Another bite” is a series of occasional posts about food, presenting the delicious local products, tasty dishes and other gastronomic delights we encounter on our tours and cruises.
I am posting this article while travelling on our Cruising to the Cyclades, at anchor in Santorini, perhaps the most famous of the Cycladic islands in Greece.
Santorini is one of Greece’s best-known travel destinations. It is especially famous for its remarkable volcanic setting, the whole island forming an enormous volcanic caldera, and its extraordinary archaeological wealth, including the world’s best preserved Bronze Age settlement at Akrotiri, and the impressive historical city of Thera. But Santorini is also famous for culinary reasons: the island is distinguished by some very specific local products, including Assyrtiko wine, Santorini fava and the Tomatinia Santorinis, the tiny Santorini Tomato.
The latter, the Santorini Cherry Tomato is a special agricultural product with a unique history and identity. Since 2013, it is classed as P.D.O. (Protected Designation of Origin) within the European labeling scheme, based on the specific characteristics of the product, namely the actual plant (lycopersicum esculentum Mill.) in conjunction with the distinctive volcanic soil and the unusually dry (anhydrous) climate conditions of the island, as well as the traditional farming methods employed by its producers.
Legend holds that the primary variety originated from Egypt and was brought to Greece in the early 19th century by an abbot of the Capuchin monastery of Syros (the capital island of the Cyclades). However, a more likely scenario is that cultivation began in 1875, when local ships started to deliver large quantities of pumice to Egypt, where it was needed for the construction of the Suez Canal. They may have brought tomatoes or tomato seeds with them on their return voyages.
By the turn of the 20th century, cultivation and trade of the new tomatinia was blooming: No less than 14 factories operated on the island, exporting cherry tomatoes to Europe and Russia, alongside with the famous Vinsanto wine used then by priests in both Russia and the Vatican during the Holy Communion. After the Bolshevist Revolution and the closure of the Russian churches, cherry tomatoes became the main export product of the island, alongside pumice. Unfortunately, the success story of the tomatinia and the thriving local industry based on it came to a sudden end, due to the the strong earthquake of 1956, but also to international competition. A further blow came in form of the rapid growth of tourism, transforming the island into the one of the most famous destinations in Mediterranean.
Today, the cultivation of the Santorini tomato has seen a successful restart, and a local cooperative factory produces a very tasty tomato paste. Their high agronomic value, showing resistance to drought and various diseases, as well as their high concentration of carbohydrates, endowing them with a flavour combining notable sweetness with bright acidity, has made these small round tomatoes a perfect base for delicious fresh salads and a range of appetizers (meze dishes).
You can enjoy fresh tomatinia when visiting Santorini on our Cruising to the Cyclades tour. Meanwhile, here’s a recipe for tomatokeftedes (tomato croquettes), a dish that is popular on Santorini and elsewhere in Greece.
Tomatokeftedes Recipe (for 8-9 persons)
1 kg tomatoes (ideally Santorini tomatinia, but other cherry tomatoes can also be used), coarsely chopped.
2-3 medium-sized onions, finely chopped.
1 teacup fresh mint, finely chopped.
1 cup of beer.
5-6 tablespoons flour (preferably not self-raising flour).
Oil for frying (preferably good-quality olive oil).
Pour all the ingredients, including the beer and flour, into a large mixing bowl and knead by hand until they combine into a soft and moist paste.
Pour plenty of oil into a large frying pan and heat it. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, drop in tablespoons-full of the tomato mixture, shaped into a rough sphere, and fry them. Let the croquettes fry, turning over once, until they reach a light golden color on both sides. Make sure they do not stick to the pan’s bottom.
Once fully fried,remove them from the pan and let them drain on kitchen paper.
Best served immediately.