After touching down on the Greek island of Santorini, you’ll be hungry, so it’s off to the nearest taverna for you. Wondering which delicacies to try? Fear not. From fava (the island’s famous split-pea purée) to, ahem, ntomatokeftedes (tomato fritters, to you and me), we’ve hunted down the best local foods to try on the volcano-moulded, crescent-shaped Cycladic island. Oh, and after you’ve mastered the local pronunciation, don’t forget to order a glass (or two) of assyrtiko wine, a local variety.
Fava is probably the most famous dish in Santorini, and while its name might suggest fava beans, it’s actually a yellow split-pea purée. The creamy dish is usually served warm with olive oil and lemon and sometimes topped with chopped onions or capers. For many people, it’s the ultimate island comfort food, perfect as a healthy main or side dish.
The best fava on the island is served at Feggera in Megalochori and Selene in Fira. Both restaurants offer cooking classes as well, so – who knows – you might even end up making your own delicious fava dish.
The island is home to a specific variety of tomato called, you guessed it, “Santorini tomatoes”, which are the size of cherries. Sweet and with an intense red colour, they form the centrepiece of ntomatokeftedes (tomato fritters). The vegetarian appetiser is fried in a thick batter using hot olive oil with peppers and onions, mint, and other aromatic herbs.
The Cave of Nikolas in Akrotiri serves the most succulent ntomatokeftedes in Santorini; this family-owned restaurant is supplied daily with fresh produce taken straight from the family’s veg garden, which makes owner and cook Margarita’s ntomatokeftedes special. Try the classic version with plum tomatoes, fava, fresh and dry onion, feta cheese and basil, or order the fish version with cod – ideal for pescatarians.
The volcanic soil of the island makes a perfect breeding ground for another rare product: the white eggplant. This unique variety has fewer seeds than its purple counterpart and a sweet taste. Many dishes involving the vegetable, such as white-eggplant purée, are available in restaurants all over Santorini.
Don’t miss your chance to try it at Krinaki tavern in Finikia, Oia, paired with feta cheese and sautéed red Florina peppers, or in the form of melitzanosalata, a traditional Greek, smoked eggplant salad.
Kopania are old-fashioned Santorini sweets made of powdered barley rusks and mixed with raisins and sesame seeds. The dough is then rolled into little balls and sprinkled with roasted sesame seeds. An example of simple, grassroots cucina povera (literally, “poor cooking”) at its best.
Pick a handful of these little sesame balls (one is never enough) from one of Santorini’s numerous bakeries, like Svoronos in Fira or Xristofora Preka in Kamari.
A traditional sweet you can find around Eastertime, melitinia is a delicious sweet cheese pie made with fresh mizithra cheese, sugar and mastiha (mastic) powder. While talented home-bakers have mastered these little treats over the past decades, traditional bakeries on the island bake them as well.
The most flavourful, though, have to be Martha’s melitinia. Pass by her workshop in Megalochori and have a bite (before you order a box to go).
Apochti is another traditional food found in Santorini. Pork loin is salted and then placed in vinegar before being air-dried. Later, a mixture of pepper and cinnamon is rubbed on the meat, before allowing it to rest for six hours. After the meat cures, it is ready to be used in a variety of recipes.
It’s also often used to accompany fine wine, so sample it as part of a wine tasting at one of Santorini’s best wineries. Vassaltis in Vourvoulos, Oia, and Sigalas in Baxedes, Oia, are your go-tos. Try apochti with a glass of Vassaltis’ red Vassanos wine – you can’t go wrong.
Made in limited quantities, chlorotyri is a local cheese that you can only find on the island. Slightly sour yet creamy, this white cheese is made from goat’s milk. Use it as a spread on bread or mix it in a Santorini salad, a local variant of the Greek salad, which also includes local cherry tomatoes.
Roza’s in Vourvoulos, Oia serves some of the tastiest chlorotyri in Santorini, while Red Bicycle in Oia is where you will find it in a refreshing ntakos salad with cherry tomatoes, samphire and green olive oil.
Capers date back to antiquity, and in Santorini, the plants are found virtually everywhere. The unopened edible flower buds are picked and then sun-dried until they harden and turn slightly yellow. They are then rehydrated before use and are usually added to sauces or to spice up several dishes, including fava or even salads.
To Psaraki (meaning ‘little fish’ in Greek) in Vlychada is where you can treat yourself to all kinds of island fish, paired with capers – the cuttlefish and octopus are both excellent.