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Food, Drink and Eating Out in Corfu

Eating out anywhere in Corfu is both pleasureable and relaxing.  First of all you can dress up or you can dress down, it is basically as formal as you wish it to be.   All over the island you will find tavernas,grills and smart restaurants offering a huge variety of wonderful dishes ranging from traditional, homemade Greek food to a la carte menus.   In some resorts you will come across Italian Pizzerias, Chinese restaurants, even the occasional Mexican.  During the hot summer months eating is enjoyed al fresco, in many places overlooking the sea or with superb mountain views. 

For those who visit out of season, chilly winter evenings can be spent in tavernas with blazing log fires.  If you hire a car it is well worth heading up into the hills as you will find so many little tavernas hidden away in mountain villages.  These places have freshly cooked, homemade dishes which often change from day to day, depending what they decide to prepare.  If you are looking for fresh fish, many restaurants will offer this but you may have to ask what's available.  Quite often, the restaurant owner himself will have been out fishing in the morning and he will be able to tell you what type of fish is on offer.

  • Greek Tavernas

Each time you walk into a Greek taverna you will be completely spoilt for choice on what to eat. When in Corfu, you simply shouldn’t stick to eating things that you are familiar with or ‘English-style’. Some of the strangest sounding things are usually the most delicious. Greek cooking is very varied and you will find plenty of things to choose from on most good menus.

The Greek style of eating is a very relaxed affair and it is a good idea to adopt their approach to this.  Most tavernas have a very varied menu, from traditional Greek dishes from the area, to all sorts of pies, meat dishes, fish dishes and lots to choose from if you are vegetarian.  Menus often change, according to seasonal availability of vegetables when certain types of produce are not around but this ensures that everything is brought in fresh and not frozen.  The waiter will tell you if there is anything extra that is not on the menu that day.

When Greek people go out to eat they will often just have a wide selection of starters, called mezes, instead of ordering a small starter and then a main course.  The dishes may not necessarily turn up together but many people discover this is a great idea as you can then try a wide variety of local dishes.  Indeed, there are even small tavernas designed for this purpose. 

Generally, Greek people enjoy their food lukewarm as opposed to piping hot and occasionally you may find that food is served to you in restaurants in this way.  However, no-one will be offended if you need to ask for it to be warmed up slightly.  Also, particularly in grills where meat is served on the bone, you should feel free to pick your food up and eat it with your fingers.  The Greek style of eating is more about enjoyment than anything else. 

A point to remember when eating out is that fish is usually expensive and prices quoted are per kilo, not per portion. This is usually not the case when ordering seafood such as squid, (calamari), whitebait and sardines.

  • Traditional Dishes from Corfu

Below  are listed some delicious, traditional Greek dishes which we recommend you try:

Starters:  Generally, British people will order a starter each that are often difficult to choose on a very varied menu.  Greek people, on the other hand, will order a wide selection of different starters, put them in the middle of the table and everyone helps themselves to a bit of everything.  By doing this everyone can try a little bit of each dish and on another evening out you can order all the things you missed the last time.  By the end of your holiday you will have tried everything and will no doubt have some firm favourites to remember on your next visit: 

Tzatziki: Yoghurt, cucumber and garlic dip, eaten with bread. Delicious and very more-ish!

Taramosalata: A fish roe dip, with garlic, onions and lemon juice.

Feta cheese: Just with olive oil or baked in the oven with tomatoes, onions and olive oil.

Dolmades: Vine leaves stuffed with rice, very tasty. Good for vegetarians.

Saganaki: Cheese fried in olive oil. Type of cheese can vary, but always delicious.

Cheese Pies: (Tiropittes). Cheese, in filo pastry, baked or fried.

Gigantes: Delicious butter beans baked in a tomato sauce. Great for vegetarians.

Spanakopitta: Spinach and feta cheese pies, in filo pastry.

Fried Calamari: Fried squid, served with lemon slices.

Main Courses:  There are many mouth-watering dishes on the Corfiot menu.  Try something different every night.  Many people seem to associate Greece only with 'moussaka', which of course is delicious but there are so many more things to try as well: 

Pastitsada: This is a famous Corfiot specialty and one of the favourites. Traditionally made with cockerel but often made with chicken or beef. Cooked casserole style, in a rich tomato sauce. Served with pasta. Well worth trying.

Yemista: Stuffed tomatoes, peppers, aubergines or courgettes. Good for vegetarians but check before ordering because some restaurants stuff them with minced beef.

Pasticcio: Delicious layers of mincemeat and pasta in a rich tomato sauce, topped with béchamel sauce and baked in the oven.

Sofrito: One of Corfu’s classic dishes. Thin slices of tender beef stewed with wine, vinegar, olive oil, garlic and a big bunch of parsley thrown in. Often served with rice. Delicious!

Stifado: Traditionally made with rabbit but occasionally made with beef. A rich sauce made with shallots, tomatoes, red wine, olive oil, garlic, bay leaves and some nutmeg and cinnamon.

Fish Soup: A very tasty soup made with different types of fish. The vegetables, such as onions, carrots, leeks, courgettes and celery are cooked first and then the fish is added towards the end. Occasionally, the fish is taken out when ready and rice is boiled in the soup to make it lovely and thick.

Bourtheto: If you love fish you must try Corfu’s famous fish stew. Usually, Scorpion Fish is used for this dish. Garlic, paprika and cayenne make for a fiery red sauce.

Giouvetsi: Made with tender chunks of beef and baked in the oven with tiny pieces of pasta, called kritharaki. Can be served up in an instant and is a big favourite with children.

  • Wine, Retsina and Ouzo.

If you visited someone back in the UK and were offered their homemade wine you would probably think they were joking and quickly reach for the more palatable one from the local supermarket. Here in Corfu it is quite the opposite. People here are passionate  about making their own wine and you will often hear them comparing tastes and colours. There are many types of grape grown here, Greece itself boasts around 250 different varieties. In many tavernas you will be able to try homemade wine as the owner will probably have his own supply, bottled and even labeled.

Retsina is a type of wine made from pine resin. It is most commonly drunk on its own but often people will add lemonade (Sprite) to sweeten it a little. It is an acquired taste to most visitors to Greece but some say it acts as a splendid anti-agent to the comparative oiliness of some of the food and once you’ve got used to it, you will find it hard to resist another glass.

The drink most associated with Greece is Ouzo. It is a clear, aniseed-flavoured spirit made from grapes and it turns a cloudy colour when water is added. It is drunk in many ways and most Greeks will drink it on its own with a couple of cubes of ice or with a splash of water added. Many people new to this drink will drink it with lemonade added. In many cafes and traditional tavernas you may notice the Greeks will enjoy their Ouzo with a small ‘meze’. This is a small plate with a selection of ‘nibbles’ that can range from olives with pieces of feta cheese, to slices of salami, sausage and even chips. In most establishments you can ask for a meze with any drink. An extremely enjoyable way to enjoy your lunchtime tipple.

  • Greek Coffee and The Kafenion.

Greek Coffee:  Greek coffee is in fact a leftover from the centuries long Turkish influence. This thick liquid is served in very small cups and usually it will be accompanied by a glass of cold water. The three most common ways of serving Greek coffee are 'sketo' (no sugar), 'metrio' (medium) and 'glyko' (sweet). The bitter sediment at the bottom is not to be drunk, a mistake made by many newcomers to the drink!

It is also worth trying iced Frappe coffee, served in a long glass, sweetened or unsweetened.  Very refreshing during the summer months and very popular with locals and tourists alike.

The Kafenion:  In most of the villages, around the town and along the winding mountain roads you will often come across little cafes, called Kafenion. This is where the locals meet, morning, noon and night to gossip about all the latest news of the day.  Often, you will hear what appears to be heated arguments, usually about politics and sometimes about local village gossip but usually it is friendly, if not noisy banter.  Traditionally, it was the men who frequented these places.  The women were not banned from the kafenion but it was uncommon for them to be there, usually they were at home cooking the family meal and looking after the home.

Kafenions can be found all over the island and nowadays, during the summer, you will often find many tourists, men and women alike, enjoying beer, ouzo, retsina and Greek coffee at these establishments.  Visitors are always made very welcome and the locals will often try to make conversation, despite the language barrier. Up in the mountain areas, where people are not so much in a rush you will often find someone ready to tell you all about the place and its past. Many of the stories are very interesting. 

  • Olives and Olive Oil.

It is estimated that there are around 3.5 million olive trees over the island. The olive season lasts from the beginning of November, and carries on into spring. Fallen olives were once painstakingly collected by hand but nowadays nets are laid out beneath the trees and the fruit is left to fall onto them.

From around late September onwards, bushes and undergrowth around the trees is cut back and prepared for the nets to be laid.  Travelling around Corfu you will probably see these nets, usually black ones, rolled up beneath the trees in readiness.  These nets are laid out across the ground, however hilly or rocky, and cleverly knitted together using wooden skewers until the entire olive grove is covered. 

The worker collecting the olives simply uses a long stick with a nail or sharp object attached to the end and lifts the net bit by bit from the edges till the olives roll into a heap in the middle. They are then collected into a receptacle.  Leaves and other unwanted debris is sifted from them before they are put into sacks and taken to the olive press where they are processed and the colour and acidity of the oil is checked and it is rated (virgin, extra virgin etc.).   At the beginning of the harvest the olives are very green and as the season progresses, the look and flavour of the olives change and they turn black.   Olive trees produce their fruit every two years.

The Corfiot olive is generally used to produce oil, rather than for eating the fruit whole, and it is an essential and delicious part of the Greek diet.  Not only is it drizzled over salads and used to make other delicious dishes, many people simply pour some oil onto a plate, cut some fresh bread and maybe a chunk of feta cheese, and enjoy a simple, healthy snack this way.   Once upon a time the locals had to rely on the olives as a means of making money, whereas now, with the majority of people working in the tourist industry, many families pick their own olives purely for their own use.  Olive trees flower during May and anyone that suffers from hayfever should come prepared.

  • Herbs and Aromatic Plants.

Corfiots use herbs for both culinary and medicinal reasons. Many people grow their own or roam into the countryside to pick them. In most of the supermarkets, herbs and spices are easily available.

Outside many Corfiot homes you may well find a pot of Basil (Vasilikos in Greek).  It is very easily grown and as well as providing greenery and a lovely aroma, it can also be picked and popped into the lunch pot.  Dill (Anithos) is a big favourite in Greek cookery too.  It can be quite strong tasting and if available fennel can be used instead.  Parsley (Maindanos) adds plenty of flavour to many savoury Greek dishes. It is available all year round in any supermarket.  Oregano (Rigani) is used very often in Greek cookery, sprinkled into many dishes and salads.  Celery (Selino) is a key ingredient in many Greek casseroles and soups. Unless you can find the larger sticks of celery, you will have to buy the smaller leaf variety, which tastes exactly the same but can be confused with parsley.  A problem easily solved just by checking the aroma.

Camomile is very popular as a relaxing drink and is widely used to relieve many minor ailments, from a slight stomach upset to soothing sore eyes in babies and adults alike.  Not many Greek households would be without it.

Paprika and Cayenne peppers are spices that are widely used in Greek dishes.  Paprika is known as the ‘sweet’ pepper (glyko) and Cayenne is hot (kaftero). The amount you sprinkle into dishes is, of course, a matter of personal taste. Cinnamon (Kanella) is widely used in many Corfiot dishes, pasta sauces and stews, as well as Nutmeg (Mosxokaritho), and Cloves (Garifalo).  Other plants to look out for that are used in Greek cuisine include Bayleaf (Daphni), Rosemary (Dendrolivano), which grows in abundance everywhere and Fennel (Marathos), often used in fish dishes.

Wild greens, or ‘Horta’ in Greek, includes anything that is edible and green and grows in the hills.  You will often see Greek women wandering through the fields with a knife and a carrier bag gathering up the horta. Usually, it is simply cleaned and boiled and drizzled in olive oil. Many people will eat it as a healthy accompaniment to fish or just as a side dish. It is often found to be a  bit too bitter to people not familiar with it.