Greece is renowned as a multi-dimensional destination thanks to its unforgettable culture, gastronomy and great weather. Breath-taking landscapes, picturesque coastlines, as well as 18 UNESCO World Heritage sites waiting to be explored are a few of the reasons why travellers return to this magical place year after year. However, for me it’s Greek cuisine; those traditional Mediterranean flavours and local products keep me coming back.
This year, I haven’t yet had an opportunity to travel to Greece. However, I was invited to attend the National Geographic Traveller Food Festival in London alongside Sympossio and Aldemar Resorts.
Sympossio’s inspiring initiative specialises in Greek gourmet food and wine, using fresh, natural, and locally sourced ingredients. The concept of food and Greek gastronomy is closely aligned with unique and authentic travel experiences around the 13 available regions.
The cultural heritage and culinary creations differ depending on which region you decide to visit however, there is one similarity – the joy and passion of the individuals towards the food that is grown, produced and served.
Sympossio creates a partnership between hotels and producers, Greek entrepreneurs, food operators, and tourist boards. The collaborative approach to working with these organisations has one aim, and that is to promote the quality and authenticity of Greek gastronomy and to empower Greece as a tourist destination.
This leading hotel chain has six resorts across two destinations; Western Greece and Crete. Luxury is at the forefront here, with deluxe accommodation, and world renowned Thalasso and Spa Centres. The resorts also boast pristine beaches awarded with the “Blue Flag” status, tropical gardens, and sporting activities, as well as beauty, wellness and relaxation treatments.
At National Geographic Food Traveller Festival, I witnessed first-hand cooking demonstrations from experienced and established chefs, Ioannis Rodokanakis and George Chatzopoulos, who had travelled from Aldemar Resorts in Greece to London. I was led on a journey of the senses tasting Cretan cuisine.
I soon discovered that the Cretan diet consists of healthy, full-favoured, nutritious food. Every dish, whether raw or cooked, is prepared with the finest ingredients. Cheeses such as feta, graviera or mizithra are savoured alongside aromatic herbs and spices, as well as rose spoon sweet or thyme honey. Locally-produced varieties of Greek wine are cultivated on private vineyards and blended to create a unique and high-quality taste. Seafood and fish constitute a basic part of the Greek diet, and are often combined with white wine, lemon, garlic and parsley, crocus or ouzo.
Traditionally the focus of the Cretan diet is on antioxidants, fibre and omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish and large amounts of fresh vegetables and greens grown organically, as well as nuts and figs. Fruit and vegetable consumption will vary depending on the season. Wild greens are foraged and cooked in lemon and olive oil, but are only available in Crete.
Virgin olive oil is the staple cooking fat used in the traditional diet of the Cretans. Pulses are regularly consumed and highly regarded. Eggs will be eaten weekly, although Cretans will only eat free-range. Meat is rarely eaten, and snails are often chosen as a preference.
The Aldemar Chefs, George and Ioannis, created the finest gastronomic experience and a unique menu for me to sample.
Courgette flowers, (the edible flower of the courgette or zucchini bush) were double layered, filled with herb-infused rice and placed on top of a small spoonful of Galeni cream cheese.
The flavours were delicate and light in taste. The dish was simple and eloquent; a seasonal delight.
Two layers of lightly-toasted warm pitta were cooked on a bed of oregano and rosemary. A meat alternative was used for the middle of the burger, which was fried xinohontros, a sour ground wheat with sour cream. Slices of apaki, (traditional cured pork) which had been previously marinated in white wine vinegar, were added.
The dish was then decorated with small chunks of Graviera, a typical hard Cretan cheese, and raisins. Petimezi, a rich grape juice, was then drizzled on top as a syrup. The flavours of the wheat-based burger alongside the thinly sliced apaki and crumbly cheese were complimented by the juicy raisins and sweet grape juice, working remarkably well together. A real fusion of textures.
Homemade Tiganites, the Cretan version of pancakes, were prepared for dessert. A batter was made using flour, water, olive oil and lemon juice. A sweet mizithra cheese was then crumbled into the mixture and they were fried one spoonful at a time in a pan of olive oil.
Apricots were caramelised slowly in Soumada, a Cretan liquor, creating a bright amber syrup with flavours of almond and marzipan.
These were delicately placed on top of the Tiganites and garnished with a sprig of rosemary. These pancakes were golden in colour and created a sweet combination of fruit and cheese; a taste sensation to conclude. A glass of seistro white wine would be a nice accompaniment to this dessert.
Cretan Cuisine – The Verdict
I learnt that simplicity is key to Cretan cuisine. Homemade dishes were prepared and cooked with fresh seasonal ingredients, including courgette flowers. Traditional techniques were used, with unique and distinguishing flavours and delicious local products, including Cretan olive oil, Graviera cheese and Petimezi.
Imaginative recipes were designed by Aldemar chefs, Ioannis Rodokanakis and George Chatzopoulos to create a unique culinary experience for those attending, and to showcase why Cretan cuisine is so integral to Greek culture. I was lucky enough to sample the authenticity of Greek gastronomy in London and can honestly say that these were some of the most delicious Cretan dishes I have tasted to date. With a focus on home cooking and preparing cuisine using ingredients fresh from the garden, Sympossio and Aldemar Resorts have created a fusion of gastronomy and a food and travel experience I will not forget!
** These tickets to National Geographic Traveller Food Festival were gifted. However, all opinions are of course my own.**