Spinialo - Gastro Obscura

Prepared Foods

Spinialo

This Greek dish maintains an old fisherman's tradition of preserving one's catch in bottles of seawater.

Kalymnos, located in Greece’s Dodecanese group of islands in the southeastern Aegean Sea, is known for its diverse array of seafood dishes. These delights range from lobster tails to fried octopus ink sacs. One Kalymnos dish represents not only the island’s unique cuisine, but also its rich seafaring tradition: spinialo, a dish of sea squirts (fouskes) marinated in a bottle of seawater.

Although they are cleverly disguised as rocks, sea squirts are actually primitive marine vertebrates. They feel like a hard sponge and attach themselves to rocks, shells, and even ships’ hulls. When cut in half, they reveal soft, yellow-orange flesh, which has the texture of scrambled eggs. The flesh’s strong, bitter flavor is reminiscent of iodine and is definitely an acquired taste.

Like fried octopus ink sacs, spinialo was originally a fishermen’s dish, eaten by the sponge-divers of Kalymnos who had to preserve their food to last for long sea voyages. Before modern refrigeration came to the island, fishermen would preserve sea-squirt flesh in empty wine bottles filled with seawater and a dash of olive oil. The flesh of sea urchins and fan mussels were commonly added, as well. The resulting mix was served with lemon and sometimes the double-baked bread known as barely rusk. Thanks to the salt in the seawater, a bottle of spinialo could last for months on end.

To this day, authentic spinialo is still made in a bottle of seawater. Although it can be occasionally found in restaurants, fishermen still make it on their boats and sell it in fish markets, carrying on their time-honored culinary heritage.

Need to Know

Spinialo can be found at some restaurants, tavernas, and fish markets in Kalymnos and, less frequently, in mainland Greece. Although spinialo can technically be made at home, the preservation process can be difficult to replicate accurately.

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Contributed by
Tatiana Harkiolakis
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