Local tastes of Sifnos
A cheerful and fun-loving people, like this of Sifnos, could not but excel in cooking. The fact that Nikolaos Tselementes, author of the first Greek cookery guide, is from Sifnos, gives another reason to locals to take pride in their performance in the art of tastes.
The most typical dishes are chickpea soup and mastelo. The former was once a Sunday dish, the latter an Easter one. Now, one can find them at any time in most restaurants.
The local cheese is manoura and myzithra; local sweets are honey-pie, sesame nougat, almond sweets. All this is present in the Sifnos of today; it is the local wine that is a rare species…
Traditionally a Sunday lunch, which was usually given to a bakery on Saturday night, in the “pot”, and taken back on Sunday morning.
Mimis Lemonis gives the recipe for chickpea soup in his book “Hi, Sifnos”: «After chickpeas have soaked all day within water, which should be warm and salted, they are drained and placed in the pot. It is good to rub them a little with one’s palms so as to extract some peels, provided they have risen well and have come off. Then cut a big enough onion in fine pieces and throw it in. Add the corresponding salt and oil. The pot is filled with water to the top. The water must necessarily come from a cistern, be rain water. Finally comes the lid, and it is now ready for the oven. This is the whole art of the chickpeas’ pot. It is the oven that contributes the rest of the art to have as a result the tasty and fragrant chickpea soup of Sifnos».
At Easter, in Sifnos, lambs are not baked on the spit, they are made “in mastelo”. This is how is called the earthen pot in which the lamb cooks, which gave the food its name. The task of baking is always assumed by the bakery of the neighbourhood.
The recipe for mastelo we quote comes from the collection of cooking recipes by Ronia Anastassiadou, “Tastes of Sifnos”: «At the bottom of mastelo, create a grate made of vine branches which, apart from their characteristic aroma, are used to make the meat soft during cooking. Then wash the meat well with red wine, cut it in large pieces, put salt and pepper and place it in the mastelo. On top pour some of this same red wine. Cover the mastelo with lettuce or perforated aluminium foil and take it to the bakery. Some people add dill as well, others –more in the past- add fennel along with the vine branches of the bottom».
The most popular local cheese is manoura and myzithra. Manoura is a hard cheese which, once drained and matured in special wicker baskets for cheese called “tyrovolia”, is preserved in the dregs of red wine. Myzithra is a soft, fresh creamy cheese like ricotta, which is also used in honey-pie, the Easter cake of Sifnos.
Honey-pie is the most “official” dessert of Sifnos. Traditionally, it accompanies mastelo on Easter day. It is a mixture of myzithra, eggs, honey and sugar, baked in the oven and served sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.
The next in the list of “official” sweets is sesame nougat, the dessert of marriages. It is made from honey and sesame seeds, boiled together, and served in diamond-shaped pieces. In the past, cleaning the sesame seeds was one of the celebrations before the wedding ceremony. Friends of the bride and groom were gathered and, on the pretext of the sesame seeds, made something like a party. In today's marriages, sesame nougat accompanies the sugared almonds.
Sifnos has also got a tradition in almond sweets, home-made sweets and bird- shaped Easter cakes.
The tradition is that every resident has his vineyard and produces every year a barrel of resin and a large jar of “red” wine. Red (irrespective of colour) are called the wines made from grapes which have been exposed to sunlight for 8-10 days.
Now the vines are much less than in the past as the land is not cultivated intensively. Furthermore, the prolonged droughts of the 90s caused major disasters. The local wine in Sifnos is now a rare species…
Tsikoudia is the other traditional drink of the island. Pomace is usually left to “mature” in jars for 40 days, accompanied by some dried figs for a nice smell.