Greece’s most famous holiday destination has more to offer than dazzling landscapes, pristine beaches and quaint whitewashed architecture. Based on the fruits of the land and the sea, the Cycladic cuisine is in fact a reason to visit in its own right.
Smack in the heart of the Aegean, the Cyclades are a cluster of 33 pearly-white islands that form a circle around Delos, the sacred birthplace of Artemis and Apollo. Their history is long and tumultuous – over the centuries they’ve served as important sea passages and world-famous trade centres; but also pirate dens and Venetian, Frankish and Ottoman annexes. Inhabitants mostly sought their livelihood at sea, either as sailors or as fishermen. This maritime tradition has been responsible for shaping the Cycladic societies and, by extension, Cycladic cuisine, which has also been markedly influenced by the conquerors and the many other foreigners that passed through the islands’ various ports.
History aside, the other factor accounting for the distinct tastes and flavours of Cycladic cuisine, is, of course, the islands’ morphology and climate. Most are wind-swept, rocky and arid with long spells of sunshine and quite limited resources. In the deepest recesses of the past, the Cycladiots might have been rich; but in the aeons that followed they were generally poor so they had to be especially creative with their food to feed their families with what was available. Nothing was wasted, therefore. The pig, for example, that grazed on the salt-tinted, herb-infused grass, was ceremoniously slaughtered before Christmas and all of its leftover parts were turned into several by-products that provided sustenance throughout the year. Louza – a cured ham that Mykonians have been making since time immemorial, is currently dubbed the new prosciutto and has become a firm favourite of the foodies of the planet.
The advent of tourism introduced traditional local products to the world – and it also brought international styles and techniques into time-honoured Cycladic cooking. The stake now is not only to preserve the unique beauty and identity of the islands but also to find a way to incorporate this newfangled sophistication and finesse into the Cycladic cuisine without stripping it of its character.
Cycladic cuisine in Mykonos
Enter Greek fine dining – a concept that’s being consistently championed by Krama Restaurant at the Semeli Mykonos Town Luxury Hotel. Based on the axioms of simplicity, symmetry and balance, with Michelin-starred chef Ioannis Parikos on the helm, Krama serves inspired yet unpretentious dishes that pay homage to the Cycladic culinary tradition; and which are based on seasonality, the freshest raw materials and the Aegean that is right in our backyard. With Parikos’ ingenuity and craft, traditional Mykonian products, like tyrovolia, are artfully combined to produce an array of taste bombs that excite the most seasoned palates.
Likewise, in line with Semeli’s commitment to showcasing the very best of Mykonos island, the onsite Thioni restaurant serves a celebrated breakfast comprising of typical local treats including savoury and sweet, handmade pies with Mykonian cheeses and honey.
Cycladic cuisine: What not to miss in Mykonos
But this is just a sample of the culinary delights that await you on your next holiday in Mykonos. Here’s what you should seek to sample, to elevate your gastronomic experience on Greece’s most storied island:
Listed as a Cyclades PDO (Protection Designation of Origin) product, this is the star of the local cheeses with a characteristic peppery flavour. It is matured for at least two months, tastes a bit like Roquefort and pairs perfectly with juicy tomatoes, figs, watermelon, or grapes.
This soft white cheese is made from sheep, goat, and cow’s milk and is often used as a base for traditional sweet and savoury pies, like those lovingly prepared at Thioni Restaurant for breakfast.
Made of pork tenderloin, this fine appetizer is seasoned with oregano, spices, salt, and pepper and then left to mature in a northerly wind. Works perfectly with Myconian barley rusks, cheeses, and a glass of wine from the Cyclades. Santorini’s Assyrtiko undoubtedly has the leading role; yet Mykonos’ only commercial winery, Vioma, also yields some gems from local grape varieties such as the ruby-red Mandilaria.