With a focus on meat, olive oil, honey and nuts together with plenty of spices and herbs, Rhodes’ cuisine has a strong personality that never fails to impress those who try it.
As a renowned tourism destination, Rhodes has food that matches every taste: from the classic English breakfast and ethnic cuisine to fast food and elevated gourmet gastronomy. When visiting, however, it’s worth heading in a different direction from the rest of the tourist crowd and seeking out the traditional places that centre on the island’s fascinating and delicious traditional cooking.
Rhodes’ Star Ingredients
Although Rhodes has a long maritime history, the cuisine locals enjoy most is based chiefly on meat like goat and pork rather than seafood and fish. As in all Greek cooking, olive oil is key for preparing, marinating and flavouring food, while olives are a widely enjoyed food prepared in many renditions. There are “zoupes”, mature black olives that are salted and flavoured with thyme and gorse, “tsakistes” or “mahairates olives, green olives that are either crushed with a stone or sliced with a razor, olives seasoned with quince, lemon and fennel, “kouloubistes” olives, which are green olives preserved in salt water with lemon or quince juice and flavoured with fennel or wild thyme, and dried olives. Other Rhodes staples are trahanas hondros (made from sheep or goat milk and coarsely ground wheat) and a wide array of handmade pasta that is the basis for a great many customary dishes. Sesame seeds also star in many local recipes in the form of tahini (tahini is used in soups, pies and salads) or in sweets.
Pulses, especially chickpeas and the very tasty local “lopia” beans, are used in many dishes along with vegetables, cheeses, meat, homemade sausages and salted or marinated fish.
Aromatic herbs and spices are used in abundance to season all dishes. Cinnamon, allspice, black pepper and above all cumin (which locals call “the long smell”) are key in creating the right flavours to suit local tastes. Herbs are also used in making the “herepadi”, a local liqueur made from 19 herbs.
Rhodes’ longtime cheese-making farmers produce a great variety of hard, semi-hard and soft goat’s and cow’s milk cheeses like anthotiro, gruyere, galotiri, kefalotiri and “sinoro”, which is similar to mizithra.
Dishes Not to Miss
There are numerous classic dishes characteristic of Rhodes’ rich gastronomic history, which locals still prepare at home or eat out at their local tavern today. The main dishes that are definitely worth trying include baby goat “pidiako” that is cooked in a narrow and tall ceramic pot, “lakani”, which is goat with tomato and chickpeas baked in the oven in the “lakani” ceramic pot, “karavoli” (snails) cooked with tomato sauce, onion and bulgur wheat and seasoned with cumin, chicken with bulgur wheat, hen with “loukoumi” pasta, goat meat with “lopia” (regional beans) and wild greens, “rouzetia” a fish similar to mullet, that is fried and served with skordalia garlic sauce, “pouggia”, which are herb and wild green pies and red pumpkin, an island favourite – cooked with tomato and other vegetables.
“Giaprakia”, known in the rest of Greece as dolmades, are vine leaves that are stuffed with rice or minced meat and rice mixture seasoned with tomato, parsley, onion and more, and in Rhodes cyclamen leaves are also used for wrapping around the stuffing mix, while giaprakia are also stuffed with koukia beans and mushrooms.
At Easter, locals cook “kapamas”, a festive dish made with goat, raisins, onions, liver, rice and tomatoes and cooked overnight; another Easter dish is “kefalopodaro” a soup made with the goat’s head and legs.
“Karavoli” is a popular snail stew; “makarounes” is a type of fresh pasta that’s cut into strips, boiled and then fried with goat’s cheese, onion and butter; “pitaroudes” are fried patties that can be made using various ingredients, from chickpeas and vegetables like mushrooms, pumpkin and cauliflower, to minced meat and cheeses; and “supriorizo” is another popular classic, a type of risotto made from squid ink and with slices of squid.
Rhodians have a sweet tooth and especially enjoy sweets made with honey, nuts and seeds.
“Melekouni”, one of the favourite sweets of the island, is made with aromatic honey (which Rhodes produces in abundance) and sesame seeds. Almond flour cookies (“amygdalota”), “tatakia” (fried sweets stuffed with walnuts, sesame seeds and spices and drizzled with honey), pancakes, “mandinades”, a fried crispy pastry drizzled with honey and crushed almonds and “kaisi”, apricot paste.
Spoon sweets (stewed fruit preserved in syrup and eaten on a small plate with a spoon) are another popular dessert, which is made as a way to enjoy the island’s wonderful seasonal fruits and nuts like quince, chestnut, apricot, walnut and cherries. Syrupy Turkish sweets made with phyllo or other pastry, like “baklava”, “kadaifi”, “ravani” and “samali” can also be found at bakeries and homes around Rhodes.