Honeymoons are wonderful. They exist so that newly married couples can get away together, recover from the stress of planning a wedding, relax and get to know each other as husband and wife. And yes, that’s all well and good. But when you’re me, and traveling somewhere with phenomenal cuisine – it’s ALL about the meals.
My husband and I traveled to the Greek island of Santorini for 10 days and sampled some of the most spectacular food of our entire lives. Greek food itself is amazing – fresh, healthy and rich with flavor. But Santorinian cuisine takes it one step further with the inclusion of local produce, grown in the island’s unique volcanic soil. That same soil gives birth to the distinctive grapes that become Santorinian wines: among them assyritko (white) and vinsanto (sweet/dessert.)
On Santorini, there’s no shortage of good restaurants. But it took us a few days to realize that the caldera-facing eateries with outdoor terraces and unobstructed sunset views were pretty overpriced. Tavernas, small family-owned restaurants, offered incredible dishes at prices often lower than the cost of one mixed drink at their touristy counterparts.
Here’s a rundown of our favorite tastes of Santorini:
- Fried cheese saganaki. An appetizer at our favorite taverna in Fira, Nikolas. A rectangular block of cheese
(possibly kasseri), battered lightly with what could have been egg white and then fried in sunflower oil. Served simply with a sprinkle of herbs and lemon wedges on the side. Hot, crispy and salty. After one bite, my eyes rolled so far back in my head that I worried I’d never see clearly again. Sublime.
- Santorinian cherry tomatoes. Born from the volcanic soil that nourishes Santorini’s most quintessential produce and wines, these tiny tomatoes are literally bursting with flavor. We tried them in pasta dishes, on top of pizza, sauteed with olive oil and local wine in an octopus appetizer and pressed with onions and herbs into tomatokeftedes, or ‘fried tomato balls’ – another local specialty, similar in shape and texture to potato latkes.
- Boat-to-table fresh seafood. Unless you’re a complete seafood-phobe, you can’t possibly skip the fruits of the Aegean Sea. We sampled octopus in several forms and I tried cuttlefish over rice, but our favorite fresh-fish experience by far was at Dimitris Ammoudi Taverna, a dockside restaurant serving fish literally off the boats. Fish and shellfish were sold by the kilo, and our helpful waitress invited us into the kitchen to choose our dinner.
We selected a sizable piece of grouper from the display case and it came to us grilled with a delectable blend of olive oil, lemon and herbs. We dined as the blazing sun set over Ammoudi Bay, waves lapping against the dock just three feet away.
- Onboard dining. One of our favorite memories from the trip was a five-hour catamaran tour, complete with (of course) dinner and drinks. After enjoying glasses of local white wine and three swimming stops, we and the four other couples sat down to a family-style home-cooked dinner of grilled octopus and prawns, barbecued pork and chicken, fresh Greek salad, stewed vegetables, tzatziki, eggplant dip, pasta salad and bread. The food was incredible and the vibe was fun and communal. Later, as the sun set, one of the couples got engaged.
- Desserts. I’ve never been the biggest fan of baklava, probably because most versions I’ve had have been so drenched in honey/syrup that I can practically feel my blood sugar rising. But all preconceptions of this dessert went out the window when I tried a piece at the aforementioned Nikolas Taverna. The layers of phyllo were crispy, the nuts were crunchy and the syrup highlighted both elements without being disgustingly saccharine. The best part of the dessert was the topping sprinkle of meaty, salty local pistachios. As I’m immediately drawn to the marriage of sweet and salt (hello, chocolate-covered bacon!), those sealed the deal. At a Cypriot restaurant in Oia, we tried a cream-cheese based dessert, the name of which now completely escapes me. But it was topped with honey-soaked shredded wheat and the same fabulous pistachios.
- Gyros. Cheapest and most filling lunch ever. Pork roasted on an upright, rotating spit is shaved and piled on top of a thick, warm char-grilled pita spread with cold yogurt sauce and topped with tomato and onion. The gyros we bought in Oia were stuffed with big, thick wedge fries. Remember again how I love the carbs.
- Bread and dipping oils/sauces. Save for the glorious fresh-baked baguettes at our hotel, we didn’t have any truly remarkable bread to start our meals. But that didn’t stop us from soaking every crumb in great olive oil and vinegar or spreading pieces of doughy goodness with tzatziki, melitzanosalata (eggplant dip) and sun-dried tomato or olive tapenade.
- Fresh pasta. Earlier Santorini pasta experiences – orzo with garlic, seafood ravioli, linguine with prosciutto and tomato, pastisio – these all paled in comparison to our farewell meal at our hotel, the Santorini Princess. I ordered fresh-made tortellini stuffed with pear and mozzarella cheese, tossed in a basil pesto sauce. You’ll hardly catch me eating fresh pear at home, but the combination of the fruit’s cool sweetness mixed with creamy mozzarella and pungent basil was out of this world. Leftovers served as my farewell breakfast the following morning, too.
- Wine. Santorini’s local wine is as good as you’ll find anywhere else. There’s even an entire museum dedicated to the island’s rich history of winemaking. The island is known mostly for its varieties of white wine, most made from the indigenous assyrtiko grape. Santorini winemakers cultivate vines in low-to-the-ground baskets shaped like crowns. This method protects the vines from high winds and makes it easier for the grapes to collect morning dew, as that can be the only moisture source at times. (It must be pretty sweet to live in a place where rain is an anomaly.) We visited two wineries, Boutari and Domaine Sigalas, and tasted a full range of whites, reds and sweet dessert wines. While dining out, we found that it was so much cheaper to order a half-liter or full liter of local wine, rather than imported wines by the glass or mixed drinks.