As widely known, taste and smell trigger the strongest memories and emotions. And what a better way to keep your Greek holidays in heart and memory for longer, than bring home some gifts from Greece, for you and your loved ones.
Of course we absolutely recommend to buy Greek olive oil and wild herbs for your Greek seasonings. In Greek specialty shops you find many in exquisite quality and fair prices, while you support local businesses and artisans.
So, ready for some Greek shopping? In this blogpost we stick to 5 unique “made in Greece” food products to buy, that are hard to find abroad due to their limited availability.
Mastiha from Chios
Our go-to recommendation when we are asked what is Greece’s most unique edible souvenir to bring back home. Mastiha is the name of a resinous sap coming from the mastic tree. Mastic trees are found all around the Mediterranean. In Chios island though they really feel like home. Due to the specific soil, temperature and environment they produce their valuable “tear drops” of mastic resin. This unique ecosystem was tried to be recreated around the world with no success. Mastic resin is a priceless gift of nature known for its healing properties since ancient times, like for stomach comfort and oral hygiene.
The “mastic tears” – the crystals formed from the resin- are part of our everyday life as they are often used in Greek food and drinks. Mastiha gives its distinctive flavour to pastries like sweet breads and cookies, but its most common use is in an ice cream called kaimaki, where along with its special flavour, it gives a characteristic chewy texture. (A nostalgic childhood memory for Greeks, eaten with sour cherry syrup and crushed pistachio on top).
So, if you are a skillful home cook don’t be afraid to experiment with mastiha in your kitchen, as local chefs do in Greek restaurants. Here’s a few recipes as inspiration to start with.
Aspiring mixologists? 🙂 We’ve got something for you too. Mastiha liqueur is served in a shot glass and offered after dinner as digestive and palate cleanser. You can experiment in creating Mediterranean-inspired cocktails or classic cocktails with a twist, for more inspiration.
Do you make your own gin? Buy some mastiha (even essential oil) for your home creations. Check out also the Greek Grace Gin that includes pistacia lentiscus (mastic tree=schinos in Greek) in distillation.
Pay a visit to the Chios Mastic Museum.
Where to buy: Peri Lesvou, Athinas 27.
Saffron from Kozani
If you find yourself around Kozani in autumn, you will witness a spectacle of exceptional beauty: thousands of tiny purple flowers cover the fields of the Crocus villages, making the landscape look like a painting.
Crocus is the Greek saffron, considered world-class. Known for its exquisite flavour, its deep red-orange stigmas give a “touch of gold” to Greek recipes. A few threads can make miracles, tossed even in your herbal infusions as nature’s medicine, so use it sparingly.
Crocus is an indigenous flower of the Aegean islands, depicted in wall paintings in Minoan palaces on Crete and on Santorini. However, Greek saffron is connected with the history and life of Kozani. Back in the 17th century, merchants brought the miraculous bulbs to the area from Central Europe to grow it as a precious spice. Since then, most families grow and harvest saffron, which requires a very labour intensive work. Crocus blooms at dawn and should be gathered till morning, as it quickly loses colour and aroma. The locals bent for hours over the plants, put the crocus flowers in their aprons and transfer them to big baskets. Then they separate the stigmas from the flowers and dry them. What remains is 1/5 of their original size. And just to give you an idea, for 1 kg of stigmas more than 150.000 flowers need to be picked!
Spice up your kitchen with this bright-coloured biscuits recipe from Astypalaia island.
Where to buy: Elixir, Evripidou 41.
“Vanilla” fir honey from Mainalo
If honey was gold, Greece would be one of the richest countries in the world! For such a small land, it’s incredible, the variety of different honeys that exists. Honeydew honey from trees (fir, pine, oak, chestnut) and from flower nectar (thyme, heather, sage), all of them of diverse textures and tastes. The list of our “natural born” superfoods is endless, as well as their antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. When in Athens, don’t miss a Greek honey tasting on our morning culinary tour, to start your day as sweet as honey.
“Vanilla” fir honey is the most exceptional honey you find in Greece. “Born” in Arcadia, from black fir trees around the impressive mountain range of Mainalo, this honeydew honey gained PDO status (Protected Designation of Origin) for its unparalleled quality.
Although low in natural sugars, it tastes like caramel and has a creamy texture that looks like a pearled jewel. An elixir, so rare and sought-after, that you don’t get it every year, so wherever you find it, go for it!
Where to buy: Kolios, Athinas 35.
Bottarga from Messolonghi
Greek caviar, known as “avgotaraho”, sparked international interest in the world of gastronomy, when it was featured in the menu of the famous restaurant elBulli.
Avgotaraho is cured fish roe from the flathead grey mullet, fished from the lagoons of Messolongi and Aitoliko in Western Greece.
Greek bottarga is a PDO product of superior quality and nutritional value with a great taste and even longer aftertaste.
Avgotaraho is a natural flavour enhancer that sparks the imagination of famous chefs and talented home cooks alike. Dare to experiment with your kitchen creations and put it on top of fish and seafood dishes, based on rice or pasta, salads or pulses. Lemon zest/drops of lemon juice and freshly ground pepper to finish.
Here’s a few ideas for cooking from the two main commercial producers of avgotaraho:
How to enjoy a Greek gourmet snack after a long day:
Leave avgotaraho at room temperature for at least half an hour. Cut a piece, remove the wax and slice it thinly. Pairs well with Chardonnay, Riesling, malt whiskey or bubbles. Pairs best with aged tsipouro (the Greek barrel-aged grape distillate).
For the holiday season: Pair it with white chocolate.
Where to buy: Korakis, inside the Central Fish Market of Athens.
Tomato from Santorini
Greece’s volcano island produces tomatoes of great taste that encompass the landscape’s unique terroir. Santorini’s tomatoes, along with its renowned fava and white eggplants, are nature’s survivors. They manage to thrive in an inhospitable environment. They are not irrigated and take all the moisture they need from the morning mist. The scarcity of water, along with the volcanic soil and the generous sunshine of the Mediterranean sun create a small tomato of fully concentrated, sweet umami taste. Local cuisine is based on the famous Santorini tomato paste and canned tomatoes, an industry once flourished on the island. When in Santorini, visit the historical tomato factory, now transformed into the Tomato Industrial Museum.
Domatokeftedes (tomato fritters) is a signature dish of the cucina povera of the island.
Tomato dip with capers and wild oregano from Santorini island – excellent on top of freshly baked sourdough bread.
Where to buy: Pantopolion, Dimitrakopoulou 34.