a restaurant full of Aegean flavours
Hiding in plain sight in the winding streets of Mykonos chora, at Lakka, there is a small house with a well at the front yard. The well is still active, an old lady comes to get bucket loads of water for her potted flowers two houses down the street. What is best though, this little house is the cosiest restau in Mykonos with the most authentic Cycladic flavours: Bakalo!
Head straight to the recipe.
Bakalo, is short for the Greek bakaliko, the small grocer that would stock the shelves with all sorts of goods: from tinned delicacies to pulses bagged in huge woven sacks to barrels of feta and heads of cheese in the fridge, dried herbs hunging overhead and pitted olives glistening in olive oil. The traditional Greek grocer, has long been disappearing from Athenian neighbourhoods, let alone glamorous Mykonos. In Bakalo though, you can get a glimpse of the traditional decor on the walls, the old advertisements that have not completely faded in time. The shelves are stocked with active produce, most of what you see is used in the kitchen. What is best though, in true bakaliko style, the ingredients are sourced from 9 Cycladic islands. Bakalo and the wonderful chef behind the menu, Yiannis Gavalas has been serving Aegean flavours for eight years now.
Gavalas is originally from Heraklia, an island nested in ‘small Cyclades’ complex, just off of Naxos. His love for Aegean flavours found its way in the menu of Bakalo. The dishes are not solely traditional, they have been improved to perfection and the flavours are definitely as Greek as it gets. Gavalas has picked his ingredients from 9 different Aegean islands, one of the few chefs that doesn’t only insist in local flavours but takes the trouble to get them from small producers. Why? Well, the answer is simple, you can get no better or more original flavours than these.
Paros for the most fragrant honey, Tinos for tangy capers, sundried tomatoes and samphire, Syros for the loukoumakia, best known outside Greece as Turkish delights. Naxos for its famed robust graviera cheese (similar to gruyere); Ios for its spicy cheese and his home island Heraklia for the wonderful xinomizithra. Santorini is for the earthy fava and Amorgos for the strong, flavoursome raki. Mykonos, of course could not be missing, it has the most spicy kopanisti and meaty louza. Precious raw ingredients that come from small producers; for in Greece, mass production was never our strong point and flavours are pricelessly better when food is grown in smaller batches, with just the right amount of sun and salty Cycladic breeze.
I chatted with Gavalas on Aegean cuisine over a marble table full of tasty nibbles at the yard of Bakalo. What makes Aegean cuisine so special is the simplicity of ingredients, simple but apt flavour combinations expertly presented. You cannot have fava without a char grilled octopus tentacles. It’s impossible to think of decadent melty cheese croquettes without fragrant herbs and good olive oil to fry them in. There is definitely no Mykonian salad without fresh tirovolia cheese, sea fennel, and tomatoes on spicy rocket.
Bakalo has been successfully run based on this principle: truly Greek flavours and a table to share. Bakalomezedes, is a must dish to indulge in all the summer flavours. Old time classic tzatziki, smokey aubergine, taramosalata and spicy tirokafteri dip made with Mykonian kopanisti is a great way to get started. Octopus couldn’t be missing from the summer table, on fava puree of course and wonderfully cooked mung beans. My absolute favourite though were the cheese dumplings – loukoumathakia – parred with tomato and lemon jams – a true delight at every mouthful. I couldn’t leave without the recipe. Huge thanks to Yiannis for sharing:
Cycladic Cheese dumplings
- 300 gr graviera Naxou
- 200 gr kefalotiri from Ios
- 3 egg whites
- 1tspn baking powder
- 1 tbspn cornflour
- 8-10 fresh mint leaves, chopped
How to make the Cycladic cheese dumplings
1. Grate the cheese, add the finely chopped mint, beaten egg whites, cornflour, baking powder and mix well.
2. Let the cheese mix rest in the fridge for one hour and then shape into balls.
3. Deep fry in hot olive oil until golden.
Ingredients For the Jams
- 500 gr tomatoes
- 200 gr sugar
- 1 lemon for its juice and half its peel.
- 1 leaf of arbaroriza,
- 1 kg lemon spoon sweet
- 2 fresh lemons, for their juice
- Peel, deseed and cut the tomatoes in cubes.
- Add all the ingredients in the pots, tomatoes, sugar, lemon juice, lemon peel and arbaroriza.
- Cook in medium heat for 30 minutes.
- Place the lemon spoon sweet in a blender, add some lemon juice and blend
- Check for acidity and add some more, as required.
As for dessert it’s an ode to loukoumakia of Syros, mostly known beyond Greek borders as Turkish delights. The three major loukoumi flavours done three different ways: original mastic delight, rose ice-cream delight and pergamot delight jelly. Taste and texture are playfully arranged on a crunchy bed of melitini crumbles, a crust from a traditional Santorini dessert. Indulgence at its best, especially when accompanied by the homemade arbaroriza liqueur, one of the many specialties of Bakalo.
If you ever thought of taking something home, make it arbaroriza liqueur, it is available from the restaurant. Arbaroriza liqueur will warm up your heart even in the dullest winter days.
From Mykonos with love,
Bakalo is open for dinner, from 19:00pm until 1:30 am
Book a table at: +30 22890 78121
PS Huge thanks to Bakalo for the hospitality and Yianni Gavala for the great chat and wonderful recipe.
PS 1: Bakalo is proud supporter of Mykonos Pride, happening on the 16-17 August this year. Don’t miss out on the fun!by