Want to get to know the personality of Syros? Just try the cheeses.
COVER STORY

A foodie guide to Syros

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READING TIME
As long as it takes to eat a Greek salad
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From PDO-protected cheeses and cold cuts flavoured with wild fennel to strongly spiced savoury dishes and icing sugar-dusted loukoumia, the food and local products of Syros are as much a part of the island’s heritage as the architecture of cosmopolitan Ermoupoli and the Catholic Cathedral of San Georgio.

Best of all, you can be tucking in just a few hours after leaving Athens by ferry and even quicker by plane. So join us in exploring what to eat in Syros… heading down the side streets of Ermoupoli and Ano Poli, to coastal tavernas for seafood and to the little-explored Apano Meria in the north, where Syros’ most famous cheese is produced and capers grow wild. We take you to a loukoumi factory, into delicatessens and around a winery, answering the all-important question of where locals recommend eating and visiting, in our comprehensive foodie guide to Syros. 

What to eat in Syros: The local products

Want to get to know the personality of Syros? Just try the cheeses. PDO-protected San Michali is nutty and (especially when mature) spicy and has been dubbed the parmesan of Syros – although in reality it’s exclusive to the same-named village in the north of the island. But you’ll also find sweet graviera, smooth and peppery kopanisti, and creamy anthotyro and petroto (named after the stones used to milk goats). Tyrovolia is also smooth but it’s unsalted and xinomyzithra and xinotryro are tangy and creamy, with a very low fat content. 

Meanwhile, Syros’ cold cuts zing with spices like fennel seeds and are flavoured with garlic and pepper and other intense tastes. Try louza (cured pork with pepper, allspice, clove and cinnamon and air-dried from the ceiling of butcheries and delicatessens) and skordoloukaniko (garlic sausage) and you’ll understand.

Every time you eat in Syros, you’ll be introduced to another flavour – capers that grow wild in Apano Meria (the arid north), rock samphire and sun-dried tomatoes that make salads pop, crushed olives preserved in brine and fennel seeds, and golden honey from bees feeding on mountain thyme. 

You’ll find all these tastes in the delicatessens of Ermoupoli. Not just cheeses, cold cuts and sweets, but preserves, pastes and wild herbs used for making infusions – perfect for picking up a souvenir or present before you head home. 

Every time you eat in Syros, you’ll be introduced to another flavour

What to eat in Syros: The local dishes

It’s worth doing your research when it comes to the local dishes of Syros. Of course, you’ll be able to order all the Greek classics (moussaka, pastitsio, souvlaki, dolmades, taramosalata etc), but there are also tastes exclusive to Syros. Kaparosalata (caper salad) and maindanosalata (parsley salad with lemon, onions and capers) are unlike anything you’ve had before and marathopita (wild fennel pie) and aetopita (fish and vegetable pie) are thin, yet still manage to explode with flavour. Atherinopita sounds like a pie but it’s a dish of small fish, lightly coated with flour, mint and parsley, fried and served with chopped tomato and either onions or egg. 

Other delicious dishes found in tavernas and restaurants in Syros are kokkinista karavola (snails in a rich tomato sauce with sage), sysira (slow-cooked pork), fligouni (entrails), braised meat with quince and melomenes melitzanes (literally translating as honeyed aubergines but it’s the slow-cooked tomato sauce that gives the sweetness). 

Even the dishes from around Greece are given a special aromatic twist. Lahanodolmades (cabbage leaves stuffed with pork) are sweetened with raisins, soutzoukakia (spiced meatballs in tomato sauce) have an extra kick of cumin and oregano and fish is often served with capers. 

What to eat in Syros: The local sweets

Everyone in Greece knows about the sweets of Syros. Just look at all those people in the local port or airport returning with little boxes of confectionery for their family, friends or colleagues. Most likely, the boxes will be filled with loukoumia (you’ll probably know them as Turkish Delight), brought to Syros by Greeks returning from Asia Minor in the 19th century and now an indelible part of the culinary culture of Syros. 

You’ll find boxes of loukoumia on sale all around Syros but if you want the full experience, visit a factory to see how these little gelatinous cubes of icing sugar-dusted, melt-in-your-mouth heaven are made. You can witness the production process, where sugar, water and starch are slowly heated in copper cauldrons and scented with flavours such as rosewater, mastic from Chios and bergamot.

The other two members of Syros’ sweet trilogy are halvadopita (a gooey nougat made of honey, sugar, vinegar, egg white and almonds and sandwiched between confectionery wafers) and pastelaries (a kind of sesame bar made with dried figs and almonds). You can enjoy them all on the go as an energy boost but loukoumia are traditionally eaten with Greek coffee or a glass of chilled water any time you feel like it. 

What to drink in Syros: The local wines

There’s plenty of choice when it comes to what to drink when you are eating out in Syros, but if you want a taste that’s unique to the island look for the wines from the island’s only vineyard. Syros’ intense sunlight and clay soil give a distinctive aroma to the Assyrtiko and Kountoura (white) grapes produced.

FAQs about Syros, Greece

Syros is the administrative capital of the Cyclades (the island chain in the Aegean Sea that includes Mykonos and Santorini), with a population of around 21,000. The main town, Ermoupoli, is unique in the Cyclades, with imposing architecture and buildings from when it was a major port for merchants (Ermoupoli is named after Hermes, the god of commerce) and ship-owners. The Vaporia district just by Ermoupoli still has impressive captain’s houses. Above the town is Ano Syros (Syros’ medieval settlement), with a more Cycladic atmosphere and architecture and the Cathedral of San Georgio, dating to the 13th century and serving the island’s Catholic community. Walking from the port up to the Cathedral and admiring the view of the Aegean is one of the most popular things to do in Syros. 

The cuisine of Syros represents the island’s rich history, including influences of Asia Minor from Greek families who fled during the 19th-century uprising against the Ottomans. Syros’ cheeses are also famous (especially the PDO-protected San Michali) and cold cuts, many of which are flavoured with wild fennel seeds and spices. Syros is also famous for sweets, especially loukoumia (similar to Turkish Delight), made from sugar, starch and water and flavoured with scents like rosewater, mastic and bergamot. The best seafood in Syros is served in coastal tavernas and if you want to enjoy the classic Cycladic architecture choose a restaurant in Ano Syros. There are also villages in the hilly interior with traditional mountain food. 

There is a small airport, with domestic flights from Athens to Syros (35mins), and a port, with regular, daily ferries from Piraeus to Syros (2-4hrs) and seasonal connections with Lavrio and Kavala (northern Greece). There are also ferries to other islands, including elsewhere in the Cyclades (Mykonos, Santorini, Milos, Ios, Naxos, Paros, Sifnos, Serifos, Folegandros etc.) and islands in the Dodecanese (Rhodes, Kos etc) and North Aegean (Chios, Lesvos etc).

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