Chef Yiannis Gavalas on Mykonos’ Love Affair with Food

From Mykonian women cooking on the street to specialist chefs of Nikkei, the island’s gastronomic scene can satisfy sophisticated palates and adventurous food lovers.

I first came to Mykonos twenty years ago to work as an assistant cook. Being originally from Iraklia, a small, off-the-beaten track island with only 150 inhabitants, the challenge was great not only on a culinary level but on a personal one as well. After three seasons on the island, and then another twelve years wandering through the Athenian gastronomic scene, I was given the opportunity to express my love for Cycladic cooking in the kitchen of Bakalo, which is certified by the Aegean Cuisine network, using products from nine Cycladic islands.

Gastronomy lovers on Mykonos are spared the typically indifferent fare offered elsewhere at all-inclusive resorts  The island has more than 300 restaurants serving Greek and Mediterranean cooking, as well as cuisines from all over the world: there’s Nikkei for sushi, as well as Thai, Italian and Spanish food, and most global gastronomic trends are represented.

The epicenter is Hora. Here, most establishments have relatively few tables, serving an average of 50-70 people, and are distinguished by their high quality of service and the personal contact they have with patrons. But there are remarkable restaurants outside Hora as well; some are stand-alone eateries, while others follow the new trend of being part of a larger “beach mall” whose main selling points are luxury and high end services.

Although it is difficult to get a real taste of traditional Mykonian cooking, since, as elsewhere, it has been adulterated by tourism development and the modernization of methods, there are some local recipes that are worth trying, such as onion pie, savoro fish (fried and served with a with rosemary and vinegar sauce), and mostra (a meze of rusk with sharp kopanisti cheese and tomato).

In the restaurants that offer Greek cuisine, the chefs make use of products from Mykonos itself. One can try the excellent cheeses (kopanisti, tyrovolia, xinotyro, niari, vrasto), the traditional louza (pork cured with local herbs) and delicious sausages with oregano and summer savory. As on most Cycladic islands, here too there are also many raw ingredients of excellent quality such as capers, organic vegetables, fish and eggs.

For those seeking a gastronomic experience beyond that of simply dining in a restaurant, it is worth participating in the culinary events organized by the Mykonos Gastronomy Club, a large group of Mykonians and friends of Mykonos that deals with the promotion of local products and traditional dishes of the island.

Of great interest are also the gastronomic tours such as Foot for Food, a walking tour of Hora with tasty stops, and Cycladic Terra, which organizes tasting sessions pairing wines with Mykonian and Cycladic products. Likewise at the Mykonos Farmer cheese factory one can see the entire cheese-making process and try recipes based on the final products.

Before you leave the island, purchase some traditional amygdalota (soft, sweet almond cookies) or some locally produced louza, cheese or pickled kritamo (sea fennel). Taking these flavors home with you will keep the summer feeling alive just a little bit longer.

Short Bio:

Yiannis Gavalas is committed to promoting the unique gastronomic identity of the Cyclades. He has headed the kitchen at Bakalo for the last 7 years. When he isn’t cooking, you will find him on his home island of Iraklia or some other Cycladic island in search of local products and recipes, and taking plenty of photos.

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