Baked beans, stuffed peppers from Florina, grilled or fried carp, salted rutilus, “makalo” meatballs, and various meat dishes from the local cattle comprise the gastronomy panorama of the Prespa lakes, in the north-western edge of Greece, a place with a unique vibe.
The Prespa lakes area is one of the areas in Greece where the restaurants and taverns especially honour the local gastronomy. Recipes and dishes made with typically local products have consistently been part of the local culinary tradition. When you’re in the Prespa lakes, ask for the specials of each restaurant (you can find a list here: www.prespatourismassociation.com) and enjoy the culinary wealth of Prespa.
You can’t go to the Prespas and not enjoy the famous local beans in every version, baked, casserole or soup. The Prespa beans (giant elephant beans and plaké (flat) beans) are known for their taste and their high nutritional value that makes them a perfect ingredient of the healthy Mediterranean diet. They have thin skin and boil well, and their great quality is due to the area’s microclimate and soil, as well as due to the way they are grown. Compared to beans produced in other areas, the Prespa beans have more protein, better nutritional value, and carbs, but no cholesterol or fats. They have Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status and a large part of the local population makes a living growing beans.
Carp and rutilus
At a lakeside area, fish – mainly carp and rutilus – are bound to be a big part of the local cuisine and tradition. The carp is particularly tasty and nutritious, and for centuries has been a staple for the local population. It’s the largest fish in the Prespa lakes and it’s a local “symbol”.
It’s a fish with a high protein content and few calories (90 Kcal / 377 KJ and 19.31 gr protein at 100 gr of fish). It belongs to the Cyprinidae family, native to Europe and Asia, and it came to the Prespa lakes in the Roman or Byzantine times, but it is now considered native, since the species has adjusted well to the ecosystem. It lives in the bottom of the lakes and it is very lucrative for the local fishermen. It’s usually grilled over charcoal fire or fried.
Rutilus has historically been an integral part of local gastronomy and is a popular delicacy from the waters of the Prespa lakes. The fresh fish is served fried and crispy, while the salted version is served with tomato and pepper sauce. Rutilus lives in shoals, is relatively slow, and it reaches no more than 15-20 cm in size. It’s one of the most important fishery in the area, with increasing demand. In the Prespa lakes, it is fished using a traditional method called “kedra” or “pelaizia” where the fishermen place cedar branch nests (called kedra) at the bottom of the lake and catch large quantities of rutilus.
Rutilus is a great tsipouro meze, especially when salted. The fish are caught in the summer, when they are more tasty, and they are cleaned and placed in containers with coarse salt for five days. Then, they are placed under the sun to dry for a week. This process has to be completely dry to be successful. Before serving, they are baked for 10 minutes and washed in cold water for 20 minutes so as to become less salty. The meze is usually served with olive oil, vinegar and chili flakes.
Apart from the beans, the area is also known for its bright red Florina peppers, a trademark of the entire area, and a top culinary product. Thick bodied and sweet in taste, 15-20 cm long, the Florina pepper is distinguished by its deep red colour and is rich in vitamin C, A, K and E.
The origins of the Florina pepper are lost somewhere in Central America, when Christopher Columbus brought the plant to Europe where it became very popular. It’s estimated that it arrived in Greece in the 17th century, and it adjusted to the soil and climate.
You’ll find it at restaurants and taverns in the area, either baked, or in a salad – with very few calories – or stuffed with cheese, tarhanas (a traditional kind of pasta made with flour milk or yogurt), rice etc.
The small cows of Prespa
Don’t be surprised by the small cows you’ll see grazing in the fields around the Prespa lakes or on the slopes of mount Varnountas. It’s a species of Greek short-horned oxen that give great quality, tasty, fat-free, meat. The indigenous small sized cows, whose weight doesn’t reach more than 150 kg, have been living in the area since antiquity, and have been adjusting to the natural changes in the area. Their meat is tasty and highly nutritional. The conditions they are bred add to the meat’s great quality and taste.
In Prespa, like in the whole of western Macedonia, the “makalo” meatballs are part of the local cuisine. Makalo, in essence is the sauce made with olive oil, flour, tomato and garlic, in which they serve the fried meatballs. The locals also call it the food of the poor since, in the past, for the sauce they used the oil in which the meatballs had been fried.
Our culinary tour
At “Spitiko tis Loukias” in Mikrolimni (tel.: 0030 6978698872), we had baked gigantes beans with sausage and local chili flakes, peppers stuffed with trachanas and “makalo” meatballs.
In Agios Germanos and “Prespion” (tel.: 0030 2385051442), we tried patties with meat from the Greek short-horned oxen, the small local cows of Prespa that has a pleasant taste.
On the picturesque island of Agios Achilios, at the homonymous tavern with the amazing view (tel.: 0030 2385046601), we had a great bean soup, local kebabs and pepper pie.
In the only lakeside village of the Megali Prespa, Psarades, at the tavern “Sintrofia” (tel.: 2385046107), we had both fried and charcoal grilled carp, as well as salted rutilus from the lake.
At “Psaradika tou Hasou” (tel.: 0030 2385046803) in Mikrolimni right next to the lake’s water, we had black eyed bean salad with shrimp. The view, during this time, resembles a seaside resort.