a change and for the opportunity to consume some much-needed animal protein, we can turn to seafood recipes with mollusks namely squid or octopus. Apart from the classic fried squid, we can cook them stuffed with finely chopped onion rice, tomato and herbs offering us a perfect opportunity for a glass or more of rosé from Agiorgitiko grapes. 

Octopus enables a wider range of recipes. Grilled, boiled in vinegar sauce, with rice, with short pasta and even stew.

So, which wines would best pair with the delicate taste of octopus? A wine with depth, strong flavor and plenty of acidity that “would cut through” the overwhelming taste of the octopus would be the option. If you prefer whites, then a Savvatiano from Attica or a Moschofilero from Peloponnese would be two remarkable choices because they are strong in flavor while retaining a long finish on the palette. Should you opt for the stew, then a red Limniona from Thessaly or even a dry Mavrodaphne from the Peloponnese or Kefalonia will give you a unique combination.

Sweets and Desserts 

During Lent or other fasting periods, we can still enjoy some excellent Greek desserts and sweets such as Halvas, Melomakarona (mostly during the Christmas period), Loukoumades, Pasteli (sesame and honey candy) and a range of cakes or biscuits that do not contain eggs or dairy in their recipes. From all the above we will dwell on Loukoumades. 

Insights Greece - Best Greek Wines to Pair with Lent-Friendly Food  
Loukoumades for something sweet during Lent

Loukoumades are goldish puffs of fried dough that are bathed in sweet honey syrup and sprinkled with cinnamon and grated walnuts. They are a simple treat but pack much flavor (and calories) which is enhanced by the spice and nuts. If you have chosen to completely give up meat during the Lenten season, walnuts would be a good supplement of protein for you.

So, we have a few simple ingredients for a little tricky to prepare dessert, but it will reward us both in taste and energy. We would match Loukoumades with a sweet wine. A sweet Moschato (Muscat of Lemnos, Muscat of Rio Patras, Muscat of Samos) would accompany our dessert wonderfully.

Fasting during Lent is for many of us an opportunity for spiritual catharsis and for others an occasion to eliminate animal protein from their diet for detoxification.

For modern Greeks, Lenten fast has been part of our popular tradition since our childhood and it has been engraved in us.

Fasting for almost 50 days requires substantial discipline, patience and determination to complete. It puts to the test one’s body but above all their mind and for the more religious of us, the strength of our soul.

Considering food recipes for fasting during Lent, let alone matching them properly with a bottle of wine, seems like a waste of time and energy to many contemporary people. I was once told by someone, not long ago, that scrutinizing my options for my meals while fasting was as meaningless as contemplating how many herbs and spices one should add to boiling water to make it tasty. Luckily for me or rather as an Epiphany, I had come across some old famous Italian proverbs the previous night. One of them cited: “Hunger is the best sauce for any dish”. Although my friend didn’t agree with that quote, he didn’t have much to say to respond to it.

To conclude, Lent and it’s fast could be seen not just as a relic from a religious tradition but as a testament to one’s ability to bring out creativity and ingenuity in order to make the best out of limited resources to satisfy not just the need to eat but also to enjoy his food. And no gastronomic pleasure is ever complete without a glass of the appropriate wine!

Καλή Σαρακοστή – Have a Holy and Blessed Lent!

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

Cool New Brasserie Opens in Chania

Housed in a 1950s building, Maiami, a cool new concept store – that’s “part painting studio, part brasserie, and part boutique” recently opened its doors in Kum Kapi, at the east end of the picturesque port of Chania. 

The brainchild of artist and ceramist Alexandra Manousakis, a talented Greek American who remodels her personal experiences into colourful abstract and ceramic art, Maiama is Manousakis’ latest project – allowing the artist to combine her love of art, design, food and wine- all under the one roof. 

From the bright entrance to the vibrant paintings on the walls, the bright blue chairs, and the striking emerald green fireplace- Manousakis carefully designed each element to inspire dialogue and other creative projects. 

As the name suggests, there is a hint of American influence in both the design and food/ drinks menu, which reflects Manousakis’ personal life and taste. The Miami/Greek island vibe creates a modern yet authentic feel that’s both warm and cozy for guests who are invited to share in Manousakis’ world.  

Stand-out starters include Salad Shirazi- finely diced tomatoes and cucumbers in a spicy lemon dressing with Mizithra goat cheese, and a Spinach + Artichoke Dip served with pita chips. 

Signature dishes include the Steak Fritters- filet mignon served with French fries and pepper sauce, Afshin chicken -sautéed chicken with seared broccoli and Persian rice, and the Mama Sharma shrimp with turmeric, mustard seed and onion. 

For dessert there is a warm chocolate chip cookies and milk combo, or a New York-style cheesecake; while the wines are all exclusively chosen from Manousakis estates (located nearby) and feature a Syrah, Assyrtiko and Mourvèdre. And for those seeking a cocktail- check out the Maiami with Mastiha liqueur and mandarin soda, or the Molavi- a classic margarita with Vodka and hints of cucumber. 

A: Akti Miaouli and 11 Mesolongiou, Chania 

Open: Thursday to Monday 5 pm to 12 am (closed Tuesdays & Wednesdays)

Images Courtesy of Maiami 

A Local’s Guide to Eating and Drinking in Santorini 

Born and raised in Santorini, George Sigalas, owner of Above Blue Suites and Amber Light Villas welcomes thousands of guests from around the world each year to his island home. Here he shares his favourite places to eat and drink in Santorini- where visitors can experience great hospitality and taste fresh produce from all around the island! 

Your favourite places to eat out?

There are many good spots but I would recommend Kira Katina in Ammoudi for seafood, Anogi in Imerovigli for traditional island dishes, and also Metaxi Mas in Pyrgos, for the famous Rakomelo. 

Best brunch spots?

In the morning I like to head to TERA NERA in Perivolos as well as Galini Cafe Restaurant

Finest gelato on the island?

For ice cream- Chill Box in Fira and Lolita’s Gelato in Oia.

For an aperitif or a cocktail? 

In Fira, you will find the famous Enigma and Mamounia bars, where you can enjoy a drink and music, as well as PK and Tango Bar

Coolest beach bars in Santorini?

Wet Stories and Yalos– you can’t go wrong at either! 

Finally, must-try local dishes/delicacies?

Santorini Fava, Domatokeftedes, a traditional Santorini salad (with local wild capers), and fried white eggplant. Tip: don’t leave the island without having a glass of Ouzo, while enjoying fresh, local seafood by the sea.

Pairing Greek Wine With Warming Winter Soups

The Christmas season is over, and January brings us to the heart of winter. What’s the antidote to a cold winter’s night? A warm bowl of soup suitably paired with a glass of Greek wine, of course!

When considering accompanying soups with wine, we often end up rejecting the idea, mainly due to the watery texture of a soup. The answer is to stop treating the issue with such skepticism and realise that a glass of wine along with our soup course will help us maximize enjoyment during our winter dinners.

So, when opting for a wine to serve with our soup, we should consider the consistency and main flavours we are putting before our mouth cavity. The density of the soup is often more important than the type of protein in it when picking the right wine.

Therefore, let’s serve wine with our most popular soups and keep in mind a few simple rules of combination.

Meat Soup

Insights Greece - Pairing Greek Wine With Warming Winter Soups
Xilia Xronia

The main ingredient of meat soup is usually beef. In this case, the greasy texture of the meat dominates the aromas of fresh tomatoes and the rest of the included vegetables. Here a red wine with soft tannins should qualify as a choice. A fresh Agiorgitiko or a Merlot would ideally accompany our soup. Personally, I would go for a blend of 60% Agiorgitiko and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon from the “Barafakas” Estate in Nemea. The name of the label is “Xilia Xronia” which means “A Thousand Years.” It is a wine with an emphasis on red fresh fruits and sweet spices such as cinnamon. A really tasty wine. It will match wonderfully with a meat soup.


Fish Soup

Insights Greece - Pairing Greek Wine With Warming Winter Soups
Techni Aplipias

Fish soups, where seafood aromas emerge above those of vegetables, need medium-bodied, crisp white wines with good acidities, such as Assyrtiko, Sauvignon Blanc, or Moschofilero, to match the flavours of the soup. My recommendation, in this case, would be “Techni Alipias” from “Wine Art” Estate in Drama. A blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Assyrtiko. Sauvignon Blanc adds fruity aromas and acidity while the less aromatic Assyrtiko adds body, structure, complexity and ageing potential to the blend. In terms of taste (and sales) this is the most successful blend of white varieties in Greece. Excellent wine for this kind of soup.

Chicken Soup

Insights Greece - Pairing Greek Wine With Warming Winter Soups

The soup to fix all winter ailments, while delicious and comforting to the stomach at the same time, chicken soup or chicken noodle soup, calls for aromatic, textured whites with delicious natural acidity like Grüner Veltliner or Verdelho. From the domestic varieties, we would choose a Moschofilero.  One of the top and most timeless expressions of the variety is the “Mantineia” of Tselepos Estate. A Moschofilero of high aromatic intensity where aromas of citrus fruits, as well as flowers, predominate. Its intense acidity “fuels” it with freshness and “nerve”. An ideal choice to accompany chicken soup.

Vegetable Soup

Insights Greece - Pairing Greek Wine With Warming Winter Soups
Lexis Gris Sur Lie Rose

As hearty fall and winter vegetables come into season, this is a classic winter soup, and my go-to pairing here is rosé wines. I love the “Lexis Gris Sur Lie Rose” from Zacharias Winery for its tart fruit, earthy tones and bright acidity. It’s refreshing and plays off the earthy tones in the soup.

 Mushroom Soup

Mushroom soup is the very definition of comfort food and comes in a couple of different versions. If we decide to get closer to the tinned classic ‘cream of mushroom’ soup, it’s better to stick to the creamy character of the dish and go for an oaked Chardonnay. “Roes Chardonnay” from Oinotropai Winery is quite rich on the palate, with medium to full body, crisp acidity, buttery sense, and impressive fruit aromas.

Insights Greece - Pairing Greek Wine With Warming Winter Soups
Roes Chardonnay

It will fit perfectly with our creamy soup. Darker soups that put woody, earthy forest mushrooms at the forefront of our tongue, are best complemented by Pinot Noirs and other dark red wines that are oak-aged and have subtle, earthy tones. Pinot Noir of Dio Filoi (Two Friends) Estate fills our glasses with bright red colour. It has aromas of nuts, dried fruits with spice notes and a velvet full mouth with a long, intense aftertaste. A complete expression of the Pinot Noir variety that will ideally match the aromas of our soup.


Pumpkin Soup

Insights Greece - Pairing Greek Wine With Warming Winter Soups

Winter is the peak season for pumpkin soup. The combination of its earthy and often sweet flavors makes this soup unique and tricky to pair with a glass of wine. Depending on the flavour profile (sweet, spicy, or both, paired or not with dense cream, garnish, etc.) some wines will do better than others. In general terms, the trick is to try to either compliment or contrast the flavours of that dish. So, think “dry” or “creamy” on the palate when it comes to wine. Here’s the place and time for an oaked chardonnay, a dry riesling, or a full-bodied Viognier. And Viognier by Domaine Gerovassiliou is perhaps the best expression of the French variety in Greece. Elegant and at the same time exuberant, it enchants anyone who tastes it! This wine features a deep lemon colour and complex aromas of apricot, butter, peach, chamomile, vanilla, brioche, bergamot, hazelnut, oak, tobacco, and white flowers. Rich mouth with full-body, discreet acidity, and intense oily sensation. Ideal wine for our dish.

Beef or Rabbit Stew

Insights Greece - Pairing Greek Wine With Warming Winter Soups
Black Daphne

Finally, an iconic Greek winter dish. There are few meals more warming and savory than a hot bowl of beef stew. We could combine it with a bottle of Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, which would wonderfully pair with it. Because stew is one of my favourite dishes, I would bypass the ground rules and recommend the “Black Daphne”, a dry Mavrodaphne of Papargyriou Estate. It has a complex bouquet of sour cherry, blackberry, and plum, accompanied by cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, and pepper. Afterward, it carries on the palate, with unimpaired intensity and complexity. Rich body, well-rounded, moderate tannins, and balanced acidity.

The deep, mellow flavours of the stew will meld with the soft richness of the wine, and both will improve the meal’s overall taste. Their combination reminds me of a reunion with old friends.

So, there you have it – everything you need to know about pairing wine with soups. While I’ve done my best to be as comprehensive as possible, I know that you all have your own preferences and ideas when it comes to such matches. As such, I’d love to hear all about your ideas in the comments below!

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

Thessaloniki Becomes Greece’s First UNESCO City of Gastronomy

Thessaloniki has proudly become Greece’s first city to join the UNESCO Network of Gastronomy- recognised for its rich culinary traditions, vibrant gastronomic community, and delightful local delicacies. 

The city’s municipality shared that it had prepared and submitted a complete file highlighting its centuries-old gastronomic traditions and was ecstatic to learn it had been welcomed as one of the city’s to be joining UNESCO’s network of gastronomy.

Insights Greece - Thessaloniki Becomes Greece’s First UNESCO City of Gastronomy
Thessaloniki’s famous Koulouri

 “Gastronomy is an important comparative advantage of Thessaloniki. Our city is now a UNESCO-stamped crossroads of taste and culture. Delicious regional cuisine is the backbone of our gastronomy offerings, which enhances the travel experience,” announced Thessaloniki’s Mayor Konstantinos Zervas. 

By joining the network, cities commit to collaborating and developing partnerships that allow the promotion of creativity and cultural industries; to share best practices, to strengthen participation in cultural life, and to integrate culture in economic and social development plans.

Thessaloniki has always been referred to as the gastronomic capital of Greece, based on its diverse culinary traditions and the delightful flavours that it offers. As the formation of the overall culture of the city came under many influences, Thessaloniki’s cuisine is one of the richest in Greece. Traditional recipes, as well as modern creations, have allowed a wide range of food choices for both locals and international visitors. 

Insights Greece - Thessaloniki Becomes Greece’s First UNESCO City of Gastronomy
Pita Souvlaki

The result is a famously diverse and welcoming city, with food that draws on ingredients, recipes, and influences going back centuries. Here you will find traditional tavernas serving authentic dishes alongside modern bistros offering contemporary twists on century-old recipes. 

Some of Thessaloniki’s most famous foods include: 

Koulouri – Bagel like bread topped with sesame seeds

Bougatsa- Cream-filled pastry

Patsas- Tripe soup

Bakaliaro- Fried salt cod

Pites – Pies such as Spanakopita (spinach pie) and Tiropita (cheese pie) 

Bouliourdi – Baked Feta topped with tomatoes, green peppers, chilli flakes, and oregano

Pita Souvlaki/Gyros- Pita bread filled with grilled meat, tomato, onion, tzatziki and homemade fries   

Soutzoukakia- Spicy handmade sausages

Trigona- Triangle pastries filled with custard

Tsoureki- Sweet brioche-style bread

Kazan Dipi- Milk pudding

Thessaloniki truly is a food lovers paradise; with plenty of local dishes and delicacies to satisfy all tastes! 

Authentic Greek Cooking Lessons on Organic Farm in Pelion 

If you would love to combine a beautiful getaway to Pelion, with locals teaching you how to make authentic Greek dishes (from recipes that have been passed down through generations) using fresh produce that you handpick from their organic farm- look no further than Kritsa Cookery. 

Overlooking Portaria’s village square, Kritsa is a popular hotel, restaurant, and cooking school, renowned amongst Greek foodies for their authentic techniques and fresh flavours, which highlight the region’s rich culinary flair.  

“We organise the cooking lessons to introduce visitors to the culinary treasures that our country offers. Exceptional local cooks pass on traditional recipes and techniques,” says the Karaiskos family.

Pick your ingredients from the organic family farm, which is filled with an array of colourful fruits, vegetables and herbs; including potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchinis, eggplants, pumpkins, peppers, radishes, beets, mushrooms, carrots, lettuce, onion, oregano, parsley, dill, greens, other edible herbs and mountain tea. They also grow trees with apples, plums, cherries, quinces, sour cherries, figs, peaches, apricots, pears, chestnuts, walnuts and apples. 

Then once you’ve chosen your fresh ingredients, you learn how to make authentic Greek dishes including kolokithopita (pumpkin pie), and spetzofai (Pelion’s famous casserole of local sausage, green peppers and grated tomatoes). Or try your hands at easier classics such as strapatsada (scrambled eggs with tomatoes and olive oil) or greens with eggs. Other popular dishes are the traditional Pelion bean soup know as fasolada and stewed goat meat,  gida vrasti. Famous salads of tsitsiravla, vergia and kritama are also on the menu. 

You can find cooking classes focused on seafood and other meat dishes- using fresh local produce; and one of the most popular is the Greek pie lesson, where local women share their tips and secrets on making filo dough the traditional way and filling it with fresh vegetables and herbs collected straight from the farm’s garden and then baking it in the wood oven.

There’s also a range of desserts and once your meal is ready, you are able to enjoy your food combined with local Greek organic wines- as you take in the beautiful countryside atmosphere. Throughout the day, the Karasikos family also treats their guests to a range of local cheese, olives, homemade bread, their homemade spoon sweets, liqueurs, coffee and other delicious delicacies- to ensure it’s a memorable and flavour-filled experience. 

Learn more about the cooking classes here hotel-kritsa and peliongastronomy.

A: Portaria Village, Pelion Mountain, Thessaly