One key ingredient to a successful trip is treating your taste buds to local flavor. In Corfu, cuisine isn’t just mouthfuls of delight, but doubles as a marker of its turbulent history. For me, it was a lesson in humble dishes and rich culture.
You might not have known about Corfu’s tie to Greek Mythology, but the Venetian influences from 1300s that persist today are harder to ignore. It is the 16th century Venetian-Mediterranean trading route that sculpted today’s trending cuisine – the introduction of eastern spices have grounded cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and black pepper as base ingredients in almost every delicacy.
Still, having been fought over by the French, the British, Italy and Germany over several centuries, traces of international cuisine slowly seeped into traditional recipes. And while tourism in recent decades has brought in floods of business, restaurants have tweaked their recipes to suit visitors’ tastes… and lost out on the original, herby foods.
But it’s not as bleak as it sounds! Tavernas offer plenty of traditional foods for you to sample. Simple and delicious, I found myself returning to two particular dishes that are popular and easy to find. If you’re a spices and garlic fan like me, prepare for your stomach to be snatched.
Introducing the Pastitsado: an incredibly hearty stew served with pasta. Tenderized rooster or beef is cooked in red wine and tomato paste, offsetting the sour tinge of heated wine with sweet, slow-cooked onion.
Originally a dish of the poor, the spice trade is what gave a common stew its local twist. Random farm herbs were replaced with a spetsieriko blend. While the exact recipe is different for every eatery, the base includes paprika, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, black pepper and cumin.
Sounds yum right? This spiced up Pastitsado is a must-try. The light burn will warm you to your heart.
As a proud garlic lover, Corfu’s Sofrito dish makes my mouth water. Constantly. Another local fare that is easy to find (and presumably to make), its name comes from the ‘slow fry’ cooking method. While its Italian counterpart has a more balanced meat and greens ration (expect carrots, onions and celery), Corfu’s version replaces greens with garlic.
And that’s the dish! Beef and garlic slowly fried to perfection. The regular garlic may be replaced by its local kakavilia cousin, small reddish-purple bulbs; but other ingredients are simply white wine, parsley, olive oil and salt and pepper.
If it seems like Corfu cuisine uses a lot of wine, you’re absolutely correct. But don’t worry about getting drunk off the food – the alcohol is cooked away to leave behind the aroma.
I found the perfect drink to wash down these intensely flavored dishes: ginger beer. A local trademark, this tsitsibira is a bite of cold refreshment. Introduced to the island by the British and adapted to their own taste, definitely ask for this gingery, lemony glass of goodness! It’s perfect for cooling down in the summer and a friendly toast to the community.