Greece in your suitcase: Stock up on these glorious Greek snacks
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The country that brought you dazzling islands like Santorini and nifty concepts like democracy also has a dynamic and varied gastronomic heritage. Gourmet dishes notwithstanding, it’s a heritage that extends to the world of snacks. And this is a very good (not to mention tasty) thing indeed because it only takes one or two shopping forays to bring home a bit of Greece with you. Leave the steaming moussaka and tangy Greek salad to your seaside restaurants or buzzy Athenian tavernas, we’re talking eminently transportable, suitcase-friendly deliciousness.
Before spilling some of my top Greek snack secrets, a word about the sourcing. All these items are based on random discoveries, and they needn’t be expensive. Food prices in Greece, while on the increase, are generally far below what they are in the US, and many gourmet nibbles can be found in ordinary supermarkets. All of these items are readily available in Greece but are tough to find easily elsewhere. So whether you’re a budding caper connoisseur or confirmed chocoholic, these fabulous foodie finds will help you get your Greek snacking groove on.
Assyrtiko wine from Santorini
You may not realize it, but the most over-Instagrammed island in the Mediterranean, Santorini, is also a small agricultural wonderland. That’s largely thanks to its soil, which is rich in volcanic ash. One of the plants that thrive in this soil is the white grape that makes the sweet white Assyrtiko wine. While these grapes are cultivated in a few other places in Greece, the Assyrtiko vineyards in Santorini are the most famous. You’ll be able to find good bottles of Assyrtiko wine from Santorini at most wine shops throughout the country.
Capers from Sifnos or Santorini
The volcanic soil of Santorini strikes again to produce some of the tangiest capers you’ll find. But if you happen to find yourself on the island of Sifnos, you’ll find that the capers grown there are even better. Don’t look for fancy labels, just snap up whatever little canister of capers you can find. While Santorini capers are widely available, the true Sifnian capers are found almost exclusively in Sifnos.
ION chocolate bars
Moving away from the strictly gourmet for a moment, this is one of my Greek supermarket favorites: Ion chocolate bars. The venerable Greek chocolate company, based in a suburb of Athens, has been churning out chocolate bars since 1927. You can’t go wrong with the classic milk chocolate (red wrapper) and dark chocolate (blue wrapper) bars, but also try some of the more deliciously intriguing varieties like the Serano bar (milk chocolate with cocoa cream filling) and JOIN Cheesecake bar (mascarpone and cherry filling surrounded by milk chocolate).
Pasteli sesame candy
Pasteli is a very traditional, not-too-sweet Greek treat based on two ancient ingredients: sesame seeds and honey. In its most common form, the honey is boiled before being mixed with sesame seeds, and ideally, your pasteli bar will be thin and more chewy than crispy. You’ll find all manner of variations at gourmet shops and grocery stores alike — with bits of dried fruits and nuts often added in. But the simplest is often the best.
I discovered this little offbeat bundle of yum in a periptero, or newsstand, in Heraklion in Crete. But Twee bars are made in mainland Greece, near Thessaloniki. What are they? Think loukoumi, or Greek Delight jelly candy, with a resolutely contemporary twist — the jellied fruity part in the middle has soft crispy biscuit on either side and the whole thing is coated in chocolate. Amongst the three flavors, the Twee Blueberry with white chocolate is an absolute revelation. Fun packaging makes these little guys perfect gifts for the folks at the office who didn’t get to go to Greece with you.
Sweet pebble dragées
Big fat Greek weddings come with many traditions attached, including dragées, or almonds coated in a hard candy shell. One company, Hatziyiannakis, has rebooted the traditional white candy dragée with a seriously dazzling array of new ones, including one line called “pebbles” and another, “Choco Bits”. The pebbles are fruity and named for Greek islands. For example, the Crete Sweet Pebbles are lemon pieces in syrup and milk chocolate coated with a thin layer of colored sugar, and Rhodes Sweet Pebbles are whole strawberries dunked in syrup and milk chocolate with a crispy sweet shell. Choco Bits come in different iterations like white and milk chocolate with apple cinnamon flavor and are like Galaxy Minstrels — only a more nirvana-like Greek version.
Cherry spoon sweets
Spoon sweets are a very traditional Greek sweet that you can find for cheap in any Greek grocery store. These are basically fruits, usually sweet or citrus, preserved in a thick sugary syrup and packaged in glass jars. Cherry spoon sweets are a favorite. Whichever variety you settle on, the way to serve it is by the tablespoon with a tall glass of cold water on the side.
Small batch olive oil
It may seem cliché to buy olive oil in Greece, but the truth is you’re going to have a far easier time finding the best varietals inside the country than out of it. Virtually any olive oil from Crete is going to blow you away. But here’s a good one from Corfu, and a brand called Live Longer, from Koroneiki olives harvested in the southern Peloponnese (near Kalamata), has a bitter/spicy flavor that will transform any salad.
Scandalous pink mayo
The vegan craze has taken hold in Greece, yielding a bumper crop of innovative food products, such as this “scandalous” egg-free pink mayonnaise from a company called Topos. Red peppers give it the pink. Also in this range, “Americanized Gherkin Mayo.”
You can’t pack a cup of coffee in your suitcase, but you can take some robust Greek coffee with you. In any Greek grocery store, look for the Loumidis Papagalos brand — if you can’t make out the letters in Greek, just look for the red parrot logo. If on the other hand, you want to make a Greek-style hot instant coffee or cold frappe at home, you can stock up on Nescafe which comes in both travel-size cans or as boxed single coffee sticks.
If you’re planning on bringing any of these snacks home with you, be sure you’re well aware of potential customs restrictions for the country you’re entering. And once you know you’re good to go, stock up on these snacks in order to bring a piece of your journey home with you.
Featured image courtesy of Kosta Filippakis
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