The rocky and arid soils of the Northern Cyclades may not seem ideal growing conditions for plentiful food stuffs but the islanders are nothing if not resourceful. In 1842 French travel writer Alexis de Valon noted about Tinos, "the whole island is cultivated with great determination, almost in defiance of nature; in the absence of soil, the inhabitants even plough rocks." In older times, fruit and grains were grown; mainly summer fruit such as figs and grapes, which could be sold to boats that passed through the ports. Indeed, Mykonos was so barren that it was thought only fit for growing barley to make rusks and to rear pigs that would scratch an existence out of the earth. The long, summer days meant that foods were often dried so that they would keep longer and gain more flavor. The people of the islands sought their livelihood at sea as fishermen, and to this day, fish and seafood play a large role in the local cuisine. The contact with outsiders in maritime trade shaped the culinary traditions, while influences from Venetian and Ottoman occupiers also helped to mold the food as we know it today. Vegetables do well in the tough climate and along with legumes are the base of most meals. Meat was scarce and prized, often slowly cooked in earthenware overnight in wood-fired ovens.
'Today, the food of the islands is unrecognizable at first glance—Indian delicacies on the beach in Mykonos, sushi by the sea in Syros, or pizza in the shadow of the Cathedral in Tinos—but scratch below the surface and the true island food culture is revealed. The best chefs are mixing up their influences and showing off their traditional ingredients. In Mykonos, try kopanisti, a rock-star cheese, all punky attitude and tangy flavors, and Louza, a cured pork fillet scented with spices and a genuine alternative to prosciutto. Syros has wild capers, thyme honey and San Michali, a hard, salty parmesan-style cheese. Tinos is a real foodie-heaven with dill-strewn omelets and T-Oinos, a heavyweight winery that competes with the best in Greece. Settle down in a restaurant on any of the islands and you will be fed well, whether you choose a sleepy taverna in a hilltop village or a Michelin-star-chasing show pony. Some of the best food in the whole of Greece is served here, food that tastes of the sunshine, of the scorched rock, and of the moody seas.