History – Info
Mediterranean character, Venetian scent and a light British touch is what makes the Corfiot cuisine irresistible. The throne in the kitchen belongs to olive oil, along with legumes, pastas, vegetables, fish and a lot of spices.
To understand the importance of the latter for the Corfiots, you should know that spices, carefully treasured in velvet pouches, used to be part of the dowry for the daughters of rich families!
Corfiot cuisine differs from Greek mainland cooking, not only in the taste, but also in the origin of the names of the dishes, due mainly to the influence of the Venetian occupation of about 400 years. Also, some particularities of the local cuisine are owed to the English people, despite their coexistence with the locals for only a short period of time.
The most frequent way of cooking in Corfu is in a saucepan, more than anywhere else in Greece. Another way of cooking and maintaining fish and vegetables consists of a marinade of vinegar, salt, oil, rosemary and raisins, known as ‘savouro’.
Specifically in Northern Corfu the cuisine is somewhat heavier, due to the extensive use of crushed red chili pepper, which was much cheaper than all the other spices, and therefore found its place in almost every local dish of this area, which was living in poverty until just a few decades ago. Note that electricity only reached Northern Corfu in the late 70’s!
• The most important product of Corfu is undoubtedly olive oil. Corfu is covered by millions of olive trees, some of them over 400 years old, and 3% of the world’s olive oil comes from Corfiot olives! Most of these trees were planted massively by the Venetians, during their occupation of the island.
• Corfu has a wine-making tradition that goes back many years. The wine of the Phaeakeans (the people living in Corfu), was even praised by Homer in the Odyssey. Especially before the massive planting of olive trees by the Venetians, Corfu used to be largely covered by vineyards. But, even though many vineyards had to make way for olive groves, wine is still being produced in Corfu. Local varieties include Kakotrygis (quite a few grape varieties in the Ionians have black, red and white variants, and this is one of particular note), Petrokoritho (a dry red brousko wine), Fraoula (a strong heavy red wine), Moschato (a particularly fragrant white wine) and Martzavi (a dry mellow wine made from dark red grapes with heavy taste, known as black Corfiot wine). There are several small wineries in Corfu, producing wines in limited quantities but of a very high quality. One of them is the Theotoky Estate in the Ropa Valley.
• Corfu Beer brewery is a modern microbrewery in Arillas, where you can try delicious fresh beers, and meet the people behind the idea, who are passionate about real ale, and driven by making real beer from pure ingredients, free from any chemicals, stabilizers and pasteurization – beer just as it is supposed to be! It has been awarded as the third best microbrewery worldwide for 2013.
• Olive oil soap has been used for centuries in the Mediterranean, both for personal hygiene and for general cleaning purposes. Pure olive oil soap is considered the most adequate skin cleanser since it unblocks skin pores by effectively removing dirt, oily substances and dead cells. It is made from natural raw materials and the final product does not contain any additives.
• Ginger beer (tzitzibira in Corfiot), a soft drink made from lemon juice, ground ginger, water and sugar ripened in the bottle, without preservatives, is another trademark of the island. It was introduced by the British and became very popular with the locals. Ginger beer is very refreshing and said to be very good for the stomach and that it can cure diarrhea and nausea. Ginger may also decrease pain from arthritis and may have blood thinning and cholesterol lowering properties that may make it useful for treating heart disease.
• Kumquat in Chinese means “golden orange” and it resembles indeed to very small oranges. It was introduced to Corfu by the English agronomist Merlin (responsible also for the introduction of the very well known Merlin oranges variety) and is now the island’s trademark. You will find it preserved as a liqueur, candied, chocolate-coated, and processed into sweets, jam, marmalade and even perfume!
• Nouboulo: High quality pork fillet, which is salt cured and spiced with black pepper and then filled in intestine smoked on beech wood among a variety of aromatic herbs. Its’ gentle taste confirms the meaning of its’ name: noble! And it accompanies perfectly a nice glass of wine or beer. Other charcuterie products include Salami Salado (ground smoked pork) and Pancetta (pork belly meat).
• Mandolato: A kind of nougat popular throughout the Ionian. Made with honey, almonds and meringue.
• Mandoles: candied almonds.
Corfiot Traditional Specialties
Sofrito : slices of veal or beef cooked slowly with garlic and parsley, normally served with mashed potatoes or rice.
Pastitsada: rooster or beef cooked in a rich spicy tomato sauce with long and thick bucatini spaghetti.
Bourdeto: fish cooked in a (hot) spicy sauce.
Bianco: fillet of cod in the pot with potatoes and sauce of garlic, parsley, white pepper and lemon juice.
Tsigareli: sautéed local greens in pot enriched with a lot of paprika.
Other Greek Specialities
Kleftiko: lamb, potatoes and vegetables cooked and served in individual clay pots.
Mousaka: layers of aubergine, courgettes, mincemeat and topped with a béchamel sauce.
Pastitsio: a pasta pie of mincemeat in spicy tomato sauce topped with béchamel sauce.
Stifado: a stew made with beef, rabbit or hare flavoured with red wine, garlic, bay leave, small onions and tomatoes.
Dolmades: Vine or cabbage leaves stuffed with rice, parsley and sometimes served with egg and lemon sauce.
Gemista: stuffed green peppers and tomatoes, with herbs and rice (and sometimes mincemeat).
Souvlaki: a popular Greek fast food consisting of small pieces of meat and sometimes vegetables grilled on a skewer. It may be served on the skewer with bread, in a pita sandwich with garnishes and sauces, (usually tzatziki) or on a dinner plate, often with fried potatoes.