Eats in Greece: Part II, Santorini

I’m gonna ask you again: have you entered the TrueBlood Recipe Roundup and Giveaway yet? You better get going on that  – if you are the lucky winner, you won’t be sorry!

Now, on to Santorini. We arrived at our hotel on Wednesday afternoon and did the same thing we did in Athens: hit the pool for a couple hours in the sun alternating swimming, reading, and napping. Late afternoon hunger struck and we shared a chicken souvlaki plate from the pool bar. I forgot to take a picture, but honestly, this was nothing to rave about. Pretty disappointing after the delicious one we had in Athens!

Around the time the sun was setting we walked into Fira to catch the gorgeous view. We were getting hungry, but not quite ready for dinner yet, so took our time wandering around. Frommer’s warned against eating anywhere “near the cable cars” which tend to be tourist traps, because of the great view and atmoshpere but lack of truly good food. The problem was, I didn’t really know how far away to stay! In this part of town, restaurant managers bombard passerby, begging you to come have a look at their menus. Honestly, most are offering about the same thing so I was getting pretty frustrated, but finally we were hungry enough to just pick one. Bad move. I forgot to take out my camera here too, but it’s perfectly fine since this meal was rather forgettable. Maybe we got sucked into a trap or maybe we just ordered the wrong thing (fresh fish was featured, but we were in the mood for moussaka, shrimp saganaki and stuffed vine leaves) but it just wasn’t that wonderful. Dissatisfied, we made up for it a little later with some yogurt and honey swirled gelato and a few small pieces of baklava. I vowed to not make another bad restaurant choice either!

On Thursday we decided to get some exercise – it was about time. Frommer’s suggests walking from Fira to Oia, which should take about two hours. I don’t know if Frommers’ is confused between the actual road and the designated walking path, but it took us about three and a half! No worries, it was thoroughly enjoyable. The first half was mostly strolling through small villages with villa after villa carved into the cliff, each more beautiful than the previous. I’m pretty sure these small private villas are the reason people say Santorini is one of the most romantic places in the world! The second half was a hike through hills and valleys over rocky dirt paths, thank goodness we wore sneakers.

By the time we arrived in Oia, we were hungry but I had promised myself no more less-than-excellent meals. So we really took our time browsing all the menus and thinking about what we were in the mood for. We finally settled on a place called Strogili, because they had some nice sounding salads, and that’s what I was craving.

I ordered a glass of the house rose. Remember I told you in my post about Athens that most of the bread was forgettable? Not here! This fresh loaf was the best we had so far, and it was served with a spiced whipped feta cheese.


Two unique specialties of Santorini are the fava and the fried tomato balls. We decided it was time to try the fava. Fava are split yellow peas that are pureed and lightly seasoned. Not my favorite thing on the menu (you’ll see that soon!) but I’m definitely glad we tried it. It was a light tasting but hearty addition to our meal.

This was the salad that drew me into the restaurant. The Athiri salad, which was topped with raisins, giant grapes, sliced apples, pine nuts, and a honey yogurt dressing. Before trying anything else, I dipped my fork into the dressing for a taste. OhMyGoodness. This was incredible! Sweet and tangy, but not over the top. The waiter informed me that it had yogurt and some kind of fruit juice, but I’d guess honey and lemon or vinegar as well. I’ll definitely be playing around with these ingredients to figure it out.

Our third choice was the halloumi saganaki, which was described as grilled and served with tomatoes and honey. Sounded good enough. What came to the table didn’t look like what I expected; the cheese was resting in a pool of thick, creamy sauce. Hmm. Again, I stuck my fork into the sauce before anything else.

Oh.My.Lord.

This was by far the best thing I had tasted in Greece so far. I can hardly even describe it, except to say that previously I’ve only had haloumi prepared very savory, usually with lemon and capers, and this version was sweet and delightfully different. I practically harassed the waiter for the recipe here, but all I got was “tahini, wine, lemon, mint, honey.” I can’t even say that it really tasted like any of those things, but that combination is really something special.

As if we hadn’t burned enough calories already, after lunch we walked down to the port in Oia and discovered a handful of restaurants that, if they were any closer to the sea, they’d be drowning. We decided a future dinner here was in order. Then we made the grueling walk back up.

Later on for dinner we decided to stray out of Fira for Firastefani, a quieter village with seemingly better restaurants just north (we discovered this earlier in the day at the beginning of our walk.) We knew we wanted to eat seafood, since it doesn’t get much fresher than in Santorini (and that’s probably part of why we went wrong the night before!) We chose a traditional fish tavern, Mama Thira, for the special advertised in the window and the fact that it was filled with Greek people. Always a good sign!

We ordered a carafe of the house white wine. On the menu it was only listed by the bottle, but I asked if carafes were available, thinking we’d get a smaller portion. I’m pretty sure they misunderstood and just poured the wine into a pitcher, because this seemed to be the never-ending caraf of wine. We didn’t mind finishing it though!

Here is the case of fresh-from-the-sea dorado on special this evening.

Then it was time to try the other Santorini specialty, the fried tomato balls. I’ve said before that I don’t really understand the concept of putting anything worthwhile into fritter-form because I think it tends to diminish the flavor. If Santorini is known for it’s sugary sweet tomatoes, why ruin them by frying? Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. The sweetness is much preserved and contrasted with plenty of fresh mint. These were bursting with flavor.

The Santorini salad was flecked with big capers, sweet tomatoes, and plenty of soft local cheese. Not quite feta, perhaps a little fresher, somewhere between chevre and feta? No matter what it was, you can’t go wrong with this kind of salad!

This was not part of our menu, but I just happened to notice in the corner a giant jar of wagon wheel pasta, exactly what I use in my favorite summer salad that goes along with me to just about every barbecue. It was like a little sign that I was supposed to be sitting here, we’d picked the right place!

Next our fish was served. Fresh from the ocean and simply grilled, the way fresh seafood should be. I confess that I had never before been served a whole fish (well, other than lobster.) Is it yet another sign of American’s laziness that our fish is served as filets probably 98% of the time? Whatever. I was ready to tackle it.

Close-up of his teeth! Only I was the one doing the chomping.

We did it! Ben proudly holding up the bones. It may not have been graceful or the way one is “supposed to” eat a whole fish, but I managed to scrape up every last tasty morsel. And then some.

Dessert was a perfectly sized little packet of phyllo wrapped around a variety of fruit and nuts. Not amazing, but it was a nice ending to an overall very good meal. Actually, make that an entire day of excellent food! I think we chose all the right things to eat in Santorini today and I was much happier than the day before.

After exploring the island on foot for almost one entire day, we rented an ATV to get around the next day. First we drove down to ancient Thira (down because it was south of where we were, but actually, getting there required a long drive upwards on a narrow road winding back and forth up a cliff!) After viewing the remnants of the ancient village, we headed down to Kemari beach, also known as “black beach” from its characteristic black sand. At this point we had been in Greece for about 4 and a half days and hadn’t yet eaten a gyro. I think we both expected to see gyro stands dotting the streets everywhere in Greece, but truthfully these fast food joints were a bit hard to find in the touristy-areas lined with sit-down restaurants. Many of these places tried to lure us in with their “gyro plates” but we wanted the real, cheap thing; the kind you can just grab and go. Finally we found them. Ben got pork and I got chicken. Random tidbit I noticed: this is the first meal we’d had that actually consisted of us each ordering separate things and eating them on our own. We just always tend to share everything!

Definitely just what we were looking for! But I was still a little hungry after so I grabbed some kind of snack bar from a little shop – mixed nuts and sesame seeds bound with honey. I split it with Ben and it was just the right amount to be fully satisfied.

After laying out on the beach for a while, we were determined to check out some of the wineries that Santorini is know for. We found two near the beach. The first one has signs all over Santorini and we were told it was “the best.” I should have guessed it would be the Disney World of Santorini wineries, but not in a good way. We liked the second one a lot better. It was less flashy and the employee was a lot more laid back, and she served us a cute little plate of nibbles with our four wines.

The last of the four wines was the traditional Santorini Vinsanto, a sweet dessert wine. With this she also brought out a plate of yogurt topped with fruit preserves. Seriously, the Greeks never tire of yogurt and neither do I! I already plan on stocking up on giant tubs of Chobani when I get home, to avoid withdrawal, and to try using it lots of new-to-me yummy ways. We bought a bottle of this wine and plan to enjoy it with some frozen (Greek) yogurt when I come home to my new ice cream maker! (I ordered it just before we left – hint hint, I’ll be experimenting with plenty of fro-yo recipes this summer!)

We returned to our hotel to relax for a bit and shower, and then drove to Oia to eat at one of the restaurants I mentioned down at the port, Katena’s. This large grill sits right outside the restaurant so you can see your fresh catch being cooked.

After you choose it of course!

We started with another Greek salad, sans-lettuce of course, but with plenty of fresh crunchy vegetables, tangy capers and sweet tomatoes.

We also had this eggplant salad, which I know doesn’t look like much, but was huge on flavor. Similar to baba ganoush but without tahini.

One of the things I noticed in our first trip down to this port was the fresh octopus being grilled. I’ve never in my life eaten octopus or thought about trying it, but somehow I couldn’t get it out of my head! There was no way we were getting out of here without trying it. The verdict? A little tough, but definitely flavorful and fresh tasting. I’d do it again!

After a short wait our fish arrived, this time already cut open and with the bones removed. We chose the fresh sea bream, a white fish very traditional in Santorini. It was simple and delicious!

We were full and didn’t plan to order anymore, but in this ironically small world we had learned that our waiter’s parents had immigrated to Massachusetts – not anywher

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13 Responses to “Eats in Greece: Part II, Santorini”

  1. 1

    Bridget — June 7, 2010 @ 3:50 pm Reply

    This is totally making me miss my Honeymoon!!!! I'm so jealous! I can just picture Santorini so vividly still :) Oh the food the food…amazing. We were there after tomato season so we didnt get to try and fritter or any other fresh Santorini tomatoes, but I did bring home a couple jars of the sundried tomatoes. They are so much sweeter than the ones here its crazy! Can't wait for more updates!

  2. 2

    Bridget — June 7, 2010 @ 3:52 pm Reply

    We ate down at the port in Oia too…can't remember which place though. But our hotel was basically at teh top of the cliff from the port, we walked down tehre from our room!

  3. 3

    Shanon — June 7, 2010 @ 4:16 pm Reply

    this post is making me want baklava and greek salads. everything looks amazing!

  4. 4

    Dawn — June 7, 2010 @ 4:17 pm Reply

    I am so so jealous! What a trip for a foodie. I can't wait to see what you create when you get home after all this inspiration!

  5. 5

    yumventures — June 7, 2010 @ 11:20 pm Reply

    with food like that, I would never want to leave. How amazing and fresh everything looks! And that yogurt…greek yogurt ice cream sounds amazing! Glad to see you are having such a wonderful time :)

  6. 6

    dinnersanddreams.net — June 7, 2010 @ 11:33 pm Reply

    Santorini is the dream destination for me. Thanks for a delicious post.

  7. 7

    grace — June 8, 2010 @ 9:20 am Reply

    cara, you're killing me. no (fish) bones about it–i need to get myself to greece and soon! thank you so much for being so descriptive and providing such lovely pictures. :)

  8. 8

    Elina — June 8, 2010 @ 1:20 pm Reply

    Wow, what an amazing food recap. Sounds like a wonderful trip. So much inspiration for future recipes :)

  9. 9

    Maria — June 9, 2010 @ 1:41 am Reply

    Wow, everything looks fantastic. I want to go to Greece now! I wish I could hop on a plane!

  10. 10

    Liz — June 27, 2010 @ 10:19 am Reply

    I completely understand — nothing more disappointing than wasting calories on bad food. Those are beautiful salads.

  11. 11

    Maria — April 5, 2011 @ 1:19 am Reply

    Wow, everything looks fantastic. I want to go to Greece now! I wish I could hop on a plane!

  12. 12

    dinnersanddreams.net — April 5, 2011 @ 1:19 am Reply

    Santorini is the dream destination for me. Thanks for a delicious post.

  13. 13

    Dawn — April 5, 2011 @ 1:19 am Reply

    I am so so jealous! What a trip for a foodie. I can't wait to see what you create when you get home after all this inspiration!

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