Rhodes holds a very pleasant surprise in store, for anyone who visit the island for the first time. The visitor of this emerald island of the southeast Aegean Sea, might already know that Rhodes is the biggest of a complex of islands, known as the Dodecanese.
One might have even heard or read about the History of the island from the Antiquity to the Middle Ages and from Byzantium to modern times. It is well known that in the eastern side of the Mediterranean basin, some bright examples of civilizations have thrived through the centuries.
Part of this region, Rhodes is full of monuments, proving its glorious past, its natural beauty and charming atmosphere, form a fascinating present, which conquers the heart of the visitor. And while enjoying the beauties of the island with all one’s senses, one can discover the taste of the Rhodian gastronomy, a treasure of cultural inheritance for the people of the island who maintain and enrich their tradition.
At this great crossroads of civilizations, the taste and diet have acquired elements from all three continents surrounding the island. Nevertheless, despite the influences Rhodes has been subjected to, it has never lost its unique character: it’s a Mediterranean land. Even though has borrowed elements from Asia, Africa and Europe, its cuisine, follows the example of the rest of Greece and is, above all, Mediterranean. The various elements were selected, filtered and finally re-invented, with a very distinct local character. This process was slow and the criteria were solely cultural. A nation, subject foreign occupants trying to enforce their own ways, could only resist peacefully and quietly; with is introversion.
The people of Rhodes have left many things out of their diet, keeping in mind the number of different cultures that tried to influence them.
The basis of the Rhodian diet has always been -and still is- wheat and olive. From a nutritionist’s point of view, the island’s society in the past, was mainly agricultural and there were no fishing products on the table, perhaps at the time, the sea – trade on the island was in decline. Of course, let’s not forget that in Rhodes, there was always the alternative of farming, as opposed to other islands of the same area whose infertile soil forced the locals to turn to the sea. The friendly fertile land of Rhodes was always full of sun – kissed crops.
Should one we make a gastronomical journey to the island’s past and visit a household of the first half of the twentieth century, one would notice that the foods came directly from “Mother earth” play the most important role in the people’s diet: bread, olives and olive oil, dishes made with cereals, pulses, vegetables, dried fruit and seeds, grapes, must and wine, fruits and sweets made of these ingredients. Animal products, such as chicken, eggs, dairy and meat, play a secondary role on the Rhodian diet, with fish and sea food being the least preferable. What is most important though, is the processing of these ingredients and the way they are being prepared and cooked, before reaching the table. The season succession philosophy is closely connected to the circle of the religious festivities, with both having helped with the creation and development of dishes, pastries and desserts, the origins of which are very hard to determine, yet they are what makes the island’s cuisine so special.
The use of natural ingredients, the traditional preservation methods, using and the organizing of the household led, to the creation of simple nutritious meals, satisfying the every – day needs of the people, especially those who lived and worked in the country.
The grinding of the wheat gave high quality fresh flour, with which people made their bread. The same wheat, coarsely milled, made the “chondros” or “pirgouri” ( a kind of grouts ). Oh, the number of dishes one can make with pirgouri! This healthy organic food is widely’ used in the Rhodian cuisine.
And then there is pasta! Imagine a household which, apart from the daily bread, it also produces “Chylopites”, spaghetti, “Trachanas” ( pasta, made with coarsely milled wheat and sour milk ) and pastries of all kinds.
The treasures of nature are also used to the maximum: wild vegetables, leaves and roots, blites, “Voedoglosses”, turnips, caper, vine leaves, red pumpkin and courgettes, onions, okras, fresh beans, peppers and many others. The meat, from the animals which we can still see today grazing in the islands pastures, is cooked with great care and imagination.
Other ingredients that are also being used, adding that extra flavor are herbs and spices; raisins, pine nuts, parsley, dill, cinnamon and of course cumin. And finally, let’s not forget the fish from their own sea, whose excellent flavor and freshness, is one of the first tastes the people of the island experience, for which they have invented a way to preserve, in a splendid marinara sauce.
A separate chapter is the wide range of sweets and desserts, made mainly of cereals, olive oil, nuts, fruits honey and herbs, and, occasionally eggs. With their explicit flavor they contribute to the festive atmosphere of weddings, christenings, name days and all kinds of celebrations. Up to this day, when the Rhodian housewife bakes “Melekounia”, the neighborhood is filled with the sweet smell of honey and sesame
The Rhodian Gastronomy of today
If tradition always set a rich table in Rhodes of yesteryear, there is no reason why this should not be happening today, in an even larger scale.
This is common knowledge for all visiting the island. Food lovers from all around the world, have now one more reason to visit Rhodes: having the chance to enjoy local specialties that combine brilliantly tradition and modem life style: unforgettable, delicate flavors, fresh fish and seafood, original cool salads, magnificent meat dishes.
Many seem to think that tourism has played an active part in this evolution and they most certainly have a point. But we have reasons to believe that there is more to it, because despite the nouvelle cuisine influence, the delicacies of the island remain purely Rhodian.
What has surely helped towards this pleasantly surprising development, is the fact that many of the “ new ” ingredients, like rocket, avocado, estragon etc. can now be found on the island, being farmed and growing under the warm touch of its sun. All the vegetables receive good care, with the contribution of modern technology and have been improved with the introduction of new varieties.
Everything else though, remains the same: the olive oil comes from the same trees, the Pirgouri is made of the same wheat, the meat and fish are as always exquisite, the dairy products and the fruits are still the same, if not better.
If we add to all these, the professionalism and commitment of everyone involved in the catering industry, in tavernas, restaurants and hotels, then we understand why the face of modern Rhodian gastronomy is so impressive.
Preparing and serving food is something that should be done with love. All those who have studied the “art de la table”, were taught how to transform this love into either a glorious feast of flavors or a simple, delicate and tasty dish.
We could say though, that someone with an experienced, who knows Rhodes very well, will not be deceived by the novelties. When in the trendiest restaurants one is served a howl of olive oil fragranced with herbs ( Oregano or spearmint ), when the fish is garnished with the traditional “Perikoftes” ( kind of toasted bread ) or when the salad is served with yoghurt, there is no need one to wonder; they are in Rhodes.
There are restaurants of all kinds and all nationalities on the island, satisfying both the palate and the eye! All things in life are images, smells and flavors, with taste being the most powerful sense, awakening memories and smells.
Say cheers with Rhodian Wine
The art of wine – making has been practiced in Rhodes since antiquity. The vine traveled from the East to the Aegean Islands first, and from there, the favorite plant of god Dionysus, spread out and put down roots.
There has always been plenty of good wine in Rhodes, due to wine – making art being advanced and the wine-makers being pioneers. The good reputation of the Rhodian wine was enhanced every time the urns, marked with the representation of god Helios ( Sun ), were unloaded at some Mediterranean port. God Helios who with his warm and loving touch, ripens the grapes and makes them sweet.
And although the knowledge of wine-making chemistry was yet to be conquered, people knew that the sunshine, the excellent conditions and the ‘micro – environment of a pure era, magically transformed the must into magnificent wine. In the years that followed, the cultivation of the vine developed further. The old varieties invigorated and improved and new ones were introduced.
From the well – known since ancient times, Muscatel White, the Athiri and the Mandilaria, which is called Amorgiano by the locals, to Muscatel Trani, the Asyrtiko, the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Grenache Rouge, we can definitely say that the Rhodian wine is of divine origin.
It should be noted that all the “Outside” interventions, improved but did not alter the balanced taste, result of years and years of evolution. The fact that the Rhodian wine – making industry still produces wine, made 100% of Athiri, Amorgiano or Muscat, proves that not only have the native varieties lasted in time, but with the help of the experienced wine – makers and wine experts, they render the maximum of their abilities. As for the modem creations made of new varieties that follow the trends of the contemporary market, one sip will tell us that Sun god Helios, god Sun has once again worked his miracle.
Rhodian Wine Labels
The collection of Rhodes modern wines, includes a wide variety of whites, reds and rose as well as the famous sparkling wines, aperitifs, liqueurs and the local ouzo. This wide range, along with the excellent quality, brings the Rhodian wines among the first in the international market, with a number of award-winning labels. Let’s take a closer look at two of the most important wine- producing companies of Rhodes.
Oenothiki EMERY, of the Triantafyllou family, was founded in Rhodes in 1923. With respect to quality and tradition, the company keeps expanding constantly its horizons, creating wines for a very demanding market.
Villare Blanc de Blanc: A magnificent dry white wine, named after a French knight of the order of Saint John of Rhodes and Malta. Made 100% of the Athiri variety, it provokes with its golden color, surprises with its pleasant fruity aroma and conquers with its balanced, smooth and multileveled flavor. It goes perfectly with fish, seafood, fine cheeses and appetizers.
Zacosta: This remarkable dry red wine is made of the Amorgiano variety, it remains for five months in French oak barrels, then in old brandy barrels and finally it is allowed to mature in the bottle for four more months. It has a warm red color that captures the eye. It is goes wonderfully with red meats, poultry and spicy cheese.
Athiri Vounoplagias: Athiri Vounoplagias is a wine with Appellation of Origin RODOS and of Superior Quality, having undergone very little processing and is best drunk fresh. It is made from 100% Athiri grapes, from selected vineyards on the north-western slopes of mount Attaviron. It is a dry white, with attractive golden hue, velvety taste and live fruity aroma.
It is a pleasant aperitif, also complimenting soft taste cheese, white meat and poultry, fish and seafood.
CAIR wine-making company has become the equivalent of good Rhodian wine. It was established in 1928 and ever since, has lovingly supported the local vineyard farming and wine production, managing to combine tradition and technology in a remarkable way.
Rodos 2400: This exceptional white dry wine, made from the Athiri variety, has a distinct bouquet of exotic fruits as well as a note of the pale-fleshed peach and apple. Its fine and full-bodied flavor, is well balanced and goes brilliantly with shrimps and crawfish, lobster and grilled fish.
Archontiko: A unique red dry wine, which is a blend of Mandilaria and Grenache Rouge grapes, matured in oak barrels. It has a deep purple color and its palate is rich with prune, vanilla and cake spice, and a pleasant, well-balanced finish. It will complement your lamb casserole, grilled meat, as well as delicacies with red sauce and cheese.
Rouvinio: Its bright copper-pink color, makes this special wine really attractive at first glance.
A blend of Mandilaria and Trani Muscat, from selected mountain vineyards, this wine offers a lot more than expected of a dry rose. Its strawberry, pomegranate and rose aroma, is only a foretaste of the soft caramel and fruits palate, perfectly complimenting shrimp and lobster dishes, seafood pasta and traditional Greek cuisine.