As we launch our Green Traveller's Guide to the Central and Southern Peloponnese, Clare Hargreaves picks out a selection of places to eat selling locally produced seasonal food.
With its Mediterranean climate, vast and rugged mountains and extensive coastline, the southern Peloponnese produces an enticing larder - from olives and olive oil to figs, salty cheeses, mountain-reared meats and seafood - all of which you’ll sample in the region’s many restaurants. Locals still forage greens and herbs from the mountains, and gather honey, including the special white ‘vanilla’ honey produced among the pine forests in its centre. The cooking may be simple, but it’s hard to beat for freshness and flavour. And there are plenty of delis where you can buy produce to take home too.
O Thiasos, Kalamata
Gournopoula, or roast suckling pig, is the specialty at this super-friendly cafe-ouzeri under the plane trees in Kalamata’s historical centre - the meat is meltingly soft and its crackling just the right level of crunchy. Owners Vasilis and Kostas follow the seasons, with many of the vegetables grown on Kostas’ own farm - so don’t ask for a typical Greek salad in December! Look out for local Greek specialities such as black-eyed beans with spinach, kagianas (eggs scrambled with grated tomatoes) or meat pie with wholewheat pastry. In autumn you might find pork with quinces, and moustalevria, a jelly-style dessert made from grape must, while at Christmas, pork with celery is the thing.
You’ll smell this pastry shop long before you get to it - enthusiastic owner Chrisanthi cooks everything from scratch in the morning, using ingredients (such as eggs, yoghurt and orange juice) that are sourced from local producers. Chrisanthi used to run a pastry shop in Athens, but moved to this pocket-sized shop five years ago. Specialities include her portokalopitta (orange cake), brioche-style tsoureki and lichnarachia (meaning little lamps) - Cretan cheesecake pies. If you’re lucky you might get a taste of her delicious inomelo (honey wine) made from wine, honey, cinammon and rose geranium.
Spinos Coffee micro-roastery, Kalamata
This cute family-owned micro-roastery, bang in the heart of Kalamata’s old city, has been going since 1957. It’s both a cafe and a place you can buy freshly roasted coffee beans or ground coffee to take home. Beans, sourced from Guatemala, Costa Rica, Malawi and Dominican Republic, are stored in vintage containers that are a delight in themselves. Come here for a traditional Greek coffee (made in a special pot called briki), for international versions such as expresso, capuccino or latte, or for young Greeks’ coffee of choice, the cold coffee frappe. There’s Swiss Water decaff too. spinosroastery.gr
Oikonomakos charcuterie, Kalamata This charcuterie, which the Oikonomakos family have been running since 1871, specialises in traditional smoked pork, known as pasto. It’s de-boned, salted, then smoked with herbs and woods from the neighbouring mountains, before finally being gently simmered with spices, orange slices, olive oil and wine. Buy it fresh, ready to nibble and down with a glass of tsipouro, or vacuum-packed to take home. Today the shop is run by George and his brother Panos, but their father and mother still help out. You can buy other deli goods too, including several varieties of olive, preserved in vinegar. +30 2721 028718
Mantineia grocery shop, Kalamata
This wonderful deli is a picnic-maker’s paradise, stocking the best of the southern Peloponnese’s produce. Start by stocking up on homemade yoghurt (the assistant will cut you a slab from a large steel tray), then pick up locally made pastas called hilopittes and traxana, extra virgin olive oils, pasteli (sesame and honey bars) and lalagia, sesame-scattered bread-stick ‘spaghetti’ that’s been fried in olive oil. The store is hot on local cheeses too, including sfela, a semi-soft PDO cheese made from goat and sheep’s milk that pairs brilliantly with the local dried figs or honeys. mantineia.gr
Lela who gives her name to this taverna in central Kardamili is sadly no longer alive, but she used to be housekeeper to writer Patrick Leigh Fermor, who lived in the village, then cooked here until she died in her nineties. Today’s chefs continue her solid home cooking, with dishes such as moussaka or local fish - choose from the menu chalked on the blackboard. But you come here for the location as much as for the food. The taverna is right on the town’s rocky shore, so you can hear the waves lapping as you dine among the geranium pots. lelastaverna.com
To Xani tis Kandilas The Greek word ‘xani’ means an inn, and this place - half inside, half outside under an awning - stands on the road to the market town of Levidi, a few kilometres away. Since 1996 it’s been run by two affable brothers, Costas and Vasilis, who serve rustic dishes cooked (and often foraged or grown too) by their mother Tasia. Look out for homemade pasto(salt pork), stuffed aubergines, lamb or chicken cooked with olive oil and oregano sauce, giant beans, and greens picked from the mountainside. They’re all made that morning from fresh ingredients and served with Tasia’s homemade bread. Fabulous. taverna-hani.gr
Skourkos Taverna, Levidi
Bang on the square of Levidi, in the northeastern foothills of Mount Mainalon, this simple taverna is a carnivore’s paradise. Try pasto (salt pork) combined with eggs and chips (surprisingly good), giant hand-made beefburgers, steaks cooked on the grill, or a stew of locally-hunted wild boar. Other specialities include Greek salad with capers and chunks of Cretan-style dakos rusks, pizzas, and home-made calzone-style cheese-filled breads. Wash it down with homemade tsipouro (raki). If you go at grape harvest time, you might get a chance to try moustalevria, a sweet jelly home-made from grape must. Tel: 2796022231
Faros, Karavostassi, Itylo, Mani
With its tables lined along the shore overlooking Itylo bay, this fish restaurant is hard to beat for location. Its owners are fishermen, so the menu features whatever has been caught that day. Kick off with starters such as marinated anchovies, grilled sardines or fava puree, and for main order a simply grilled red snapper or gilt-head bream. Meat gets a look-in too - try a stew of mountain lamb or beef. Listen the waves lapping and feel the sea breeze in your hair as you eat - al fresco dining. Tel: +30 694 472 5480
O Ellinas, Mistras
Overlooking the cobbled square and its plane tree, this taverna is the perfect place to watch the comings and goings of this small village nestled beneath Mistras’ ancient Byzantine settlement. O Ellinas mean The Greek, and nowhere could be more typically Greek: locals catch up over strong coffees, while vistors and residents alike enjoy no-nonsense Greek classics from rice-stuffed tomatoes to Greek salad, all produced with home-grown olive oil. It’s run by Ioannis Bourlokas who runs it with his mother. Ioannis’ parents are butchers, so meat features strongly on the menu - try the roast pork or lamb, with oven-baked potatoes. mystrasrestaurant.com
There’s no fuss or frills at this simple seafront cafe-restaurant in the quietly bustling heart of Monemvasia’s mainland town of Yefira, five minutes’ walk from the causeway to the medieval castle. Come here for a simple, well-priced Greek salad, a plate of fried sardines, or stewed locally caught octopus. There’s a good wine list too. Come here after a refreshing dip, and watch the boats coming and going in the harbour as you eat. If you want somewhere slightly smarter, eat at Acrogiali or Scorpios, both specialising in fish and a few minutes along the beach. Tel: +30 2732 061356
In a location as touristy as the Monemvasia, it can be challenging to know which of the many restaurants to choose. Matoula, which has been going since 1950, is a sure bet and is as strong for its food as for its dreamy location right on the city walls of the Lower Town. Sit in its shady vine-draped garden overlooking the sea as you order a selection of Greek classics to share. The definite must-try is its saitia (spinach wraps), a speciality of Monemvasia. But the courgette patties, stuffed aubergines and super-fresh salads are equally delicious. matoula.gr
Arbaroriza pastry shop, Stemnitsa
This gorgeous new patisserie on the outskirts of the mountain village of Stemnitsa is run by a mother and daughter, both of whom also work as jewellers, and takes its name after a scented geranium that the pair use in many of their recipes. Look out for melomakarona (honey cookies) and walnut pie made from local walnuts and honey, as well as spoon sweets (preserved fruits) from walnuts, quince and tiny Firiki apples that grow on the lower slopes of Mount Mainalon. They make traditional Peloponnese specialities too, such as Diples, rolls of fried dough that are drenched in honey and nuts, and Arcadian milk pies. Tel: 30 2795 081538