The small, mountainous island of Kalymnos is located in the Dodecanese, a group of Greek islands near Turkey’s southwestern coast. Though it’s not as popular as some of its neighbors, Kalymnos has a well-kept secret: It has some of the best, and most obscure, seafood in all of Greece. And no Kalymnos dish is quite as obscure as fried octopus ink sacs. Not only is this dish very difficult to find, it has no official name. After a survey of fishermen from four Dodecanese islands, the only somewhat-agreed-upon name was pasta apo melani htapodiou, or octopus ink paste.
An ink sac is a small, muscular bag that most octopuses use to store their ink. The key to a good fried ink sac is to avoid puncturing it, so that it holds its delicate shape and retains most of the ink inside. After briefly boiling it to harden the skin, chefs carefully cover the nugget in flour and lightly fry it in olive oil. In sampling the fried sacs, which are often seasoned with only salt and pepper, chef Andrew Zimmern compared their consistency to oatmeal and their flavor to chopped chicken livers.
The ink sacs are a part of Kalymnos’s long history of embracing offal. When sea-sponge harvesting was the island’s main industry, divers would be at sea for months and subsisted on every part of the fish they captured. Although the industry has been greatly diminished by sponge disease outbreaks, the divers’ food philosophy has left its mark on local cuisine. A search through the island’s fish markets and tavernas will reveal the likes of two-pound octopus roe, parrotfish intestines, and sea squirts preserved in saltwater. Sponges may be in decline, but sea offal still thrives on Kalymnos.
Need to Know
Seek out smaller tavernas that specialize in local seafood delicacies. Consulting local fishermen will point you in the right direction.