Sarah Souli

Beautiful vistas of sea and shore. Fishermen-direct seafood. Local wine. Great, locally grown produce: it’s not hard to understand why journalist Sarah Souli chose to live on the Aegean Island of Tinos, a part of the Cyclades Archipelago. Raised in the United States by her French mother and Tunisian father, Souli spent childhood summers between her parents’ two native countries with her time in Tunis being the “evocative experience” that developed her relationship with food later in life. Her resume is vast and includes work for travel website Roads & Kingdoms as well as publishing her book, Moon Guides: Athens and the Greek Islands through Hachette Book Group in 2020.
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A Self-Sufficient Island

Tinos is pretty unique in that it is self-sufficient compared to some of its Cycladic neighbours which are kind of barren and face a lot of difficulty growing crops. It also comes with political development that happened in Greece, particularly post World War II. A lot of people left the islands, and some never returned, really reducing local industries. There are some islands in the Cyclades that might import their fish, or the fishermen aren’t Greek and come from Italy or Egypt. The people in Tinos grow their own fruits and vegetables, have a sizable fishing community and animal husbandry. They’re also known here for a few really special things like artichokes. You see these beautiful fields of artichokes with their blossoming flowers everywhere. They just clean it, peel the leaves, take the heart out, thinly slice it and serve it to you raw. They may add some olive oil and some lemon, but the focus is really just on the flavour of the ingredient itself. Tinos was also controlled by the Venetians for a long time, so unlike other parts of Greece, there’s not really an Ottoman influence in the food, which you see a lot in the north of Greece or in some islands that are closer to Turkey, where they add a lot more spices and sauces. Here there’s a slight Italian-ness to the food. They eat a lot of pasta and rabbit or rooster.

There’s Something Very Political About Eating Food Here

When we feel so much despair with the state of the world, it’s normal to question what we can do within the limitations of a “democratic”, hyper-capitalist country. I do increasingly feel power in voting with our own money. A big part of that is how you buy food and who you buy food from. And one thing that makes me feel a little bit better about this impending global climate crisis is that at least I know the farmer who I buy my tomatoes from, and I know where my eggs are from. And I can eat fish here and not feel terrible about it, because I’m buying fish from a fisherman who goes out every morning and catches it himself. And in Tinos, the idea of eating something that’s not from here is a little strange for people. I do think that things are best enjoyed right there and then, in their natural habitat. This enforced movement of things that are better appreciated where they happen to be, it often breeds disappointment and fudges your memory of how much you like a certain thing when you take it out of context. Most of us are so discombobulated all the time because we’re moving at warp speed and the Internet doesn’t help. Food in Tinos tastes that way because it is in Tinos. I’m not really someone who buys stuff when I travel to bring back, because to me, so much of food and drink is tied to a sense of space and mindset. But I do like to gift wax candles. They produce them in Tinos because Our Lady of Tinos is still one of the most important sites in Orthodox Christianity.

The Best Restaurant in Tinos

To Thalassaki is probably the best restaurant in Tinos. It’s on the western side of the island, on Ysternia Bay and is a little more fancy. It’s got creative flair but still serves mostly Tinian products. A lot of it comes from the chef’s own garden, where she grows all kinds of vegetables, herbs and edible flowers, so expect amazingly fresh salads and sides. There’s a salad of grilled onions with lemon jam that’s absolutely delicious. The restaurant gets really fresh fish that it also incorporates into its dishes, and it has a nice cheese dish served with bee pollen. It also serves Domaine de Kalathas wines. To Thalassaki has become kind of famous and people come from Mykonos to eat there. It’s funny because it’s right on the water and Tinos has so much wind and high waves, so it’s not the kind of place you can come to looking super chic because you’ll likely get wet. Luckily, Tinos lacks the commercialisation that’s in its Cycladic neighbours. Here everything is still a bit salt of the earth.

Old-School, Traditional Restaurants

There’s this old-school place I love called Téreza next to Livada Beach in the village Myrsini. It’s an old corner shop that used to sell groceries. Téreza started cooking for her family and friends some years ago and then business exploded. In the summers, it’s impossible to get a table there. You eat while being surrounded by canned tomatoes and toilet paper. It’s a very cinematic sort of place. What’s good to eat there? Green beans in the summer. Rooster with okra that’s been stewing for hours. They make a rabbit dish with roasted potatoes in the oven which is really tasty as well. There’s another traditional restaurant I really like in Krokos called Taverna Antonis. This is the restaurant everyone stops in when going to Kolymbithra beach. Even though it’s like 10 minutes from the beach, there’s no fish on the menu; it’s only meat. That’s another thing that always makes me laugh: people in Tinos are very specific about where to eat fish. If you’re not on the water, you’re eating meat. And Adonis from Taverna Antonis makes amazing meatballs; it’s kind of his specialty. He also has a garden where he grows a lot of his produce.

Favourite Seafood

On the port, which is usually the last place you’d expect to find something good, there’s this restaurant called Tarsanas. It’s really a good one. You have to walk all the way around the port to the far end. I have a standard order which is taramosalata, almira, grilled calamari and fried hand-cut potatoes, which they serve with thick salt and oregano. The restaurant makes, in my opinion, the best taramosalata – the real, white, amazingly fluffy and delicious one, not the pink stuff they sell in the supermarket. Almira is this Mediterranean seaweed they boil and serve with lemon and olive oil. Just like with chorta, which is a land plant more widely found around Greece, almira also exists in different varieties and every restaurant serves it in its own way. It’s not on the menu at Tarsanas so you have to ask if it has it. On the north-western side of the island, after Pyrgos, is a little bay called Panormos. It was the first port of Tinos and some fishermen still fish there so what the nearby restaurants get is super fresh. There are a couple of them along the port but I always go to the same one: Maistros. It’s the place that fills up first on the strip and when it’s full the other places start to pack up. Aesthetically, there’s nothing that’s different about it from any of the other places. It’s just kind of a habit to go there and I’m a creature of habit. I order calamari and fried potatoes wherever I go. I love the freshness of the salads at Maistros: anything with capers and Greek onions especially in the summer when they are at their sweetest. They’re so crunchy and delicious.

Breakfasts, Bakeries and Baked Goods

The joke is that Greek breakfast is coffee and a cigarette. Maybe a spanakopita (spinach pastry) or another kind of pie on the go. To Spitiko in Chora is the address for the best pies. It also makes something called Margherita bread, a round loaf of pull-apart, brioche-like buns. It’s good for making sandwiches. There’s another bakery that opened up last year I think, and became the hype of the island. It’s called 2E. It makes whole grain bread and a proper croissant with good butter. I haven’t found amazing coffee here, but there’s a nice café called Antilalos that’s also a second-hand bookstore. I just like the ambience there. And then there’s the main kafeneio (Greek café) in the square of a village called Pyrgos, with a big Platanus (sycamore) tree shading the whole place, and a beautiful old water fountain where people used to come to fill their water back in the day. You can just sit there and have a pretty standard coffee, but a very good galaktobouriko, which is a custard pie. That area is really beautiful; the village is on the northwestern side of the island and is famous for its marble craft.

A Traditional Pastry From The Island

There’s a really nice pastry shop called Chalaris that makes all kinds of typical Greek sweets. There’s one special Tinos sweet that’s only made around Easter called tiropitakia. When someone tries it for the first time, they often think it has a cupcake wrapper around it that they’re supposed to peel off. It’s small, has a crystallised sugar crust and is a kind of fluted pastry shell that’s almost like a baked cheesecake on the inside. It has this really interesting lemony flavour in parts, but at the same time also has a creamy, cheesy taste.

“Tinos in a Glass”

On one of my trips here to do a story on natural wine, my husband – who happens to be Greek – and I really fell in love with the work of French winemaker Jerome Binda of Domaine de Kalathas. He has a very experimental approach to winemaking inspired by Japanese farmer Masanobu and his principles of taking care of the land. Jerome makes intensely “natural” wine: wild fermentation, unfiltered and no added sulphites. We were supposed to stay three days and we ended up accidentally staying two weeks, which is something that happens to people a lot in Tinos. We found a house and moved back a few months later. For me, the wines of Domaine de Kalathas are a perfect distillation of Tinos in a glass. It has this beautiful golden colour and a real finesse in its fermentation. It’s quite a small production of indigenous Tinos grape varieties such as Aspro Potamisi and Mavro. They make about 10,000 bottles a year, export some of it and sell the rest on the island.

Wines of the Giants

There are more wineries I recommend checking out, even just for the exceptional landscape. T-Oinos is in Volax, an interior part of Tinos that is completely crazy. You’re surrounded by these huge granite boulders: it looks like the Giants played some kind of board game in the sky and dropped their massive dice everywhere. And so the terroir has a particularly minerally flavour. T-Oinos makes a mono-cépage of Assyrtiko and another of Mavrotragno with great ageing potential. A 10-minute drive north leads you to another maker of indigenous wines called Volacus in Gardari near the village of Falatados. Its range includes a single-variety Malagouzia.

Where to Go for a Drink

I love this place called Labo Bar in Triantaros village. This amazing Italian woman named Ludo created a very relaxing environment with great aesthetics. My husband is opening a wine bar next year [in 2022], so I imagine that I’ll be spending a lot of time there as well.

If You’re Staying at a Place with a Kitchen

The beauty of Tinos is that you can just go to the port and get some of the best fish or shrimps and cook it at home, which we do often. There is also the Municipal Farmers Market, what the Greeks call “laiki”, in Chora. In the summer, it takes place every day between the old port and the new port. It’s just a few farmers who have all kinds of local produce; they also sell pickled goods, like capers, pastes and sun-dried tomatoes. A lot of people also grow their food. We sometimes get handed boxes of fresh produce from friends with gardens or eggs from our landlord’s chickens, which is really nice. I think it’s standard anywhere in the world that what you experience as someone who becomes a member of a community is inherently different than someone who just parachutes in. I especially think of that when we talk about the experiences that foreigners expect to have in Greece. You need to put in a little bit of time and a little bit of effort if you want to have these kinds of connections. Like my parents were here for a month, and they were going to the market almost every day. My dad had this one farmer he always went to, and this guy was always really happy to see him. My husband was buying tomatoes from him last week and he was like, “Tell your father-in-law that I miss him.” And that’s after spending just a few weeks here. Tinos is also very famous for capers: you have capers and caper leaves growing everywhere. When in season, you can go out and forage for yourself. Same thing with figs. Or prickly pear, which people don’t eat as much as we do in Tunis, so there are copious amounts of it everywhere.

Where to Shop for Tinian Products

Exo Meria is a café that has a selection of dried herbs and jarred products from Tinos. It’s also a nice place to sit and have a smoothie or a bite while you shop.

An Indulgent Treat

One of the nice things they sell at Pelagus, a fish shop I frequent, are these little jars of sea urchins. They are so good you can just eat them plain with a spoon and a nice glass of wine. I mean, they’re expensive, they’re like €30 for a jar. So I don’t do it very often. You can also (sustainably) collect sea urchins yourself, but it’s a lazy treat to buy them.

Cheese and Charcuterie

I buy my cheese from my butcher. There’s a special kind they make in Tinos called kopanisti which is almost like a Roquefort. Cheesemakers leave it in pumpkin gourds to ferment and it has different age grading. Tinos is also famous for its pork sausage and cold cuts, especially something called loutza, which is an air-dried pork that’s cured in red wine and a mixture of herbs like oregano and cinnamon. It’s like a big pink piece of ham and not fatty at all. It’s really satisfying.

Two Places to Stay

I love Xinara House when the budget allows it. This really cool British couple bought two adjacent properties and renovated them both very nicely. One is the bishop’s house and has five bedrooms while the other is a smaller apartment. They have a beautiful backyard area and a little rock-hewn swimming pool. I recommend staying at Under the Linden Tree. This lovely Turkish woman named Nilufer, who bought the property 10 years ago, transformed it into an eco-paradise. It’s one of the greenest places in Tinos and the only one with a linden tree. You get to rent your own cottage and be disconnected in nature.

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