Grapes, olive oil, capers, figs, almonds, dry-cultivated onions and honey, along with herbs, locally raised goats and sheep and their milk, placed in clay cooking pots – what sparse local products the land of Sifnos had to offer were put to use efficiently and wisely. The island’s ample supply of clay turned into cooking pots, water jugs, pitchers and portable grills. Local products turned into tasty creations that became a tradition. Everything contributed to creating a culture based on popular arts and gastronomy.
dishes are cooked slowly in clay vessels, absorbing the unique aromas of the land. The clay skepastaria, a deep pot with a cover, is used for boiling overnight the chick pea soup, containing olive oil, onions and laurel leaves. Its creamy and subtly smoked flavour is the centrepiece of the Sifnos cuisine.
Lamb or goat is baked in the mastelo, an uncovered pot first laid out with vine branches that form a rack for the meat to rest on, with added local wine and plenty of fresh dill.
Local dried capers can be used in a salad, proving that few materials combined with imagination can turn into a featured dish. Added to onions, vinegar, laurel and red wine, they can be made into a stew.
Greece’s answer to falafel is made on Sifnos: mild-tasting chickpea patties, joining an array of fried patties made of fava beans or even fish roe (tarama).
Sifnos also boasts of several tasty cheeses, including xynomyzithra, a piquant cheese made of a combination of goat and sheep milk; anthotyro, a soft white cheese with short shelf life made of whey; or the specially-made gylomeni manoura, a soft cheese matured in red wine lees, which give it a deeply red exterior and a unique flavour.
In terms of sweet dishes, the soft anthotyro cheese can be combined with local honey to make a tasty dessert called melopita (honey pie). Squash can turn into a sweet, aromatic pie with cinnamon, cloves, raisins and a unique name: loli, or “crazed female”. Almonds are cooked in a pot or the oven to make wonderful desserts, used in wedding feasts or for a shot of sweetness in daily life.
All of these dishes and many more are there for trying at the Nikolaos Tselementes Festival of Cycladic Gastronomy, held every September to honour the famous Greek chef from the village of Exambela, that brings all Cycladic Island cuisine dishes together to introduce them to Greek and foreign visitors.