Kos, the third largest of the Dodecanese islands after Rhodes and Kalymnos, is the second (after Rhodes) in population size (33,388 inhabitants) and the second most popular tourist destination in the southern Aegean. Rich in history, it has much to interest the visitor, from the hospital where Hippocrates practiced medicine to Roman ruins, a Crusader castle and Ottoman mosques. But it also boasts all the contemporary attractions that make a visitor’s stay pleasant and relaxing: hotels for every price range, excellent restaurants and nightclubs, opportunities for sports, excursions, walks and biking. In fact, Kos is a cyclist’s dream, not too steep and equipped with endless bicycle paths.
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine and the island’s most famous resident, was born here in 460 BC. He taught at the Aesclepeion (probably not under the legendary planetree, which is but six hundred years old or so) and wrote his famous Works, which includes the Hippocratic Oath – first, do no harm – taken by doctors up to the present.
In Classical and Roman times Kos was renowned for its natural wealth and given the name “the Isle of the Blessed” or “the floating garden”, because its soil was so rich, yielding abundant but also superior crops. In those days ships loaded with agricultural products, mainly grapes, watermelons, melons as well as amphoras filled with the island’s famous wine took their precious cargos all over the Mediterranean. And at the same time the fertile earth supported more than 120,000 inhabitants, four times more than today’s population.
Despite the tourist development of recent decades, the interior of the island is still rich in flourishing vegetable gardens, olive groves that produce delicious oil, and vineyards whose grapes go direct to wineries, two of which are visitable. All these products can be found on the tables of homes, hotels and restaurants.
The little tomato of Kos (vergaki) is a unique type of tomato, small and elongated with a thick skin, dense flesh and intense aroma, it is excellent in salads and cooked dishes but finds its apotheosis when made into a jam-like sweet beloved of the locals.
Posias is a cheese that has been aged in wine dregs. Made equally by housewives and certified producers, the latter can be found in shops. Its shape is that of a ‘combed’, thin, asymmetrical cylinder with impressively deep grooves that come from the basket-like mould in which the fresh cheese is strained.
Wines of Kos
The cultivation of the vine and production of wine in Kos goes back to antiquity. Traditionally, its vineyards were located in the centre of the island around Dikaiou, on the north slopes of the mountain by that name. Recently, however, modern, visitable wineries (Triantafyllopoulos, Hatziemmanouil) have begun producing wine from Greek varieties (Malagouzia, Assyrtiko, Athiri) and foreign (Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache Rouge, Chardonnay, Syrah), while efforts are being made to revive some forgotten varieties.
Pasa Makarounes (the Pasha’s Macaroni) is the island’s signature dish. It’s similar to lasagna, consisting of many sheets of pastry layered with ground beef and myzithra cheese, and moistened with beef broth and milk. The dish demands quality ingredients, time and expertise, since the rolling out of so much pastry with a broomstick-thin rolling pin requires endless patience and practice.
Katimeria are pies that are stuffed with greens (poppy leaves, sorrel, nettles, green onions) or a fresh white cheese, rolled into a ‘sausage’, shaped into a loose coil and fried. The cheese coils also come in a sweet version, sprinkled with cinnamon and honey.
Mezedes of Kos
Some of the most typical foods of Kos display the influence of both the Venetians and nearby Turkey. Many of them thus contain rice or bulgur wheat, which show up in every kind of stuffed or wrapped vegetable (cabbage leaves, vine leaves, courgette flowers) but also appear as an Anatolian pilaf, an accompaniment to meat stews. Soutzoukakia, cumin-flavoured meatballs with tomato sauce, fried garden veg (aubergines, peppers, courgettes) and little pies splashed with yogurt are other Anatolian-inspired dishes.
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.