Seasoned travellers know that to get under the skin of a place you need to seek out true local restaurants for food and produce are always integral to culture. This is especially true on the ancient and storied Island of Kos which like many other Greek Islands originally went for mass tourism as a catalyst to alleviate the poverty and stagnation which blighted Greece in the 1960’s. So in Kos Town avoid the strip of restaurants by the harbour with multi-lingual tourist menus. There is nothing too wrong with them but they are a form of culinary wallpaper which you can hardly describe as “Real Greek”. Instead follow me to two exceptional restaurants which give an insight into the diversity and culture of this special place which was the crossroads of the Greek, Roman and Crusader world.
To do this we first go 4 km outside Kos Town where we find ourselves (and you may be surprised by this) in a Turkish village. Kos at one time had a large Turkish minority but with the tensions over Cyprus, many have left the island. About 50 Muslim families remain on Kos and they mostly reside in Platani along with a Greek minority. Everyone seems to get along just fine but the good news is the Turkish restaurants that await visitors.
At Platani on the way to the Asklepion of Kos there are still Turkish villages with the restaurants reputed to have the best food on the island. Also on the way to Platani you can see the old Jewish and Muslim cemeteries side by side. Platani’s older domestic architecture is similar to styles in Crete from where some of the village’s inhabitants came between 1898 and 1913. There is a working Ottoman fountain near the crossroads and several excellent Turkish tavernas; Arap, Asklipios, Sherif and Gin’s Palace. This is a good place just 3 miles outside Kos Town to come in the evening to enjoy the cooler air, savour the village atmosphere and enjoy Turkish food in Greece.
They all offer Anatolian-style mezedhes and kebabs and enjoy a reputation, including among the Greeks, as the best eateries on the island. We dined at Arap where all the vegetables are grown on the owners land and the meats sourced on the island. We enjoyed an excellent meal with our Greek friends who are regulars here. I expressed my surprise to Yasar, the owner that the menu included a pork chop but he said there was not necessarily a strict interpretation on this before saying he had to earn a living! Yasar Memis, the owner, is always there and in the Greek and Ottoman tradition you are welcome to go into the open and scrupulously clean kitchen to inspect the produce.
The food here is a mix of Greek and Turkish and the spirit of this unpretentious family restaurant is contagious. Whatever you order from the extensive menu, it’s impossible for you to choose wrongly. Although there are many meat dishes, vegetarians will have a feast. The roasted red peppers stuffed with feta and the zucchini flowers stuffed with rice are splendid, as is the bourekakia (a kind of fried pastry roll stuffed with cheese). Afterward, you can walk across the street for the best homemade ice cream on Kos.
All of the restaurants here are good with the patrons’ mainly Greek locals who appreciate the quality of the Turkish cuisine as well as the distinct atmosphere of this place which until 1964 was most commonly known as Kermetes (Germe in Turkish). The Turkish community had its own primary school but in the wake of the Cyprus crises of that year the village was given a Greek name and education provided in Greek only. Now things are more relaxed and I can only hope this special part of the world continues to embrace diversity.
The next choice as you might expect is a Greek restaurant but it is in Kos “Old Town” which in reality is the Ottoman Old Town of Halluvazia which survived the devastating earthquake of 1933. Olive (Elia in Greek) at 27. Apelou Ifestou, is a traditional Greek Restaurant affiliated to the Slow Food movement which specialises in authentic local dishes and local produce and which I cannot recommend too highly.
At the end of the meal you will be presented with their coup de theatre, a saucer of Olives! When you eat them you will react strangely for these are sweet olives marinated in honey and taste surprisingly delicious. Indeed they are so popular and unique that Elia now sells them in jars to take away. The menu is best described as Greek home cooking with many Dodecanese specialities and a quixotic menu which features headings such as “Barley Juices” (Beers), Vineyard Juices (Wines), Boiler extracts (Teas & Coffees).
The emphasis is on quality fresh ingredients with exceptional artisan wines and cheeses in particular. A great place for lunch or dinner and the antidotes to the tourist “bolognaise and cheeps” include specialities such as “pastourma”, “gardoumpa” , “frygadelia”, “tsigarides” , “spetsofai” and “kavoyrdisto.” Don’t worry if this means nothing, just ask the helpful staff. As well as the cool stone restaurant there is a lovely and restful canopied garden at the rear.
So on a Greek Island these are two of the best, one Turkish in Greece and the other traditionally Greek in the Turkish Old Town! Both excellent, both producing the food of memory deeply rooted in the produce and tradition of this special place.
ARAP Restaurant in Platani
Platani Village Square Kos island 85300, Greece
Tel. +30 – 22420 28442
Elia Traditional Restaurant – Tel. +30-2242022133
Apellou 27 – 85300 Kos, Greece
Around Kos Town