When you travel to Greece on vacation, you want to take something back for your friends and family (and yourself!) that will give them a sense of the wonderful flavours you experienced, and evoke memories for you like only smells and flavours can. So, what do you take back for your foodie friends that they will really appreciate? Here are some ideas for gifts that won’t end up on a dusty shelf.
There are approximately 30 varieties of wine – producing grape in Greece, and wine- making is common all over Greece. Both on mainland Greece, as well as on many of the islands, you will find varieties of locally-made top quality wines by small producers that you might not find anywhere else. Visit the local wine farms or wine shops in the area you are visiting to find the best and rarest wines. I don’t recommend buying wine from the side of the road or wine that is not bottled, as the quality could be questionable.
Flavoured spirits and aged Tsipouro
The perfect way to end off a meal in Greece is with a locally-made digestif. My personal favourite is Masticha, a sweet transparent spirit that can be drunk with or without ice and is also used in cocktails. This aromatic drink is made from mastic resin found on trees growing on the island of Chios. Mastic has healing properties, and a range of products is made from it – including drinks, sweets, chewing gum and cosmetics, among others.
Raki, or tsikoudia, is popular on the islands, especially in Crete, and can be found either in its pure form or lightly flavoured. For a more unusual gift, go for the flavoured varieties: “rakomelo” – raki made with honey – can be enjoyed hot or cold; fruit flavoured raki, or coffee flavoured raki are all delicious and make an ideal ending to a meal. If you’re looking for a gift for connoisseurs, oak aged Tsipouro is a luxury gift they will appreciate.
Not all olive oils are the same and Greece prides itself on the high quality olive oil it produces. Olives grow in abundance all over the country and they are used to make olive oil as well as beauty products. Residents in each region of Greece consider their oil the best, but it is all good and a matter of personal preference. A general rule of thumb: good olive oil should taste fresh and not leave a bitter after-taste.
High quality olive oils often come in beautiful glass containers – like the excellent quality Elaiones Pteleanon from the region of Thessaly – pictured here, and make a perfect gift for friends. As with wine, its not advisable to buy olive oil from roadside stalls, however tempting it might be as you drive through the villages up in the mountains, as purity and quality cannot be guaranteed.
Herbs and Spices
An impressive variety of plants that produce aromatic herbs and spices grow naturally all over Greece. Fresh herbs like rosemary, oregeno, thyme and sage are easily found anywhere you go and are used to season many dishes. Greece also produces high quality saffron; Greek saffron from Kozani is considered one of the best varieties in the world.
Aromatic plants grow everywhere in the country, and if you take a stroll in the countryside, you may get a waft of the aroma of chamomile (xamomili), sage (faskomilo), linden flowers (tilio), thyme (thimari), oregano (rigani), lemon verbena (louisa), lavender (levanda), and dittany (diktamos). All these plants, as well as Greek mountain tea, are used to make teas or tea blends with medicinal properties. You can easily find teas sold fresh at open air markets, roadside stalls, or the central vegetable market in Athens.