Corfu's cuisine is inextricably tied in with its history and this is what makes the food here so different from the rest of Greece. It is fascinating to look through a menu and try to deduce who brought what.
The four best known Corfiot dishes show their Venetian influence. These are Sofrito (sliced veal cooked with vinegar, garlic and parsley); Bourdeto (a peppery fish stew); Bianco, (a white, garlicky fish stew); and Pastitsada, (a pasta and meat dish).
Sometime after the 16th century, turkey arrived on Corfu, probably bought by the French since the Greek word, galopoula, translates literally as "French bird".
Puddings came to Corfu not with the Venetians but with the English in the 19th century.
(All these dishes were only enjoyed by Corfu's upper classes. Corfu's poor, however, had a very different diet which consisted of salt cod, wild greens cooked with onions and olive oil, and cornbread.)
Today many of Corfu's well known dishes are available all over the world, but they are best sampled here. The climate, atmosphere, food and drink seem to belong together and provide a unique experience whatever the meal.
Corfiot cuisine is neither spicy nor bland, but rich in the flavours of the Mediterranean. Specialties consist of local ingredients found on the island, especially olives, lemons, vegetables, tomatoes and fish. Many dishes hark back to the days when cooks put all the ingredients in a single pot and left it to simmer all day.
Lamb is traditionally the principal meat in Corfiot cooking. It can be found in dishes such as the classic Moussaka, or, cut into pieces, marinated in olive oil and lemon juice, it is grilled on skewers. Fresh oregano is commonly used with skewered lamb. Rosemary is traditional with leg of lamb, which is served with avgolemono sauce made with eggs and lemon. Other common Corfiot herbs are basil, parsley, mint, and dill. Garlic and onions are, of course, an integral part of Corfiot seasoning. Pork, beef, and game are marinated, grilled, and baked. Chicken is usually grilled or roasted.
Fish are traditionally cooked whole, with the head and tail still attached. They are often seasoned with herbs, and marinated in olive oil and lemon juice. Fish are grilled over hot fires, or baked. Shrimp, octopus, and squid are also popular.
Cheese is an important part of Corfiot cuisine. Feta cheese, made from goat's milk, is white, crumbly, and very pungent. It is used in salads, meat dishes, spread on bread, or even wrapped in grape leaves and grilled. Kefalotiri is another popular variety that is harder; it is grated and used like Parmesan.
Pasta is a favourite food in Corfu, particularly orzo, which has a distinct rice-grain shape. Thin pastry sheets, called filo, are used for appetizers like cheese or spinach pies and desserts such as the distinctive nut and pastry-layered baklava oozing with honey syrup.
Drinks are not all ouzo and retsina although these are popular with locals and tourists alike. Ouzo is a clear spirit made from vine stalks and flavoured with aniseed. Diluted with water it goes a milky colour. Sip with a plate of olives. Retsina is white wine flavoured with pine resin. Serve very chilled and if you find the resin flavour a little strong a drop of soda water turns it into a very refreshing spritzer. Greek wine has improved immeasurably in recent years and very palatable wines are now readily available. Most beer in Greece is of the lager style and is served very cold.
Click here for a selection Corfiot recipes.
Below are just a few of the many items you will find on menus in local restaurants and tavernas. (Many of the local dishes are suitable for vegetarians.)