Crisp-Fried Smelt or Whitebait and Onions

THIS SIMPLE dish is one of the traditional foods served in Chian tavernas and is usually eaten as a meze, accompanied by the local ouzo. To make it, tiny Aegean fish—a kind of tasty smelt or whitebait—are mixed with onions and fried in olive oil, a delicious combination.

Of the various begoto that I have tasted, I prefer the one served at Theodosiou, a tiny old taverna at the harbor of Chios Town. The place is always packed when it’s open, but as the owner prefers to enjoy life rather than get rich, he closes his taverna in August—right at the peak of the tourist season!


  • 1 pound smelt or whitebait, rinsed
  • 1 medium onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced into half-moons
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • Salt
  • Hot Pepper and Herb Mix or freshly ground black pepper
  • Olive oil or a combination of olive oil and safflower oil for frying
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley


In a large bowl, combine the fish, onion, flour, salt and hot pepper and herb mix or pepper to taste. Toss well.

In a large skillet, heat ½ inch of oil over medium-high heat to 350°F. Fry the fish mixture, in batches, until golden brown on the first side, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn with a large spatula and fry on the other side. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Place on a warmed platter and serve hot, sprinkled with the parsley and more herb mix or pepper, if you like.