Author: Natali Lekka

7 Greek Food Festivals to Whet Your Appetite

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Such is the love for food among Mediterranean countries that after a joint petition, put forward by Greece, Spain, Italy and Morocco,  UNESCO decided to include the Mediterranean diet in the World Heritage list, in the 5th session of the UNESCO Committee on Intangible Cultural Heritage, in Nairobi, Kenya, last November.

Every year, thousands of food festivals take place in every corner of the Mediterranean region, and Greece, which boasts one of the healthiest diets in the world, could not be missing from the feast.

The Mushroom Festival in Grevenà

The picturesque villages of Grevenà, in the north of Greece, are the perfect setting for a traditional mushroom festival.  Amidst pristine green woods, Grevenà has rightfully earned its title as “official mushroom capital of the country” and every year, towards the end of the summer, the region becomes a meeting place for mushroom lovers from the four corners of Greece.

Visitors take part in educational seminars and participate in mushroom exploration tours in the woods.  There is a lot to learn about those hundreds of mushroom species that grow in these soils.  In the festival premises, tourists have the chance to savor various kinds of mushroom delicacies and sweets such as mushroom pickles, mushroom jam, truffles, mushroom liqueur, traditional pasta with mushrooms, mushroom nougat, etc.

Music from rock, jazz and latin bands accompany this culinary adventure and for the trekking type, the opportunities to go hiking in the woods are numerous.  For those who wish to spend the night in the area, there is also a camping site.

The Sardine Festival in Skala Kaloni, Lesvos Island

The town of Skala Kaloni in the south of Lesvos, in the north east Aegean sea, is famous for being home to some of the best sardines in the whole of Europe. Whether grilled, fried or pastes (fresh sardines that have been caught in the morning, salted on the fisherman’s boat
and served the same night with the local drink of choice ‘ouzo’), they are absolutely delicious. During the first weekend of August, the main square at Skala Kalloni is transformed into an open air eatery, with free ouzo and sardines offered to the visitors.  A live band with traditional dancers adds a local tone to this culinary event.

The Feta Cheese Festival in Elassona, Thessaly

Every two years in September, the town of Elassona celebrates the region’s most popular product, feta cheese!  Thessaly, in central Greece, is a major producer of feta cheese, this special white brined curd cheese that is traditionally made in Greece.  The region produces 27,000 tons of feta cheese yearly, a figure which accounts for almost 30% of total feta cheese production in the country.

According to mythology, the art of cheese making was passed down to humans by the Greek Gods. Today, feta holds a special place in the Greek heart and it would be a sin to eat the famous Greek salad without it!

The initiative aims to strengthen local businesses and to support the region’s financial autonomy.  At the festival you can enjoy a lively cornucopia of music and art from local bands and art groups. The mountain of Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece, is only 30 minutes away by car, so the opportunities to go trekking in the wild are numerous.

The Snail Festival in Vlaheronitisa, Chania, Crete

Whether fried, with artichokes, zucchini and potatoes in the oven, with herbs sautéed in butter or as a stew, there is simply no one way to prepare a succulent dish of Cretan snails. Contrary to popular belief, snails are not just a French delicacy.  In Crete, families eat snails, which in the local dialect are called chohli, at least once a week.

It wasn’t long before various snail festivals started popping up all over Crete to celebrate the locals’ fascination for this traditional treat. The snail festival in Vlaheronitisa, a village in the region of Chania, will become once again the “in” place to be for all snail aficionados from Crete and abroad, the first Saturday of August.

Head to the village square for a real Cretan fiesta with traditional music accompanied by Cretan lyra and lute, down a handful of Cretan snails, offered free to visitors, with the local drink of choice ‘raki’ or try some of the more eccentric recipes on display, like the fried snails or chohli boubouristi as the locals prefer to call them.  The party continues into the small hours.

The Lentils Festival in Eglouvi, Lefkada Island

In the plateau of Agios Donatos in Eglouvi, a mountainous village in the center of the Ionian island of Lefkada, 900 m. above sea level, a mystical ritual takes place and lentils are the special guests of honor.  The village of Eglouvi, famous for producing one of the best lentils in Greece,  thanks to the region’s mild climate and rich in potassium soil, puts on its festive mask every year on the 6th  of August.

Here, you will find a combination of genuine love for this much celebrated local product and religious devoutness as worshippers, from all over the island, flock to the small church of Agios Donatos, the following day. The church took its name after Agios Donatos, who became Bishop of the island in 283 A.C.  Folk dances and songs add the final touch to this bucolic image.

The Eggplant Festival in Leonidio, Arkadia

If you are traveling to the Peloponnese in August, make sure to stop by Leonidio, a picturesque fishing village, home to the famous long, thin, sweet and seedless eggplants tsakonikes.  This special kind of sweet eggplant grows without the use of pesticides and it is one of the most
characteristic products of the area. In 1996, it acquired PDO status (Protected Designation of Origin) together with 317 other agricultural products from various EU countries.

The festival, which takes place in the picturesque sea port of Plaka, in Leonidio, in the last week of August, offers tourists and visitors the opportunity to savor a series of mouth-watering recipes, made with eggplants, such as the famous moussaka, the luscious veal and eggplant casserole or the delicious fried eggplants with tomato sauce and feta cheese.  If you are feeling adventurous enough, you can even take part in the traditional cooking competitions. The rules are easy.  Be creative. Use eggplants.

Traditional songs and dances, notably the famous regional tsakonian dance, accompany this culinary event.

The Artichoke Festival in Tinos Island

If, like me, you are a big fan of the Mediterranean diet, you most certainly cannot do without artichokes on your plate. Every May in Tinos, Virgin Mary’s island in the Cyclades, local producers offer more than 10.000 artichokes for the needs of the artichoke festival.

Preparations for the feast begin 10 days earlier, as local housewives collect the vegetables and clean them meticulously. They then proceed to prepare more than ten different recipes with this local product which one can find in great abundance on the island.

Artichokes a la polita (as they were made in the city of Constantinople), artichokes with vinegar,  artichokes moussaka, or fried, or stuffed , artichokes soufflé or omelet,  artichokes au gratin or with mince are some of the succulent dishes you can try, under the great plane tree, in the central village square of Komi.  Local music and folk dancers entertain the hungry visitors.

Natali Lekka is a freelance translator, writer and a member of the Association of European Journalists, currently living in Athens, Greece. She is mad about foreign cultures and languages and cannot wait to be on that plane again. Follow her @natalilekka

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