Usually when people visit new places they try to get a feeling of the local traditions and history by visiting museums and exhibitions. I usually do it by going to the food markets. I like mostly to check the stands with the fresh products that tell the story of the land and the people that cultivate it. Its like, show me your food to tell me who you are.
Last month I visited Greece and when this happens particularly during Spring/Summer times I'm expecting again strong emotions. That time of year the wealth and variety of fresh goodies in combination with low prices brings me lust for living there. This time I visited the Aegean island of Tinos.
I disembarked from the boat and started walking towards the town center. Honestly speaking, at that moment my mind was picturing nice beaches and sea swimming rather than food and markets. But unexpectedly, just few meters from the docking spot few ladies were standing and selling their produce. There were stalls loaded with all the season offers; among them seasonal veggies like broad beans, wild artichokes, the first zucchini and others. I got a bit excited but still my mind was guiding me to the closest beach to enjoy the first swim of the year.
Keeping a steady pace and only turning a bit my head to scan the stalls, my eyes focused on something that made me stop; sun-dried tomatoes passed through threads, hanged like necklaces. Living already for many years in a north Europe metropolis, these images had become exotic to me. I touched the tomatoes and felt that few were semi-dried and still a bit juicy. I was happy having found something to bring back home but I decided to come another moment to do my shopping. First the sea!
The reason I went to Tinos was to visit a gastronomic festival, known as Tinos Food Paths, which is organised the last years by enthusiastic locals under the support also from local authorities.
Many of the organizers are young cooks and/or owners of restaurants. Some of them had worked before in bigger cities and then returned to their islands to continue doing what they like. Through the festival not only they promote their businesses but they introduce also to the visitors the gastronomic treasures of Tinos that are best ambassadors of the great Mediterranean food tradition. Indeed, this small island offers such a wealth of food that could satisfy easily any desire. Except of cultivated, fresh food items, Tinos can be also proud for a great selection of cured/fermented products, with many of them being produced uniquely there. I was particularly astonished by the numerous local cheeses from different milk types and the preservative-free cured meats that can stand equally well side-by-side with the famous Italian and French counterparts.
The aim of the festival is to establish Tinos a gastronomic destination, and that fits well with the declaration of south Aegean as European region of gastronomy for 2019. Another planned idea for instance is to create the so-called Tinian Breakfast, that will be made with a wide selection of products produced locally and can be offered as an upgraded breakfast option in restaurants and hotels. Part of the breakfast the traditional bread of Tinos with its characteristic spiral shape.
This year festival was dedicated to pigeons, which are part of the laographic profile of the island. Back in poor times, people of Tinos couldn’t afford expensive meat products and started breeding pigeons. For that they built characteristic houses that could accommodate the birds. Those houses are spread around Tinos and are architecturally very interesting because they were constructed with the concept to accommodate both humans and birds; ground floor for humans, upper floor for birds. We had the chance to visit few of those houses in the surroundings of the village Tarampados and learn about the role that those birds played in the life of people.
The central location of the festival was the old fish market of Tinos, near the port and just opposite the sea front. There, and every day for a whole week known figures from the Greek gastronomy scene cooked for the public, presenting recipes inspired and based on the local products. We watched them cooking for us and then tasted a plethora of traditional and modern recipes, which ranged from Greek-style sardine sushi and cured pigeons cooked with orange to dried tomato ice cream. Additionally, visitors had the chance to learn about food characteristics and preparation techniques through seminars given by experts.
At the end of the day, the most important acquirement for me in Tinos and except enjoying the good food and sea, was the chance to meet and become friends with hospitable people, that have a genuine interest for their land and traditions. I left Tinos looking forward already for the next year. Before departing, I passed by from the veggie stalls and bought some tomato necklaces to bring back home. With few of them I did a simple pesto sauce and the rest are still hanged on my kitchen wall.
Dried Tomato Pesto Recipe
Ingredients (that makes to fill a medium size jar)
- Dried tomatoes / 100g
- Sultana raisins / 25g
- Nuts of your preference (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachio..) / 25g
- Extra-virgin olive oil / 20g
- Black and/or chilly pepper
- Soak overnight or at least for few hours the tomatoes, raisins and nuts in water.
(This softens the tomatoes and raisins and they blend easier but also allows efficient absorption of nut nutrients, particularly minerals).
- Blend thoroughly the ingredients in a food processor, adding if necessarya bit from the tomato water to obtain the desired consistency.
- Season with peppers as you wish. Use directly or transfer in a jar, layer the top with extra-virgin olive oil and store in the fridge for several days.
(Usually I don’t add salt at all because the mix should be already salty from the dried tomatoes. I also don’t add cheese but you can include it based on your preferences).