Gastro guide to Santorini

Sitting in the southern Cyclades, Santorini is magical, romantic and perhaps the most quintessentially ‘Greek’ of all the Hellenic islands. It is also quite special in that is is home to a vast volcano; indeed the islands which make up Santorini form the ring of the caldera. Why is this important to food lovers? Well, all of that volcanic activity and ash has created a unique ecosystem with porous volcanic soil, which – combined with an almost perpetual state of drought – produces utterly distinctive flavours in all of the produce grown on the island. Like in much of Greece, the food of Santorini relies heavily on great quality, fresh and local produce to elevate deceptively simple dishes into wonderfully flavourful meals. Santorini is world famous for its fava and cherry tomatoes, and then there is my personal favourite, the freshest of fish and seafood. Santorini’s recipes aren’t necessarily what you you think of when Greek food comes to mind; much of it is lighter, but it is all best enjoyed when sitting in a restaurant overlooking Santorini’s wonderful caldera view with a glass of Santorini’s finest wine.

  • Wine of Santorini

    Back in the '80s Santorini wines had a reputation for being cheap, produced in bulk, and being uninteresting, so why is wine my first recommendation? In the last couple of decades this has turned around: vineyards which had previously been squeezed to allow a few more hotels have resurged to their former glory of the early 20th century, creating one of Greece’s premier wine touring destinations and some of Greece’s best wines. Handily, most of Santorini’s vineyards are concentrated around the village of Megalochori, making it easy to see several in a day.

    Assyrtiko is the main grape variety, but there are also whites such as Athyri and Aidani, and reds like Mantilaria and Mavrotragano to try. Wines tend to be acidic with an explosive body. To find out more about Santorini’s wine history and try the best the island has to offer visit the Koutsoyannopoulos Wine Museum in one of Greece’s few wine caves. 

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  • Santorini cherry tomatoes

    Two foods truly encapsulate Santorini’s great quality produce: one is the fava, and the other is this – the cherry tomato. Santorini has been growing cherry tomatoes since they were brought to the island in 1875, and since then Santorini has taken cherry tomatoes to be their own – there is now a variety named after the island. They are included in many of the island's recipes from seafood pasta to tomato keftedes, a tomato fritter often served as a starter with a glass of wine. The best place to enjoy these is in the Kapari Taverna on the edge of Firostefani.

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  • Santorini fava

    If you only eat one Greek dish when you visit Santorini, it really should be the Santorini fava. You might think one fava is much like any other and you would be right, unless you were talking about the Santorini fava. This pulse has been produced on Santorini for over 3,500 years and like much of the island's produce has taken a unique flavour from the soil. Fava is most often served prepared as a dip with red onion and capers; try it with some bread and a glass of beer whilst looking out at the beautiful island vista. A favourite place of mine to try this was Anogi in Imerovigli square, Imerovigli.

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  • Santorini seafood

    Being an island adrift in some of the clearest waters around Greece you would expect Santorini to be home to fantastically fresh fish and seafood, and you would be right. Many restaurant menus, cafés and tavernas feature fish and seafood prominently (or even exclusively). Look out on the caldera in the early morning and you’ll see a myriad of small fishing boats returning to port on the smaller island of Therasia. To enjoy the freshest seafood prepared simply but brilliantly, take a boat trip across to Therasia for its unprepossessing restaurants. If you’re on the mainland, head to the capital Thira (Fira) and find Mama’s House for its seafood pasta.
  • Kardamides

    "Man cannot live by bread alone" – and nor can he live without a good portion of greens now and then to keep him healthy! Thankfully Santorini again serves up something special in great handfuls of Kardamides, the elegant and flavourful green herb which is collected each spring as it pops up across fields and vineyards. More often than not, it is served as a side dish to stronger flavoured fish which need something more robust to complement them. Enjoy a big portion of kardamides with a cherry tomato salad at Krinaki in Oia.

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