Long leisurely meals are a part of the Greek way of life. And every region has its own cuisine and its own specialities. I had previously enjoyed the food of Athens, and now it was time to discover the cuisine of Epirus. What I found was fresh, local ingredients, regional dishes, and a massive choice of restaurants. I even got to sample some Ancient Greek recipes…
Fresh Local Food
As you explore Epirus you’ll note that it is primarily agricultural, with hardly a trace of industry. The land is fertile, with a heavy autumn rainfall, resulting in a lush vegetation that covers every mountain.
There are olive groves and different types of citrus fruit. An abundance of fresh herbs and wild greens, of mushrooms and of nuts. There are distinctive local cheeses, and the long coastline ensures a plentiful supply of fish and seafood.
Meat, Fish And Vegetarian Food
Meat dishes are often based upon lamb, although you will also find pork, chicken and veal. Fish-lovers are particularly well catered for, with species including sea bass, bream, sardines and anchovies, as well as some – like the govios – that are virtually unknown outside Epirus. And the area is particularly famed for its large shrimps.
Vegetarians can eat well just about anywhere. You’ll be offered meals based on different types of cheese, rice and vegetables, as well as the local pastry dishes.
Olive oil is a particular speciality of the region. I was lucky enough to visit the Poiema olive grove, where organic koroneiki olives are grown to create an award-winning extra virgin olive oil. Here I learnt how to assess the oil for quality (considering its smell, bitterness and pungency). Using my new found skill I can report that all the (very plentiful) olive oil I tasted in Epirus was excellent!
Of course, if you want tourist staples like souvlaki or moussaka, you’ll find them in many restaurants. But don’t limit yourself: there is a whole regional gastronomy to explore. Based on a peasant cuisine, this often involves plain meat dishes made with the finest ingredients or locally caught fish, simply grilled.
What struck me most was the pastry dishes. There are endless versions of these, including cheese pie and the delicious lachanopites, stuffed with whatever wild greens are available. And, of course, there are sweet pastries, including the famous local milk pie.
Another local speciality is the “spoon sweets”, fruits preserved in syrup. As the name suggests, these are served in small spoonfuls, perhaps with a plate of cheese, or as part of a breakfast buffet.
What To Drink In Epirus
Epirus has many vineyards and a long history of winemaking. White sparkling wine made from the local debina grape is the most widespread, but red and rose wines are also produced. The Wine Route of Epirus is based around Ioannina and includes some wineries where visitors can sample the wines.
The local spirit is tsipouro, which comes in small bottles and seems to be drunk everywhere, and at every stage of a meal. It was first manufactured by monks in the 14th century: the story goes that its clear colour allowed them to pass it off as water if their alcohol-forbidding Ottoman overlords approached!
For a non-alcoholic drink you could try the Green Mountain Tea. This is a herbal tea, often sweetened with honey, favoured for its health giving properties.
Eating Out In Epirus
You’ll find everything from street food to cafés to restaurants more patronised by locals than tourists. It is at the latter that you’ll find the most authentic food.
My first place I ate during my trip to Epirus was at the friendly Mpaxari in Vlacherna, near Arta. Here we worked our way through a whole range of regional dishes, starting with olives, bread and olive oil, then local cheeses and a big mound of salad. There was lamb and potatoes for the meat-eaters (I had a mushroom risotto instead), followed by slices of apple dipped in cinnamon.
And, in Preveza – where there are so many restaurants that you are spoilt for choice – we ate at Tieli Garida (whose name translates as Crazy Shrimp). This one specialises in fish, bringing out numerous dishes of different types of fish and seafood. However, they also had lots of vegetarian options.
A Cookery Lesson… And Eating Like The Ancient Greeks
Finally, I have to mention the lovely Aggelon Katafygio (Angel’s Shelter) at Aspragelli near Ioannina. This is a guesthouse and restaurant where we enjoyed a cookery lesson with Sofia, who taught us the correct way to roll out filo pastry – there’s a bit more to this than just attacking it with a rolling pin…
Our lesson was followed by a meal masterminded by Theodore, president of the Gastronomy Club of Epirus. His mission was to serve us a meal such as the ancient Greeks might have eaten. We were served dish after dish of mouth-watering food: if I have to choose a favourite it would be the dessert of pastry and dried fruits. It seemed an appropriate way to round off a trip where we had been exploring the classical sites of Epirus!
My visit to Epirus was sponsored by the Programme of Tourism Promotion of Epirus Region.