Do you have the habit of bringing a little souvenir back home from your holiday? I certainly do, normally something small, easy to carry and full of flavour. Now, I can imagine you coming to Greece, lazing on that sun-bed with a book at hand, enjoying the sea breeze and savouring amazing food. There is nothing better than taking back home a bit of this flavour along with your holiday snaps.
I put together a top 10 of products grown in Greece. This list is by no means inclusive, just featuring some of the best and most distinctive tastes of Greek cuisine. Herbs and teas like oregano and mountain tea and traditional treats like jams and preserves. If you are out on a flavour hunt as well as sun bathing, do check out the local produce and cooperatives. Greece is blessed with small family businesses that produce excellent artisan products. Whilst you can find the famous spoonsweets all over Greece, each area is producing local specialities. Aegina is for pistachios, olive oil, olives and honey are omnipresent. Keep an eye out, there will always be a tasty surprise around the corner. Here is my top 10 of Greek food gems:
1. Greek oregano, world renowned
Pungent flavour that does miracles on BBQs especially when paired with lemon juice and an honest wood fire. It goes with lamb, it goes in tomato sauce, it goes on our salads. It can also work wonders for an achy tummy. Yes, you can infuse oregano.
2. Crocus, saffron from Kozani
Saffron – in my eyes it is almost as old as the world, you can find it on frescos of Minoan Crete. Although the cultivation of this wonderful plant had been discontinued, we still sport a 300 year old tradition and our claim now is even better: quality as well as heritage. Just think of all these risottos!
3. Mastic tears or powder
We do say about olive oil being our liquid gold but mastic is solidified gold. The island of Chios is renowned for its wonderful mastic trees. I mainly use mastic in tsoureki, the Greek brioche but its light aroma does wonders in many sweet bakes. Mastic is very popular throughout the middle-eastern cooking. Certainly, try it in jams as flavouring. It works wonders as a digestive and its soft and its refreshing flavour is like a light breeze in a hot summer night. If you think you will never use it in cooking, grab a bottle of liqueur. Production has been reviving and there are some wonderful mastic products out there.
Well you know sage, it does wonders on a pork roast, I have been pairing it with lotus on tarts (yum). You can also enjoy it as an infusion it. Just don’t have a sage drink first thing in the morning, it will relax you and send you back to bed in no time.
5. Mountain tea – sideritis
Here we are reaching cold & flu remedies territory, grandma’s wisdom in a teacup. You might have come across it as ironwort or shepherd’s tea. It’s a very old herbal remedy and I’ve had many a cup to warm me up in a cold evening. It has a wonderfully mild flowery flavour and with a bit of honey, it will give a boost your immune system.
Sweet, sweet honey. Ever wondered why Greek honey is some of the best worldwide? It’s the shurbs and plants that thrive in the hot sun and that the bees love. As with oregano, there are thyme shrubs and each area has developed its own subspecies of these plants that cover the rocky hills. We also do very good eucalyptus honey, light and fragrant and also the slightly bitter, sharper fir honey, meli elatis
7. Barley rusks
Who doesn’t like a crunch? Rusks are ever popular in Greece and the barley ones shout rustic from miles away. Full of flavour and fibre, you can use these rusks instead of croutons on your salad or actually as a base to salad, think of Cretan ntakos: it sits on the base and soaks up all the flavour from olive oil and tomato juices -yum!
8. Olive oil, of course
There is hardly anything I can add that you haven’t heard before about olive oil. It’s one of the world’s healthiest foods. In Greece, there is hardly a spot you will pass without stumbling upon an olive tree. The quality is excellent, from regular olive oil to extra virgin or special herb infused, it is guaranteed to work wonders on your diet.
Remember me saying about these amazing spoonsweets? There is a long tradition in jam and preserve making all over Greece. Our most unique fruit preserves are quince, fig, apricot, grape, baby aubergine and sour cherry. Production is abundant and there are many cooperatives that regionally produce home-made style sweets. It’s the ladies at work, these cooperative are most often run by local women. You will get what my grand-ma Nia does, or what I actually do. Do seek them out, they will make this yogurt pot for breakfast work wonders, not to mention that cheesecake.
Can you hear the crunch? Can you feel the saltiness? Yet another one on the super-food list and I for one plead guilty when it comes to pistachios: I can’t stop eating them. I use them in sweets, I enjoy them as a snack, I even add them in salads. Aegina, the little island just off of Athens has the greatest production of pistachios and Protected Denomination of Origin for this precious cargo. Apart from the standard loose pistachio nut there are many pistachio based products that you should definitely try, from baklava to pastes and cereal bars.
Is there a special find you discovered in your trip in Greece? Do let me know, you can get in touch here or in the comments below.
PS yes I have left out feta cheese, as I have no idea how you could transport this back home. You are better off enjoying it here 😉