I am Corfiot. To be honest, I feel more Corfiot than Greek. Even if I don´t live in Corfu, my relations with the island are strong and constant. And Corfiot cuisine is the only local Greek cuisine I cook.
Greek? Is Corfiot cuisine Greek indeed?
Well, not exactly, Corfu is the less Greek part of the country. My island unified with Greece only 150 years ago, till that era it was Venetian, English, French and Russian.
In Corfu everything is different. The local language (many Italian words and expressions), the climate (very rainy), the landscape (more green than the …….. Green Park), the architecture (similar to that of the Veneto region) and, naturally, the cuisine (with plenty of dishes and desserts of Italian, French and English origin).
CORFIOT CUISINE IS MONUMENTAL. It has nothing to do with the rest of Greek cuisine, which is more oriental, more Turkish, more heavy and oily. Corfiot cuisine is elegant, aristocratic, European.
Before continuing, I want to recommend you two books on Corfiot cuisine.
a) First of all Dianna Farr Lewis and June Marino´s “Prospero´s Kitchen”. This is my favourite Greek cook book. It covers not only Corfu, but also the other Ionian islands (Zante, Kefalonia, Paxi and Lefkada) containing at the same time traditions, tales, histories from the everyday life etc., as the blockbusters of Gerald and Lawrence Durrell do.
b) “Corfiot Cuisine” by Vasiliki Karounou. This is a more contemporary and more culinary attempt by a very good cook who has studied the local cuisine very well. Karounou lives in a vineyard in Corfu, where she runs a beautiful, very beautiful restaurant.
Corfu has many traditional culinary products. But the most famous are:
a) The Corfiot butter, the absolutely best of Greece. You can find it only in Corfu, it is made exclusively with milk from free range cows, who live in the island. These cows are fed with local plants, which are bloomed for many months during the year. These flowers give to the butter its unique golden colour and its great fragrant taste.
b) The wild strawberries of the variety fragaria vesca, small but at least 1.000.000 times more aromatic than the common ones. Do I exaggerate? Ok 999.999 times. With this special fruit an, also special, jam is produced, used by many pastry shops in Corfu town.
c) The kumquats. This tiny citrus fruit of Chinese origin is produced in Corfu (and nowhere else in Greece) for at least 100 years. Kumquat is used in dishes fresh or it is made candied, marmalade and also liquor.
d) The ginger beer. It is a usual everyday moment of Corfiots sitting at Liston, drinking ginger beer and watching …….. cricket. The rest of Greeks ignores not only this refreshment and the game, but even the corresponding words.
e) The fig pie (sikomaida), a mix of dried figs, ouzo, spices and pepper, which is eaten as a “meze” with brandy or other distillates.
f) The nubulo, one of the best cold cuts ever tried. It is made of the fillet of the pork animal and it is matured for months. A very common starter at Corfiot restaurants
g) The “spetsierika”, combinations of spices for meat, fish and other Corfiot dishes. These spices in Corfu are sold in …… pharmacies, Carmela´s the most famous of all.
(to be continued)