For a taste of an authentic Greek lifestyle, visit Chios Greece (pronounced “Hee-os”), the island destination of Greek families and friends. Far from the tourism of the Cyclades, it lies 7 km from the Turkish coast and has maintained an essentially Greek way of life in its culture, its natural resources and especially its food.
Chios is a large island, dry and mountainous. Its main town, Chios, sits on a harbor which serves as a port for shipping and fishing vessels. Just outside of the town of Chios, the Kambos is known for its citrus orchards which grow the prized Chian tangerine, as well as lemons and oranges, contributing to the island’s myrovolos, or fragrant reputation. In local tavernas, shops and cafes, you will find locally produced citrus juices, preserves and “spoon sweets,” to be eaten after meals. Originally a method of preservation, these sweets can be found in a wide array of flavors from Chian tangerine, orange, and bergamot to quince, sour cherry, and rose petal. Pick one to taste or bring some home to savor the island’s unique agricultural produce.
On the southern half of the island, the Mastic Villages have been known since the Roman period for their production of mastic gum. This natural product indigenous to Chios is the sap of the mastic tree, sun-dried into resin known as the tears of Chios. It is traditionally chewed as a gum or burned as incense and has a light pine or cedar flavor.
To cultivate mastic, incisions are made in the bark of the trees, the resin flows and when it solidifies on the ground, it is collected and cleaned. The mastic tree is unique to Chios and in recent decades, a small industry has developed of mastic based perfumes, cosmetics, soaps and oils. Several shops along the waterfront in Chios sell a wide array of products, all made of locally harvested mastiha, as it is known. On the island, Chiotes have long recognized that mastic prevents digestive problems, dating back to the writings of Hippocrates. Mastic is used across the Middle East in spoon sweets, ice cream and loukoumia (Turkish Delight). There are mastic liqueurs, considered digestifs (for after meals), and more recently they are being used in cocktails such as the Mastiha Mojito.
Small local restaurants abound in Chios, you will not find any restaurant chains here. The harbor front in Chios town has a promenade, Leoforo Egeou, where you find restaurants, bars and cafes quiet and sleepy in the morning but bustling from the late afternoon into the night. For a front-row seat, begin at the Marine Bar, Leoforo Egeou 70. With its comfortable patio seating, you will have a lovely view of the port activity, ferries, and fishing boats. Order a Mastiha Mojito, made with local mastic liqueur and basil leaves.
When your appetite builds, walk down the harbor front to Tsivaeri Ouzeri at Leoforo Egeou, 2. This is a family run taverna specializing in freshly caught fish of the day, prepared in the local style. Try their grilled sardines or share a plate of atherina, the tiniest baitfish fried and served in a crispy pile. We ate delicately fried calamari, dolmathes stuffed with meat and rice, and horta, which are wild greens cooked and served with lemon. All were fresh, local, home made and delicious.
A wider selection of dishes can be found at To Tsikoudo Taverna and Oyzepi, at Leoforo Egeou 40-42, serving lunch and dinner. Heartier appetites might enjoy a traditional baked moussaka, but do not overlook their tender, marinated and charred octopus. They have daily specials that often include prawns or mussels, and an authentic horiatiki (village) salad that on Chios includes the island’s locally grown capers; the best I have ever tasted.
For a quieter night away from the waterfront, visit Tassos Taverna just south of the harbor at Michael Livanou, 4, it’s a short walk from the port on lovely residential streets. This taverna has a beautiful terrace where you dine beneath the wide branches of a plane tree in a garden setting and focus on the delicious homemade dishes being brought out from the nearby kitchen. Whole grilled fish are perfectly cooked, tender and delicious. They serve marinated, grilled lamb as well as crisp tiropita made with tangy local cheese. They offer a full selection of homemade desserts, including baklava and galaktoboureko. Tassos is not to be missed, whether you choose an assortment of meze to share or full entrees, the hand made food and lovely garden setting will linger in your memory.
Chios is an island of Greek families and traditions. During our trip, we visited the family of my mother-in-law, who was born and raised on Chios. One warm, perfect beach day her cousins invited us to lunch at their “beach shack” (kalyva) at Agia Fotiá. We arrived, a family of nine, and walked down the popular beach to the end of the beachfront bars, cafés, and restaurants; as if we would continue right into the sea. Once we climbed beyond the last point of land, the kalyva came into view: built on a large flat rock at the ocean’s edge was the terrace of the “shack” with a table set for 12 surrounded on three sides by clear blue water and sun-bleached stones. Set back from the terrace was a tiny white stucco, one room cottage with a Mediterranean blue door and roof. Murals of fishing boats and locally made Tetteris Ouzo embellished the exterior walls. Inside it was cool and dark, and two women worked at a tiny kitchen along one wall frying freshly caught calamari and potatoes. After greeting our cousins, we chatted and swam, and then began the meal together under the covered terrace. Surrounded by the sea, we feasted on delicate fried calamari adorned only with a squeeze of lemon, crisp browned potato slices, and stuffed peppers, sweet red tomatoes and capers in an herbed vinaigrette, all washed down with the local favorite Ouzo 7 and a crisp Greek white wine. For dessert, small, ripe karpouzi (watermelon) and we finished with a rinse in the sea.
Worth an excursion in Chios is the monastery Nea Moni, a UNESCO World Heritage site built in the 11th century that sits high atop a hill in the center of the island. Among the Mastic Villages, one of the most visually stunning is Pyrgi, whose buildings are decorated with unusual black and white geometric patterns known as “xysta.”
Driving north of Chios town, you find small coastal villages that hold secluded beaches where you might stop with a picnic of local specialties and spend the day swimming in the clear blue Aegean water or sunning on the smooth rock beaches. If you continue north, there are uncrowded seaside villages such as Lagkada, where colorful fishing boats bob alongside the tables at Estatorio To Ageri. Relaxed and friendly service are the signature here, while you select dishes of fish caught that morning from the sparkling blue waters you now sit beside. Whether grilled or fried, the preparation never overwhelms the clear flavor of the fresh local fish, seafood and produce. Fried calamari, braised horta, swordfish, herb marinated leg of lamb and tzatziki alongside the local bread. The ingredients are familiar but the flavors are bold and reflect the land, the sun and the sea of their island origin. Spending time in Chios is a perfect opportunity to experience the elements of Greek geography, culture, and cuisine that have endured throughout the ages.
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