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Venice, Rio de Jeneiro and New Orleans may capture headlines, but no destination other than Naxos and the Small Cyclades can claim Dionysus, the patron of Carnival, as their native son, as well as his father, Zeus.
The Carnival of Naxos 2019 (2 – 13 March) blends timeless Greek festive elements from ancient Dionysian spring rites through to the evolution of modern Mardi Gras. Tracing roots back to rituals of sowing winter crops and praying for the coming of spring through to the Christian celebration of Easter’s promise of rebirth, the Carnival of Naxos 2019 captures all – and their web site details all!
The classic Koudounatoi – based on ancient rituals during Dionysian celebrations – is a hallmark of the Naxos festival. The Koudounatoi dance and rituals are performed by men dressed in traditional white costume bedecked with colorful ribbons and a belt of cowbells. Their dancing movement makes the bells create a very loud sound in order to clear away bad spirits that may bring plague and famine.
The Temple to Demeter overlooks the productive agricultural land of Naxos Island. Agriculture had made Naxos wealthy and in the 6th century BCE the island erected this first all marble temple in the Greek world to Demeter, goddess of grain. Dionysus was the protector of Naxos and maintained one of his divine residences on the island.
In more traditional form the men are covered with a brown coat wearing a belt with hanging bells. Holding large sticks that symbolize the Dionysian phallus, the Koudounatoi challenge each other and anyone who interacts with them and the divine right to ensure a bountiful harvest.
On Friday March 8 at the Temple of Apollo’s Portara this fertility theme is dramatically recreated with a retelling of the arrival of Theseus and Ariadne, which through a series of complications worthy of Greek story telling (including pirates!) ends with her marriage to Dionysus, elevation as a goddess and blessings upon Naxos. Ritual weddings are a common theme during Carnival.
The island villages are studded with individual folkloric events during Carnival, the preparation and presentation of traditional foods, the beloved Torchlight Parade and the culminating Grand Carnival Parade on the Chora waterfront.
The Greeks elevated revelry to divine status. Christianity added its themes to the pre-Spring/Lenten season, and Naxos’ several century occupation by Venice all embossed their personality on the Carnival of Naxos 2019. Travel to the heart of the Cyclades and experience three millenniums of Carnival.
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Naxos is the most fertile island of the Cyclades. It has a large aquifer under the island in a region where water is usually inadequate. Mount Zeus at 1,004 meters (3,294 feet) tends to trap the clouds increasing rainfall. Agriculture is an important economic sector making Naxos the most self-sufficient island in the Cyclades.
This abundance is obvious in Naxos restaurants, artisan food shops and food markets. Besides produce Naxos is famous throughout Greece for its cheese, meats, fish and seafood. Simply walking along the wide, beautiful, long, crescent, pedestrian friendly waterfront of Chora (Naxos Town) is a gastronomic delight. Some of the best cafes and tavernas in Naxos are sandwiched between shops offering Naxos crafts and food products – it’s the center of nighttime social life in town.
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Marathia Restaurant on Tinos Island aptly proves the superlatives you have heard on the creativity of Greek cuisine and the uncompromising beauty of Cyclades Island beach locations.
Considering how many restaurants in Greece I have reviewed, Marathia is one of the more traditional yet modern you can visit. Chef/owner Marinos Souranis opened Marathia Restaurant in 2002 in the renovated nine-room boutique hotel his parents constructed on Tinos Island 40 years before. He and his staff use ageless techniques crafting a menu firmly based on local products and traditional recipes.
Yet the hook for the curious diner is in the knowledge that subtle personal touches (cinnamon added to homemade petroma cheese) and the imaginative presentations (marinated sardines served in sardine cans) set Marathia apart. That is a high compliment considering the exemplary level of Tinos gastronomy.
Both restaurant and hotel are open year round. The nine one and two bedroom apartments with kitchens are integrated within a design that’s traditional Greek village villa with 21st century amenities. The hotel includes the airy taverna style indoor dining room with many attractive antiques, tools especially, serving as sculptures against the white stucco walls.
Across the street is the seasonal dining pavilion, Partokali Beach Bar, which itself languidly spreads down stunning Aghios Fokas Beach – the longest sand beach on the island. Besides the dining area, Marathia provides shaded lounge chairs for total enjoyment of this Blue Flag beach. All of this is within a ten minute drive from the center of Chora.
Brunch at Marathia in general follows hotel patterns in so far as a buffet includes a variety of their cheeses, marinated fish, local sausages, yogurt, fruits and savory dishes. What from a distance could be mistaken for pastry layered with cream topped with strawberries was a baked savory pastry layered with cheese, herbs and topped with cherry tomatoes.
Chef Marinos wanted me to sample Marathia’s specialties from the a la carte menu. They are all meze, small plates that together with bread, salad and cheese frequently define a Greek meal. All were traditional centuries old preparations of local ingredients when preservation drove recipes. The dishes using riki, sardines, grazos and fish row are all uncooked salt cured.
Lakerta appears throughout the Aegean and Adriatic coasts. It uses riki, cousin to bonito fish. The fish is soaked in two separate salt-water solutions each for 24 hours. This cleans the fish. It’s then cut into steaks, salted and weighted down for 3 to 4 days turning daily. The lakerta may then be thinly sliced and eaten or stored in olive oil.
The lakerta is tender with mild saltiness as if fresh from the sea. Serve thinly sliced drizzled with olive oil and lemon.
Deboned grazros (cousin to sardines) sit in salt water for 90 minutes and in apple cider vinegar for 5 to 7 minutes. After the vinegar soak they’re placed in jars and covered with sunflower oil – important because sunflower oil imparts no flavor unlike olive and most other oils. The grazros can keep for three months.
Botargo – or avgotaraho – is a delicacy of cephalus or gray mullet fish row. The whole row sack is cured in sea salt for a few weeks, sundried and then encased in beeswax for preservation as it has been for over a thousand years. Traditionally served thinly sliced with some lemon juice and/or zest and white pepper either solo or with crusty bread and butter – the beeswax is removed before eating.
The botargo has a lightly chewy texture due to the process; yet its unique flavor is intense. Although like wine, flavors can very depending on the life-style and age of the cephalus, I detected hints of mango and sea urchin tongue. Allow the botargo to linger in your mouth to maximize the subtly sweet umami experience.
In preparing smoked white grouper the fish is covered in a mixture of sea salt, white pepper and sugar for 16 days before being smoked for two days. The moist, delicate silky fish is served thinly sliced with a garnish of pickled grapes as counterpoint.
Marinated vegetables, including artichokes, are steamed in water with some vinegar, lemon juice and a little olive oil until just tender. Then they are drained and marinated in olive oil, lemon juice and herbs. The textural contrast of the piquant vegetables pairs well with rich cheeses and delicate fish.
All cheeses, except one, are made in-house from unpasteurized milk and are so labeled on the menu due to health restrictions for certain conditions such as pregnancy. The exception is graviera, which is locally made with pasteurized milk. It’s the second most popular and versatile Greek cheese after feta and similar to gruyère. A firm but creamy cheese with generally mild on the sweeter side taste notes, it’s often sliced and added to cheese trays, grated over pasta and fried as saganaki.
I was surprised to see dozens of kariki aging. Only one person on the island makes it commercially, chef Aggeliki Vidou, but in small batches that cannot satisfy demand. Marinos makes his own kariki – the very rare (in the 21st century) “pumpkin cheese” of Tinos.
The name comes from the small gourd, a karika. Traditionally it was used to collect milk. Now metal milk containers are called kariki. It starts with petia a simple base cheese, that’s packed in the karika – the actual gourd. The gourd is sealed with a flour/water paste and aged for 2 to 3 months. The interaction with the gourd imparts both color and deep flavors with hints of caramel, mild gorganzola and dried figs.
His malathouni, also from the base petia (cone), is made with goat’s milk. On average malathouni is aged for about one month. At Marathia it’s aged six months intensifying the natural tang of the goat’s milk yet maintaining a creamy texture.
Petroma’s base cheese is freshly strained petia. The round of cheese is then weighted until most of the additional whey drains. At Marathia they add a bit of sea salt and cinnamon to the petia before straining.
The wood burning oven near the entrance to the hotel is for bread baking. Olive wood only is used for its high and uniform burning temperature. Breads are made from whole-wheat flour and the yeast from a starter dough. The breads have a touch of sourdough texture and aroma that compliments rich butter and cheeses.
Tinos Island’s own T-Oinos Winery 2013 Clos Stegasta Assyrtiko accompanied the main courses. It has a classic nose of dry summer grasses and vanilla. The tongue picked up fresh citrus zest, which lingered. The throat sensed a pleasant finish of dry grapefruit zest. Assyrtiko ought to be a Greek national treasure.
With the cheese course, local Domaine de Kalathas’ Winery 10+12 late harvest 100% Tinos Island potamisi grape produces a fresh semi-dry white wine. It’s not aged and has subtle tones of honey and white currents with floral notes. Despite being semi-dry in the mouth it has a surprising dry smooth finish.
Tinos Island is a gastronomic destination of great physical beauty. Yet you could eat a convenience store hotdog on a Greek island beach and remember the beauty of the experience. At Marathia let’s just say the experience is raised far above sea level.
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Disclosure: The author was a guest of Marathia Restaurant and the Municipality of Tinos Island. Transportation was provided by Dellatolas Rent a Car and accommodations by Hotel Meltemi. Arrangements were facilitated by the MTCgroup.
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The whole idea of Food Paths Tinos, Giorgos says, was “to keep the chain of knowledge alive from one generation to another.”
Soft spoken, young, relaxed, model handsome Giorgos Amoiralis quietly explains how an idea morphs into a phenomenon. We’re at lunch at Bourou Restaurant in Chora on Tinos Island in the northern Cyclades. The brilliant October sun gleams off the Aegean illuminating both the fine cuisine and the mesmerizing conversation.
More than once, I admit, my eyes misted over during lunch. Food Paths’ mission is not saving lives; it’s saving a heritage. Over the past six years as I’ve traveled Greece during its on-going economic problems and, yes, the brain drain of highly educated young people, I’ve experienced a resilience from the first visit. Today many Greek youth are looking back to what made their great grandparents thrive and survive.
They are looking at the 5,000-year-old heritage of Greece and bringing it into the 21st century, from learning the age-old skill of marble crafts, vineyards reviving thought-to-be extinct grape varieties to actively seeking new commercial opportunities for the unique agricultural products of the varied regions that comprise Greece.
Food Paths Tinos is a gastronomic event to get producers, farmers and restaurants to communicate and create “a huge table where all food traditions are brought together to make things better.” They don’t come to sell, but to become friends. (Old Greek saying: “Food is an excuse to get together with friends.”)
Started in 2014, it already attracts bloggers, food critics and chefs from around Greece. It has grown from a small gathering of food professionals to an island event. Food tastings, cooking demonstrations and the chance for the community to interact with professionals committed to Food Paths Tinos has helped increase demand for local products encouraging more young entrepreneurs to look at the land and what it provides for their future. Held in the second week of May, Food Paths Tinos has grown since 2014 from a volunteer staff of 50 to 150 to manage what has virtually become a festival.
Yet it was Giorgos’ understated passion for what he and a few friends set in motion that he recognizes transcends the original intention. What has held Greece together for millenniums has been the power of family and community. The violence, disruptions and social changes of the 20th century did much to undermine that foundation. Even on islands where everyone knows about everyone, isolation develops; knowing about everyone isn’t the same as knowing everyone.
Tinos Island farmers, cheese makers, cured meat producers and preserved local foods in shops have all experienced increasing demand. Yet Food Paths, Giorgos (owner of EXO Catering) and the other lunch guests said, has energized the community of Tinos. Not only have professionals in the field become friends, rather than simply associates, but the commonality of food has created new friendships and an understanding of the importance of maintaining local Greek food traditions among islanders.
During my four days on Tinos I experienced the islander’s pride in their local foods, especially among the restaurants. Tasoula Kouli and Antonis Zotali of Bourou Restaurant hosted lunch in Hora and it was a virtual menu of Tinos Island.
Malathouni with sun-dried tomatoes and capers: Malathouni is a cow’s milk cheese. The curds are separated from the whey before packing into cloth-lined baskets for a day. The cheese is then removed and hung in cloth to dry for 20 days.
Louza sausage with the wild green kitrena: Louza sausage is a specialty of the northern Cyclades. It’s cured with salt and then red wine. After curing it’s sprinkled with pepper, allspice, fennel, cloves and savory and finally pressed into wide intestine and hung to dry in the air 20 to 25 days. It’s served cut into very thin slices.
Bourou Restaurant’s Tinian Earth salad: Aged Malathouni (more than 20 days) tomatoes, white and black-eyed beans, lettuce, rocket, chickpeas and lentils.
Stuffed Eggplant salad: Bourou has taken a traditional eggplant spread, where the ingredients would have been pureed, and deconstructed it as a salad. Per salad, half an eggplant with skin is pan fried until soft. The eggplant is scooped out reserving the skin “cup.” Chopped tomatoes, onion, dill, mint, parsley, salt, pepper, sugar, garlic, olives and olive oil are tossed with the cooked eggplant and served in the eggplant skin cup.
Braised Lamb with pureed artichokes and roast potatoes: The lamb is marinated overnight in orange and lemon juice, thyme, mustard, garlic and olive oil. It’s then braised and slow roasted in a ceramic pot with the potatoes at low heat.
For the artichoke puree: cook the artichokes and then cut away the leaves until there is only the heart. Boil three times as much weight potatoes and carrots as artichokes. Drain the vegetables reserving a ½ cup cooking liquid. Puree all three with olive oil and a little cooking liquid if necessary. The combination of savory lamb and potatoes with sweet artichokes was a tasty match.
Dessert was rich, creamy homemade French vanilla ice cream with sour cherry sauce. The contrasting sweet/sour flavors were terrific.
Lunch at Bourou Restaurant coupled by inspiring conversation with Giorgos Amoiralis boosts my optimism even more that the future of Greece is in encouraging its youth to plow their roots back into the economy. In 2014 Food Paths Tinos started as a way for farmers and restaurant owners to get together. In four short years it energized Tinos Island community pride. Just imagine how such passion could stimulate a nation.
When you go: Tinos Island is easily reached by ferries from the nearby Athens ports of Piraeus and Rafina.
Disclosure: The author was a guest of the businesses mentioned in this article through the cooperation of the Municipality of Tinos Island. Special thanks to Adriana Flores Bórquez for being my guide. Transportation was provided by Dellatolas Rent a Car and accommodations by Hotel Meltemi. Arrangements were facilitated by the MTCgroup.
Read more at: Tinos Island and its traditional food abundance
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Gianakis Bay gleamed in the afternoon sun as my guide from the Municipality of Tinos Island, Adriana Flores Bórquez, and I entered the bay front Ο Ντίνος Restaurant. As so often in Greece you may find the spelling in the Latinized Greek alphabet, O Ntinos, or in English, The Dinos. No matter the spelling, Ο Ντίνος could not be in a more advantageous location for one of Tinos Island’s leading seafood and fish tavernas.
Chef/Owner Antonis Bambakaris had prepared a special menu for Adriana and I on this weekday afternoon since this was off-season when most restaurants are closed, although Ο Ντίνος was open on weekends. The attractive stone and wood building with a wide open terrace hugs the bay.
Kavavia is a traditional Tinos fish soup with an aromatic broth and lots of gavors – small fish – and a variety of other fish, rice, tomatoes, potatoes and carrots. The fish and vegetables are removed and arranged on a hot platter. The broth is served separately with the platter of fish and vegetables shared by the table.
Regosalata is a herring spread made from pureed potatoes, grilled herring, carrots, onion and a touch of tarama. Grilling the herring imparts a subtle smoky flavor to the spread.
A salad of louza, cheese, sundried tomatoes, lettuce, balsamic and cashew nuts was a study in flavors and textures: aged louza, a prosciutto-like cured ham that’s native of the neighboring island of Mykonos, concentrated tomato being sun dried and chruchy, rich chashew’s made this a luxury salad.
For an additional texture, the sun dried tomatoes can be dipped in a batter (consistency of pancake batter) made with ouzo, tsipouro or raki, water, salt and flour then fry in oil until coating is crispy. These can also be served as their own meze.
Gavors are small fish similar to herring, sardines or anchovies. They are high in Omega fatty acids and often added to soups, such as the Kavavia, fried or sautéed as in Chef Bambakaris dish topping red onion, cherry tomatoes and capers on Greek fava bean spread.
A dish of chickpeas was slowly cooked with zucchini, onions, parsley and cherry tomatoes. It was reminiscent of Middle Eastern dishes, which is not surprising considering the millenniums old trade routes between the Middle East and Greece.
Like most chefs, several of his dishes are his own recipes, and Antonis Bambakaris shared the basic preparation – although not the actual measurements for the ingredients. An imaginative cook should be able to recreate these three dishes:
Artichoke hearts with capers:
Caramalized Octopus with honey garnished with cherry tomatoes and carrot puree:
Calamari: (whole baby the best, tentacles separated).
Of course, dessert cannot be forgotten. A fresh homemade banana ice cream topped the lunch. Chef Bambakaris’ wife made the ice cream.
A nine course mid-afternoon lunch is not unusual for Greece, especially when enjoying leisure time in the Cyclades Islands. Tinos Island, one of the most northerly of the Cyclades, excels in high quality restaurants, cultural sites and fascinating geology. Come for the beauty and serenity of Tinos; be sustained by fine cuisine at Ο Ντίνος while being mesmerized by the sun illuminating the Aegean Sea.
Disclosure: The author was a guest of Ο Ντίνος through the cooperation of the Municipality of Tinos Island. Transportation to Tinos was provided by Golden Blue Star Ferry , on the island by Dellatolas Rent a Car and accommodations by Hotel Meltemi. Arrangements were facilitated by the MTCgroup.
The Ο Ντίνος (Dinos Restaurant) Gianakis Bay, Tinos Island, Ormos Yianaki, 842 00, Greece
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On Andros Island in the Cyclades Islands, it’s easy to be distracted by vistas at every turn. With my first glimpse of the glittering harbor of Batsi it was obvious I’d enjoy four days exploring the island’s coastline and dramatic interior.
I can’t think of a better way to spend a beautiful afternoon than lunch at Taverna Lagoudera on Batsi harbor. When you can still taste the natural saltiness of the Aegean Sea on the sea bream you know you’re in heaven (aka Greece).
Andros and its sister island Tinos (the subject of my March Hellenic News article) are affluent escapes with more villas than hotel rooms. Within easy access of Athens through the port of Rafina, the comfortable car-ferries of the Fast Ferry group run year round. Restaurants, cafes and coffee shops thrive on this island
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