The whole idea behind Tinos Food Paths, Giorgos says, is “to keep the chain of knowledge alive from one generation to another.”
Soft spoken, young and relaxed, Giorgos Amoiralis, owner of EXO Catering, quietly explains how an idea morphs into a phenomenon. We’re at lunch at Bourou Restaurant in Chora on Tinos Island in the northern Cyclades. The brilliant October sun gleams off the Aegean illuminating both the fine cuisine and the mesmerizing conversation.
More than once, I admit, my eyes misted over during lunch. Food Paths’ mission is not saving lives; it’s saving a heritage. Over the past years as I’ve traveled Greece during its on-going economic problems and, yes, the brain drain of highly educated young people, I’ve experienced a resilience from the first visit. Today many Greek youth are looking back to what made their great grandparents thrive and survive.
They are looking at the 5,000-year-old heritage of Greece and bringing it into the 21st century, from learning the age-old skill of marble crafts, vineyards reviving thought-to-be extinct grape varieties to actively seeking new commercial opportunities for the unique agricultural products of the varied regions that comprise Greece.
Tinos Food Paths May gastronomic events get producers, farmers and restaurants to communicate and create “a huge table where all food traditions are brought together to make things better.” They don’t come to sell, but to become friends. (Old Greek saying: “Food is an excuse to get together with friends.”)
Started in 2014, The May events created by Tinos Food Paths attracts bloggers, food critics and chefs from around Greece. It has grown from a small gathering of food professionals to an island-wide event of tastings, cooking demonstrations and the chance for the community to interact with professionals. Food Paths has helped increase demand for local products encouraging more young entrepreneurs to look at the land and what it can provide for their future.
The Tinos Food Paths organization has grown since 2014 from a volunteer staff of 50 to 150 managing what has become a festival. Yet it was Giorgos’ understated passion for what he and a few friends set in motion that transcends the original intention.
What has held Greece together for millenniums has been the power of family and community. The violence, disruptions and social changes of the 20th century did much to undermine that foundation. Even on islands where “everyone knows about everyone,” isolation develops; knowing about everyone isn’t the same as “knowing everyone.”
Tinos Island farmers, cheese makers, cured meat producers, and shops specializing in local foods have all experienced increasing demand. Food Paths has energized the community. Not only have professionals strengthened friendships, rather than simply being associates, but the commonality of food has created new bonds among islanders of the importance in maintaining local Greek food traditions.
During my time on Tinos I experienced island pride in their local foods, especially among the restaurants. Tasoula Kouli and Antonis Zotali of Bourou Restaurant hosted lunch in Hora, and it was a virtual menu of Tinos Island.
Malathouni with sun-dried tomatoes and capers: Malathouni is a cow’s milk cheese. The curds are separated from the whey before packing into cloth-lined baskets for a day. The cheese is then removed and hung in cloth to dry for 20 days.
Louza sausage with the wild green kitrena: Louza sausage, a specialty of the northern Cyclades, is cured with salt and then in red wine. After curing it’s sprinkled with pepper, allspice, fennel, cloves and savory. It’s pressed into wide intestines and hung to dry in the air 20 to 25 days. It’s served cut into very thin slices.
Bourou Restaurant’s Tinian Earth salad: Aged Malathouni (more than 20 days) tomatoes, white and black-eyed beans, lettuce, rocket, chickpeas and lentils.
Stuffed Eggplant salad: Bourou has taken a traditional eggplant spread, where the ingredients would have been pureed, and deconstructed it as a salad. Per salad, half an eggplant with skin is pan fried until soft. The eggplant is scooped out reserving the skin “cup.” Chopped tomatoes, onion, dill, mint, parsley, salt, pepper, sugar, garlic, olives and olive oil are tossed with the cooked eggplant and served in the eggplant skin cup.
Braised Lamb with pureed artichokes and roast potatoes: The lamb is marinated overnight in orange and lemon juice, thyme, mustard, garlic and olive oil. It’s then braised and slow roasted in a ceramic pot with the potatoes at low heat.
For the artichoke puree: cook the artichokes and then cut away the leaves until there is only the heart. Boil three times as much weight potatoes and carrots as artichokes. Drain the vegetables reserving a ½ cup cooking liquid. Puree all three with olive oil and a little cooking liquid if necessary. The combination of savory lamb and potatoes with sweet artichokes was a tasty match.
Dessert was rich, creamy homemade French vanilla ice cream with sour cherry sauce. The contrasting sweet/sour flavors were stimulating.
Lunch at Bourou Restaurant coupled by inspiring conversation with Giorgos Amoiralis boosts my optimism even more that the future of Greece is in encouraging its youth to plow their roots back into the economy. In 2014 Tinos Food Paths started as a way for farmers and restaurant owners to get together. In a few short years it has energized Tinos Island community pride. Just imagine how such passion could stimulate a nation.
When you go: Tinos Island is easily reached by ferries from the nearby Athens ports of Piraeus and Rafina.
Special Thanks: to Adriana Flores Bórquez for being my guide and the cooperation of the Municipality of Tinos Island. Transportation was provided by Dellatolas Rent a Car, Hospitality by Bourou Restaurant and accommodations by Hotel Meltemi . Arrangements were facilitated by the MTCgroup.