One of the main highlights for any visitor to the Mani is the local cuisine. Simple meals of freshly grilled fish and plates of seafood caught on the day from local waterfront tavernas are delightful. But what if these simple pleasures ceased to exist? For some, this is already the case during these Covid times. Is it too far fetched to imagine that a catastrophic event, planned or otherwise, could render these simple pleasures a thing of the past?
It is reassuring to know that you would be in one of the best places on earth to survive should a catastrophic event occur. The Mani is extremely rich in biodiversity. For centuries, the local inhabitants have survived hunting and gathering the region’s fauna and flora from the land and sea. The Peloponnese coastline alone offers an abundant source of free food that can be easily caught when armed with a bit of knowledge and a few simple tools.
Easy-to-Gather Coastline Flora and Fauna
Many marine foods and Horta flourish along the rocky coastline and beaches of the Mani. All of which are easy to find and gather with a sharp knife and net to hand. Here is a small list of the most common edible species you will discover:
Coastal Sea Flora (Alivarvara)
Sea greens available along the coastline are some of the healthiest food you can eat, providing a rich supply of vitamins (A, B, B12, C, E) and minerals.
Sea Beet (Kokkinogoulia)
One of the most common plants you will come across along the Coast is Sea Beet, sometimes referred to as Sea Spinach. A wild relation of Beetroot, Sugar Beets and Swiss Chard, Sea Beet is a delicious source of nutrition. Both the leaves and the stems are edible. The leaves also make an excellent substitute for spinach.
Sea Radish (Raphanus Maritimus)
With its hot peppery taste, Sea Radish grows around coastal areas throughout the year. Leaves, flowers and seed pods can be eaten raw or cooked. Its leaves add a crispy crunch to salads and pickle very well. Mature pods make an excellent mustard-like spice when ground and roots offer a satisfactory substitute for horseradish. The addition to Sea Radish will add much flavour to an otherwise bland-tasting dish.
Rock Samphire (Kritamos)
Sometimes referred to as Sea Fennel due to its fennel-like minty fragrance, Rock Samphire is regarded as a speciality in the Greek Kitchen. This much sought after plant has been widely cultivated in recent years due to its enduring popularity. However, a keen eye will find this speciality wedged between limestone rocks along the coastal waters of the Meditteranean. Kritamos is often pickled and preserved in vinegar.
There are thousands of varieties of edible seaweed, each with its own unique flavour when eaten raw, fried, steamed or dried. Some varieties are better eaten raw or slightly cooked. Other types work well dried, adding seasoning and nutrition to soups, broths, casseroles, stews and more. Either way, seaweed is an essential source of minerals such as magnesium, zinc, iodine, iron and calcium in addition to vegetable proteins, fibres, omega fatty acids and in some varieties of seaweed - vitamin B12.
Coastal Sea Fauna
Several species of sea life are commonly available in shallow pools and rocks along the shoreline. Marine life such as these can be unearthed and pried from rocks using a sharp knife and stored in a net for gathering. Almost all shellfish is edible raw. However, it often tastes better, slightly cooked, pickled in vinegar and with a pinch of black pepper. A dash of lemon juice Greek style works well too, and some varieties of seafood taste amazing roasted on the coals of an open fire.
Identified by their domed pointed shells, limpets attach to rocks in shallow waters where the coastline meets the sea. In Greece, limpets live among the algae and can be hard to find. Once discovered, they are gatherable by inserting a sharp knife in the small gap between the shell and the rock. You must pry from the rock in one swift move, or the shellfish will attach tighter to the rock, and the advantage is lost. Limpets have a sweet flavour of the sea when eaten uncooked and taste great with a squeeze of lemon juice.
Periwinkles (Littorina littorea)
Periwinkles, commonly referred to as Winkles, Whelks or Seasnails, are found in shallow sea waters, tide pools and mudflats along coastal waters. They are small and time-consuming to pick and eat but are tasty and nutritious. Periwinkles should be rinsed and cooked before eating by steaming in a pot of water for 5 minutes with a knob of butter. Alternatively, steam for 20 minutes in a pot with seaweed or kelp, garlic powder and cracked black pepper to taste. Cool and leave to refrigerate or freeze for long-term preservation. Extract Winkle from the shell using a pin, removing the eye first.
It is also possible to find small crabs in the rock pools and shallow waters and among the rocks of the Greek coastline. You must lay bait from a line or lay traps to capture the larger crabs in shallow coastline waters. This is achievable by tieing meat to a strong twine long enough to reach the bottom and wait for the Crab to take the bait. Reel in and transfer to the net before taking out of the water. Alternatively, traps can be constructed with Chicken wire baited with dead fish. Holes in the cage allow Crab to enter but not leave. Before eating, boil the meat, then use fingers to remove the shell and internal organs.
Fauna you can catch snorkelling in the Mani
Many more options to find and gather edible food present themselves when we venture from the shoreline into the sea. A simple snorkelling tube and mask provide access to an underwater world teeming with life amid the rocky creeks of Greece. Seafood is a staple diet in many villages along the Greek coast. A net and sharp knife is all the equipment you will need to forage for your next aquatic meal. A handheld harpoon, a trident gun or spear is handy for capturing larger passing prey. However, the legality of their use in Greek is restricted during the month of May. Here are a few of the edible delicacies you can capture when underwater snorkelling:
There are indeed hundreds of species of Sea Urchins. They are the dark spiky balls found on rocky seabeds in shallow Mediterranean waters. The edible ones are never entirely black in colour. Look for green, red or purple colour shading with a small piece of seaweed, shell or rock sitting on the top. Handling Sea Urchins is tricky due to their spikes which can be painful if they penetrate the skin. Therefore, they should be handled with care, gloves and a basket to hold them will help. Sea Urchins have a slimy texture and hint of caviar to taste when eaten raw with a drizzle of lemon.
Smooth Clams (Gyalisteres)
Like many kinds of seafood, Clams are another underwater delicacy that tastes wonderful when eaten raw with lemon. Optionally, Clams can be steamed, grilled or cooked with sea greens and Horta in a soup. They can be found in many shallow seabeds in Greece, identified by their largish smooth brown shells.
Mussels are a popular item on the menu in Greek restaurants and taverners throughout the country. Mussel farms have evolved to cater for the growing demand for this saltwater crustation found naturally in the Coastal waters of Greece. Like many types of shellfish, mussels can be found on rocky shores and in sheltered harbours and estuaries. Mussels are delightful to eat uncooked with white wine vinegar and cracked black pepper and go well steamed in pasta dishes, for example, pasta in white wine sauce with garlic and herbs.
Fishing from Coastal Water Shorelines in Greece
Fishing has always been a massively important industry and popular pastime in Greece. A diverse range of fish species is available in large quantity just a few meters from the shore. This provides many opportunities to catch a meal using a simple rod or reel of fishing line from any coastline spot, beach, estuary or harbour. The shallow salt waters of Greece offer ample opportunity to catch the following:
Considered to be one of the tastier fish in the warm waters of Greece, Sea Bream is an excellent catch rich in vitamins B6 and B12, providing immune and cardiovascular system support. There are many ways to prepare for eating. Baked whole or filleted for grilling and frying splashed with herbs and spices are two popular options.
Red Mullet / Goatfish
Both look very similar, and it is easy to confuse one with the other. Both have striking red blotches on their scales. Red mullet is said to be the tastiest and rarest of the two. Either way, both fish provide a healthy meal when broiled in garlic and herbs.
Another fish that lives and hunts in shallow waters, wrasse is not the most popular marine species to catch and eat. Still, they are in plentiful supply in the harbours and shores of Greece, catchable with a line or rod using sandworms or a slice of fish.
Other Shallow Seawater Species
Several other species of fish are within reach of a fishing line along the shores of Greece, which includes:
- Duskey Groupers
- Brown Meagre
- Horse mackerel
Shallow Water Boat Fishing in Southern Greece
Fishing from a boat provides more options and access to more species in deeper waters. No license is required to take a small boat out for non-commercial recreational fishing. There are, however, rules and regulations to be observed. For example, you cannot use explosive charges, compressed gas, or CO2. Also, fishing with a net is forbidden, and minimum sizes on capturing certain types of fish, like octopus, apply. Despite the limitations on boat fishing in these times, we can still snorkel in deeper waters from a small boat, using underwater tools like fishing spears (with restrictions) to catch larger prey. We can set up crab and lobster pots and use a rod to catch bigger fish species that might not otherwise be available from the shoreline. Here is a list of some of the additional species available when boat fishing.
Mediterranean Sea Bass (Lavraki)
In Greece, the word for Sea Bass is Lavraki, a term they use to describe something exclusive and referring to the difficulty of catching such a prized trophy. Sea Bass is notoriously difficult to capture, and knowledge on how to hook it has been passed down through the generations. A white fish traditionally grilled and served with garlic, lemon, olive oil and fresh herbs. Sea Bass is one of the most popular fish dishes in the Greek tavernas for its distinct taste and texture.
Mediterranean Sand Smelt are found near coastal shores, lagoons and estuaries. A long and slender fish that swims in shoals in surface waters and is reasonably easy to catch with small bait like prawns, fish meat, or bread. The fish is tender white meat with a pleasant taste when fried, stewed or barbequed combined with a traditional Greek combination of lemon, garlic, olive oil and fresh herbs. Sand smelt also makes excellent bait for catching larger predatory fish.
Octopus are nocturnal molluscs (boneless fish) that tend to hunt at night, hiding under rock ledges, crevices and coral and abandoned shells of other creatures at other times. Subsequently, the traditional method of capture with pots is highly effective. Hunting with spears and underwater torches (where permissible) is also effective. Look for discarded shells underwater (they eat shellfish) to find and finish with a quick stab between the eyes (advised to wear gloves to avoid a nasty bite). Octopus tenderised by smashing its tentacles against a hard rock 100 times and grilled is one of the nations favourite dishes. Suggested cooking methods include marinating the octopus in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, pepper and fresh oregano before grilling a few minutes on each side.
Like Octopus, Squid is in plentiful supply along the coastal waters of Greece. Fishing for squid is profitable along Many of Greece’s coastal sea waters around reefs and weed beds. There are several good techniques to catching squid. One of the better methods is drift fishing, moving at low speed in a boat while fishing. But fishing from the shore and pier fishing will also produce good results. Crispy fried Calamari is one of the most popular ways of eating squid, along with marinating and grilling.
Other types of fish
Many more species of marine life live in shallow waters and are available within easy reach of the shores of Greece. Here are a dozen other species that you will find along the coastal waters of the Peloponnese:
- European Anchovies
- Bugue (Variety of Sea Bream)
- John Dory
- Red Snapper
- Ocean Puffer
Fishing Along the Coastal Waters of the Peloponesse
Sandwiched between the warm waters of the Mediterranean and the Aegean sea, the coastal areas and waters of Peloponesse offer a vast diversity of edible marine flora and fauna. Combined with mainland Greece and its hundreds of islands, few places worldwide are better equipped to support their entire population with wild and organic food from the land and sea.
Under normal circumstances, this translates into cheap, fresh, affordable fish and seafood caught on the day by local fishermen. In extreme events, local knowledge is key, where fishing is critical to survival. Fishing is fundamental to daily life in rural Greece. Many local inhabitants understand the basic techniques for catching fresh food from the sea. This means that even those with no fishing experience can easily acquire the skills and tools to fishand forage in shallow waters.
As a result of these influences, The Peloponesse region of Greece is in an excellent position to survive a national or global crisis when food supply chains break down.