While researching this article I was overcome by the long history of this region so I will allow my readers to look at this themselves, as it is very complicated. I chose instead to just concentrate on the food culture and even here I had to try and be as concise as possible. The region has sea, mountains and lakes, making it very diverse culturally and geographically. So I give you as much as possible of the Epirotic food as I can in a short article.
The primary and most famous of all Epirotic food is its pites. Epirus is arguably the home of the Greek traditional pita, although there are spectacular pites in Macedonia. Pites can be for everyday consumption, for festivals, for weddings for fasting and many rituals. They can be open without a pastry lid or covered with a pastry sheet, they can be sweet or savoury. The fillings vary, for example, pumpkin that can be both sweet or savoury, fish or meat, combined with the natural herbs of the region, the most common pita being the cheese version. The most common is a pita called blatsara (μπλατσάρα), where pastry sheets are replaced with a batter made from corn flour enhanced with sour butter or animal fat (can be bought in a supermarket, it’s like a milky yoghurt), and often mixed with herbs and spread on a greased baking sheet.
There is a big variety of cheese pites, the most common with feta cheese and the second with anthotiro (ricotta) and a quick one is the giza (γκίζα). The festive kasiata (κασιάτα) from Metsovo, a sweet milk pita called galatopita (γαλατόπιτα). The pita is the everyday food of Epirus and there are at least 70 different types.
Epirus has great quality and variety of dairy products, therefore making great yoghurt, cheese and butter. Metsovo produces a famous smoked cheese from cow’s milk, which is rare in Greece as cheese in Greece is either goat’s or/and ewe’s milk. Cheese is the most dynamic product of Epirus and some are P.D.O. (Protected Designation of Origin).
The pasta products made from grain, milk, butter, and eggs are a testimony to simplicity and purity, for example, a sweet trahanas, or cooked tomatoes, cheese, mushrooms and sausage, hylopites eaten plain with butter and cheese or accompanied with a red meat sauce.
The local meat is of excellent quality, and a classic Epirus dish is the spicy kontosouvli, but we must also not forget the hot soups from sheep’s meat, kleftiko, goat in a pot with lemon, honeyed potatoes in the oven. Fried pork, beef stifado and the delicacies of tripe with skordalia from walnuts, spicy sausages, deer sausages, ‘tsoubleki’ – a dish of baked spicy/hot meatballs with lots of onions.
The terrain, being mountainous, is forested and game is plentiful so we have rabbit stew, wild bore with quince, partridge (and other birds) with rice. We must not forget that Epirus has a coastline and salmon is available as the waters here are cool.
I personally remember my foray into eating frog’s legs while visiting Epirus many years ago and seriously nicer than the French version. Eels cooked with bay leaf and pepper, or smoked or even cooked in wine. In the lakes of Voidomati wild trout is gathered and grilled with butter from ewe’s milk.
Smelt (αθερίνα), the famous sardine from the Ambracian Gulf, slowly baked with tomato was and perhaps still is considered the food of the poor. Baked carp or sea bream with celery, baked mullet and garlic scampi, grilled shrimp and fried flathead, cuttlefish with greens and the salted cod with fresh tomatoes and red paprika make up a rich seafood diet for a mountainous region.
Legumes are in abundance, as are greens and wild rice, sautéed hot peppers, which make up a large part of the Epirus diet.
And we must never forget the sweets; syrupy seraglio, amygdalopita (almond pita), karidopita (walnut cake), Gianniotiko kadaifi, walnut baklava, also the local baklava called ‘klostati’ made from local olive oil and local walnuts. Then there are the spoon sweets that are plentiful from the resources of the Epirot land such as the whole chestnut, fig, and blackberry, ripe plums with cinnamon and wine and out of these fruits come the local fruit liquors.
There are also local white wines with citrus aroma and acidity and freshness in taste and robust reds.
The legacy of eternal traditions ensures that various festivals are held in honour of a saint under the perennial tree in the village square with revelry and traditional food. The clarinet expresses the authenticity of the region, which is deeply rooted in the psyche of its inhabitants and is an element of local tradition.