A combination of climatic factors and the tastes of those who have occupied and lived on the island have formed an eclectic cuisine. The volcanic soil, rich in pumice and porcelain and the low rainfall create a distinctive ecosystem and local produce. In tune with the craggy, barren landscape, the food here is as salty as the dark sea. Salty feta, salty olives, salty capers. An obvious must have is fresh fish grilled in tavernas, esp. those close to the sea. And if you’re wondering why you see octopus hanging out in the sun everywhere (no, it’s not just for tourists to take photos), it’s to reduce the water content in the octopus which stops it going rubbery when you cook it. One of the finest pleasures in life is a tender smoky well-grilled tentacle with a glass of Assyrtiko overlooking the breathtaking caldera!
Along with other tasty traditional Greek dishes like moussaka, tzatziki, pastitio, Greek salad, stuffed vine leaves and baklava, here are a few local specialities and traditional dishes that you should seek out:
Fava. Santorini is one of the most notable producers of this little yellow split pea, which has been cultivated continuously on the island for over 3500 years. It’s traditionally eaten as a dip topped with capers or chopped onions, as a soup, or served with grilled octopus. Santorini fava is the best in Greece and has PDO status.
White aubergine. Did you know Santorini has its own aubergine? Solanum avigerum is only grown on the island. It has fewer seeds than its purple counterpart and doesn’t absorb a lot of oil. you can try fried white aubergine or white aubergine puree/dip.
Capers grow wild in Santorini, and you’ll find the berries and leaves brined and adorning most savoury dishes.
Santorini Tomatoes are only grown on the island and have PDO status. They’re small and sweet and ideal for making tomato paste. Don’t miss the traditional fried tomato balls, ‘tomatokeftedes’ (or pseudokeftedes as they are called by the islanders, and be sure to ask for local tomatoes in your salad. Proud of our tomato history, you can also visit the museum at the old Tomato Industrial Museum – now the Santorini Arts Factory in Vychlada.
Santorini Cucumber or ‘Katsuni’as it is called bt the locals is native to Santorini and is larger than common cucumbers with thicker skins and more seeds. If it is not picked in time, it becomes sweet and has a melon flavour.
Hloro Tyri. A creamy white cheese made from goat’s milk. Spread it on bread or add it to a Santorini salad.
Apochti. The most popular traditional food of Santorini. Salted pork loin, placed in vinegar before being air-dried, it is used in a variety of recipes which are truly delicious.
Skordomakarona. This is a traditional pasta dish with fresh Santorini tomatoes, olive oil, plenty of garlic and salt.
Kopania. These traditional sweets are small rolls of barley, raisins and sesame seeds.
Melitinia. Finally, you should taste the Santorini’s traditional Easter pastry, Melitinia. It is a delicious sweet cheese pie made with fresh mizithra cheese. You can find Melitinia at the traditional bakeries on the island.
Fira and Oia have the greatest variety of dining options, from top fusion restaurants to traditional tavernas and gyros shops. Kamari and Perissa have a range of tavernas and cafes. Inland villages such as Pyrgos, Exo Gonia and Magelochori hide some wonderful top eating spots.
To help you enjoy Santorini cuisine, we have picked out our favourite eating places for your convenience.
Another thing that every tourist must know about Santorini is that it has incredible wine! Wine has been produced here since ancient times, but it was during the Middle Ages that the wine of Santorini became famous worldwide under the influence of the Republic of Venice. The Italian influence is still present in modern Santorini winemaking: the most famous Tuscan sweet wine is called Vin Santo just like Santorini’s Vinsanto/Visanto (labeled such to differentiate it from the Tuscan wine). It is made in a passito style from grapes dried in the sun after harvest.
Santorini is immune to phylloxera as its volcanic soils contain none of the clay that is necessary for parasite to survive. As a result, many of the roots found on the vines on Santorini are centuries old. Grape growers use a unique bush-training system, known as koulara, to grow the grapes. As the vines grow, they are woven into baskets with the grapes facing toward the inside of the ring. The vine’s leaves and vine provide protection for the grapes from harsh winds and sunlight.
The island is most famously known for its indigenous white grape varieties Assyrtiko, Athiri and Aidani, though some wines made from international varieties and also from indigenous red grapes such as Mandilaria and Mavrotragano can be found. About 1,200 hectares of land are under vine
Assyrtiko is the island’s flagship grape. It’s a high acid grape full of citrus and mineral nuances. It can be enjoyed on its own or with grilled fish and meats. The grape is often referred to as a “white grape in red’s clothing,” due to the full-bodied wines it produces.
Santorini classified wines are:
Santorini: This wine must contain 75% or more of the Assyrtiko grape variety with the remaining 25% made up from Athiri and/or Aidani. The wine is generally unoaked, but some wineries choose to make a small portion of oaked wine due to Assyrtiko’s versatility. Either way has a great gaining potential due to the high acidity of the grapes. The wine is bone-dry with high acid toting flavors
of lemon and stone fruits with a distinct taste of minerality.
Nykteri: In Greek, the name means “working the night away” as it was traditionally harvested at night to avoid the hot temperatures and create a fine wine with little extraction from color and exposure to air. The grapes were to be picked before sunrise and pressed and drawn off within the first day. Today, many producers still choose to harvest the grapes at night, but some also harvest during the day. It is at least 75% Assyrtiko with the remaining composition allowed to derive from Athiri and Aidani. After vinification in steel or oak, Nykteri wines must be aged in oak for a minimum of three months. These wines are bone-dry and contain high acid and mineral components bringing forth flavors of citrus and stone fruits.
Mezzo: Although this wine is not part of Greece’s classification system, it is a wine commonly produced. This is a sweet wine made from the island’s white or red grapes and is similar to Vinsanto, but literally means “less sweet.” The grapes are also sun dried, but before vinification dry grape must is added to the run-off juice from the raisoned grapes.
Vinsanto: Vinsanto is an ancient winemaking tradition of Santorini that dates back thousands of years and represents an important part of Santorini’s history. In order for a wine to be labeled Vinsanto in Santorini the wine must be predominately made from the Assyrtiko grape—at least 51%, the remaining 49% is made up of Athiri and Aidani and some small amounts of locally grown white varieties. Vinsanto does not undergo any chaptalization and is made up only of the natural sugars and acids of the grapes. Vinsanto is made from late harvested grapes that have been dried in the sun for 12–14 days. They are then crushed and fermented and are then aged for a minimum of 24 months in oak barrels.
Vinsanto is known for its golden-orange to dark amber colouring with a complex bouquet of dried apricots, golden raisins and other dried fruits combined with sweet spice and an underlying minerality. Although it is classified as a dessert wine, the high acid of the Assyrtiko and other indigenous grapes grown on the island balance the sugar content to produce an extremely palatable drink that can be paired with a variety of foods. In 2002, the EU determined that there was enough information to name Santorini, Greece as Vinsanto’s place of origin thus granting the island exclusive rights to the use of the name Vinsanto on its sweet wines.
Many wineries on the island offer wine-tasting, giving you the opportunity to taste the distinctive variety of the local wines, and wine-lovers should not miss a visit to the Wine Museum which is established in a cave on the grounds of Koutsogiannopoulos Winery near the village of Messaria. The museum presents the history of wine and the life of vine-growers in Santorini since the 1600s.