Paul Connolly takes us on a culinary journey to sample the flavours of southern Greece
Is the Peloponnese big on food?
Peloponnesian food culture is one of the oldest in Europe and its brawny flavours are the very essence of rustic Greek food. Legend has it that the simplicity of the food is down to the influence of the Spartans. Everything focuses on big, bold flavours, and here, perhaps more than anywhere else in Greece, the olive tree. The Peloponnesians have always prided themselves on food that has simple, clean flavours of the earth and sea.
What are some of the diet staples of the region?
The olive and its oil define the table here probably more than any other raw ingredient. There are seven PDO (Protected Designations of Origin) olive oil regions here, with most of the product being made from koroneiki olives (other varieties include athinoelia and kolyreiki). Some locals even bring a bottle of their own along to tavernas and drizzle it liberally over the already dressed salads. Peloponnesian food is also reliant on the region’s agricultural products, including lemons, oranges, grapes, aubergines and tomatoes, while pork and rabbit are the favoured meats.
I take it this is all locally sourced, fresh produce?
Yes. Peloponnesians are very proud of their food culture and prefer to use only local produce. Most of the food served in the restaurants and bars will be sourced locally and must be as fresh as possible: fish must be straight from the sea, and vegetables newly dug from the ground or picked from the vines of local farmers.
Does each sub-region have its own dishes?
While loukániko can refer to any number of sausages in Greek, it’s the piquant orange-spiced pork version that’s associated with the name in Messinia; Argolida is best known for its meat dishes such as rooster in red wine and wild boar; chestnut skordalia is an Arcadian speciality; Korinthians savour dark, sweet raisins; calamari tickles those in Elis; Achaian fishing villages favour anchovies and Laconians love the pungent syglino pork dish from the Mani peninsula.
And has the secret of peloponnesian food reached the wider world?
Although the Peloponnese peninsula remains largely undiscovered by tourists, the region’s foods have travelled well. The area’s olive oils are widely exported — Peloponnese extra-virgin oil accounts for 75% of Greece’s entire exports of the ingredient — as are potatoes and fruit. Meanwhile Michael Psilakis, an acclaimed New York chef, cooks mainly Peloponnese food, inspired by his Greek mother, in his two American restaurants, and companies such as Navarino Icons and Source Atlantique (which owns the Peloponnese Mediterranean brand) export the food worldwide.