Food, glorious food is a fact of life in the Peloponnese where each village or town prides itself on its own version of avgolemono, the egg-and-lemon sauce that’s used as a base for so many delicious dishes. Adding spices or raisins to dishes is also a hallmark of the local cuisine which differs in different parts of the peninsula.
Towards the South those Spartans famed for their frugal habits have a surprisingly rich signature dish. The bardouniotiko is a whole chicken, which is stuffed with olives, cheese and walnuts, then cooked on a spit. You can sample this succulent local speciality at Diethnes, a cosy local tavern whose other signature dish is baked sheep’s head.
One pot dishes are another popular Peloponnese speciality. Adapted from stifado, the beef and onion stew that is popular all over Greece, kouneli stifado is a heady, cinnamon-flavoured rabbit stew that is best-sampled at Leonidas, a family-run restaurant favoured by an arty crowd in the backstreets of Epidavros.
The largest town of the Peloponnese, Kalamata, with its medieval castle and cobbled streets gazing out on the bay where Aristomenis did battle with the Spartans, is renowned for its deep purple olives the size of grapes. Hand-picked to avoid bruising, Kalamatan olives are cured in red wine vinegar brine. You can buy them straight from brine-filled buckets in any of the town’s grocery stores, or sample them with a tumbler of local grape alcohol tsiporo in any of the kafeneions along Aristomenous and Navarinou streets.
Kalamata also produces award-winning extra virgin olive oil, so make sure you pick up a bottle or two before you leave. Arni psito (lamb on the spit) and kokoretsi (entrails on the spit) are traditional Easter favourites all over Greece, but here in the Peloponnese you’ll also find steaming casseroles of kokoras krasatos, rooster slow-cooked in wine sauce.
Grilled on a charcoal fire, loukaniko horiatiko (village sausage) is another meaty delight that you’ll find throughout the year in most taverns, but for a subtle twist on the pork theme head for Marianthi, a homely tavern along a narrow street in the picturesque Monemvasia citadel, and order kayianas, a succulent omelette made with tomatoes and cured pork. Other signature dishes to sample include lagoto (pork in a creamy garlic sauce) and gourounopolo (roasted suckling pig).
With its endless stretch of coastline, the Peloponnese has plenty of seafood delights, including fish cooked in a covered casserole brimming with garlic and tomatoes. You can try this luscious dish said to hail from nearby Spetses island, along with other local seafood dishes at Arapakos, a family-run tavern in Nafplion.
Vegetables are almost always locally grown. Fresh artichokes prepared in vinaigrette are used as the basis for countless mezes, those tapas-like snacks served in the small bars known as Ouzeries. Artichokes are also roasted with chicken, braised with spinach or served with lamb at Easter and you can sample some of these dishes at Aigli, a small restaurant in the historic town of Argos.
For dessert you should order the tiny, tasty strawberries for which the Pyrgos region is famed, or try lalangia dough fritters drizzled with honey and covered with grated cheese.
With the vineyards of Nemea and Patras close by, there’s plenty of good wine to wash down your meal, too, so order a carafe of sweet red Mavrodafni, or dry white Moschofilero and raise your glass to the delicious flavours of the Peloponnese. Kali orexi!