The Cycladic island of Amorgos forms a relatively large rugged rectangle that is 121 sq km in area but has a population of only 1,800 people. Its most important landmark is the architecturally unique Monastery of the Panagia Hozoviotissa, built into a sheer cliff, and its most recent springboard to fame, the film “The Big Blue”, which Luc Besson shot in the turquoise waters of Agia Anna under the monastery. Suddenly, the remote island became an ‘in-place’.
Nevertheless, Amorgos today remains unscathed by mass tourism. Here you will meet scores of little chapels scattered in the undeveloped hinterland, villages untouched by time, charming old coffee houses, cobbled paths, a dynamic livestock tradition and people with smiles on their lips who sing, enjoy life and take part in dozens of local festivals and church fairs.
On Amorgos, a “Kalimera – Good morning” begins with a shot glass of warmed raki; at the kafeneia/coffee houses customers treat each other to rakomelo (raki with honey) and stage impromptu music sessions at the first opportunity. The tavernas serve local dishes, while in the countryside the air is perfumed with thyme, penny royal and sage and the white-washed chapels gleam in the Aegean light. Despite its small population, the island has some surprising products and special dishes, which betray the existence of its own gastronomic identity.
There is even a difference between those of the mountains and those of the valleys. In the former are the goat and sheep’s milk cheeses, honey, and herbs for tisanes. In the latter you’ll find olive groves, vineyards, wheat and barley fields, fava (split yellow peas) and certain fruits (figs, citrus, sour apples).
Roasted raki is a drink typical of Amorgos and is offered as a welcome to visitors along with a piece of Turkish delight at the Hozoviotissa monastery. Its story began many years ago when the women of Amorgos, finding the pure alcohol too strong, made a liqueur more to their liking by adding honey and various herbs and spices. It acquired the name ‘roasted’ for two reasons: the honey is warmed very slowly and because the drink ‘roasts’ or ages with the passage of time.
This sparsely populated island boasts 15,000 goats and sheep, and thousands roam wild in the mountains. They provide the meat for delicious local dishes as well as many cheeses, including myzithra, anthotyri, melichloro, xero, xinotyri and a sharp kopanisti.
The mountains of Amorgos are covered in herbs, especially oregano, sage, rosemary, pennyroyal, thyme and mallow, which are used in teas and tisanes. Among the people who collect and sort these herbs, Alexandros Kaloutas was rewarded with one of the first Great Taste Awards in 2017.
This characteristic dish is a stew of goat meat and potatoes. It is served at most of the island’s restaurants and tavernas and everyone knows that the best ‘patatato’ is to be found at the feast of Agia Paraskevi in the village of Kato Meria. On the eve of the saint’s day, more than 4,000 portions of the treat are served to the faithful (and revellers) who gather at the monastery.
Xerotigana, coiled ribbons of fried pastry, are the island’s most traditional sweet. They are made with the simplest ingredients – flour, olive oil and salt – twirled in a large pan filled with hot olive or seed oil, drizzled with a syrup of sugar, water, honey and lemon juice, and then sprinkled with sesame seeds or crushed toasted almonds.
Kavourmas, a kind of confit usually thought of as a northern Greek dish, is made with pork on Amorgos, as follows: The meat, cut into small pieces, is marinated for 2-3 hours in spices and oil. It is then fried in pork fat, and placed in an ordinary container with its fat, where it is stored either in the refrigerator or a cool place. It may be eaten on its own – heated up in the frying pan – or with eggs, pasta or pulses.
Greek Gastronomy Guide and Blue Star Ferries present another view of the Aegean islands through their cuisines and food traditions. “We Serve the Aegean” is showcasing each island through its history, geography, local products, characteristic foods and much much more. Everything needed to leave us with a rich taste of what each particular place has to offer.