Walking on Greek Islands

What food is Santorini famous for?

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Santorini is famous for fáva. Fáva is a mush made from the seeds of the small, golden yellow flat peas. As an appetiser fáva is a popular pea dip, a real Santorini speciality. Santorínis fáva has its own flavour because it belongs to a different species than on the rest of the Cyclades islands. It is believed that Fáva Santorinis g. U. has been cultivated on Santorini and the surrounding islands since the Bronze Age, because fáva was also found in the excavations of the town of Akrotíri, which was buried 3600 years ago during the volcanic eruption on Santorini. Fáva Santorínis” from the purple vetchling, Lathyrus clymenum, was added to the register of protected designations of origin by the EU in 2010. The purple vetchling is a plant species of the vetchling genus in the legume family whose seeds, small golden-yellow discs, are known as fáva. The small yellow peas are full of protein and carbohydrates and make a creamy, sweet porridge.

The purple vetchling is an annual, herbaceous, tender yet hardy flowering plant, cultivated by expert hands only on the Cyclades islands in the southern Aegean, which can climb up to two metres on various surfaces. The flowers of the purple vetchling are purple. The purple vetchling is one of the few crops that can withstand the climatic challenges of Santorini’s volcanic soil, which is largely composed only of deposits of pumice and lava. The sowing of the purple vetch on Santorini traditionally takes place in mid-winter. As purple vetch is used to drought, it can survive in the almost desert-like conditions of the volcanic island of Santorini. The volcanic soil on Santorini, which contains hardly any water, is additionally dried out by Meltemia, the wind that blows from the north and north-east from May to September, so that the purple vetchling has to absorb water from the humid sea air by osmosis. The purple vetch also binds the nitrogen present in the air, as Santorini’s volcanic soil contains neither organic matter nor inorganic nutrients such as potassium or nitrogen.

The harvested seeds of the purple vetch are dried under the Aegean sun before being stored in storerooms cut out of the volcanic rock, called kanaves. In these storerooms, conditions are optimal for the purple pea seeds to ripen and remain hard enough to be ground. In Santorini, the seeds of the purple vetch are ground in stone grinding mills, where the pods are removed and the cotyledons are separated from the seeds. The flat, golden-yellow slices of purple vetchling that result from the milling are quickly packed so that they cannot become damp.

Preparation of Fáva

The flat, golden slices of purple vetchling are quick and easy to prepare and make a dish with a creamy consistency and a slightly sweet character.

To prepare fáva, chopped onion is sautéed in a little olive oil, then water, the peas and bay leaf are added, simmered over a low heat and stirred occasionally. 

After the water has been absorbed, season with salt and pepper and remove the bay leaves. Cooking gives the small slices a sweet taste and a creamy consistency.

Before serving the fáva hot or cold, olive oil and lemon juice are added. The most common way of serving fáva is with capers and onion rings.

Santorini’s microclimate of sun, sea air and volcanic soil is the basis for the unique, pleasantly sweet taste of fáva, a very popular appetiser in all the typical traditional Greek tavernas of Santorini.

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