Greek food is known throughout the world as some of the most delicious, fresh and often healthy cuisines on the planet. With fertile soil and great weather conditions there is an abundance of fresh produce throughout the country year round and this has led to the creation of many fantastic dishes and recipes and they are often very simple.
From region to region you will find cultural differences and influences in not only the architecture but also the food, with a Turkish influence clearly found in the food of Crete and the Dodacanese islands whilst Italy has had a hand in developing many dishes in the Ionians. Some dishes have come from great hardship and the ingredients may have simply been the only thing growing on an island or in the village at the time. Many will be seasonal dishes that take advantage of whatever is fresh at the time with modern supermarkets still hard to find in many areas. Some dishes are also community or religious based and are usually only made on certain days or during certain festivals.
With a focus on freshness and organic growth it is near impossible to get a bad meal in Greece and there is a huge variety of food and drink that caters to everyone including vegetarians, vegans and people with food allergies.
Here are some of our favourites.
Mezedes (or Meze)
Typical inclusion in Meze might be any or all of the following;
- sardines or anchovies
- small cheese pies
- tomato keftedes (fried tomato balls)
- fresh figs/tomato/cucumber
- other specialites of a region or island
It will also crumble and can be used to top casseroles.
The most famous is probably Tzatziki ( silent T!) which is thick natural yoghurt, lemon juice, garlic, cucumber, vinegar and olive oil. Other excellent ones – far better than anything you’ve had back home, are;
- Taramasalata – made from fish roe and pink in colour we find the paler the pink the better.
- Skordalia – potato and garlic
- Fava dip – yellow split peas
- Feta dip – you’ll never guess what this is made from
- Melitzanosalata – made from eggplant and common throughout the mediterannean.
There are many variations of the recipe but essentially it is vine leaves stuffed with meat, rice, dill and mint. Often served as a starter and with yoghurt there are now many tinned versions that are readily available and pretty good.
Another variation are the delicious cabbage rolls using cabbage leaves instead.
Calamari and Octopus
Calamari and Octopus are the twin seafood stars of Greece.
Calamari is the Italian word for Squids and they are often thought to be the same thing. They are in fact different animals and Calamari is generally more expensive and more tender to eat. There’s an excellent explanation of all the different species by the Sydney Fish Market.
In Greece Calamari is served fresh when in season – Summer through October – and generally grilled or fried whole. The rest of the time it is likely frozen and imported but can still be very good as the Greeks are masters at tenderizing it, often with milk.
These photos of Calamari are from Emporios Bay on the island of Chios. We arrived just as this man was cleaning his calamari and he cooked it for us immediately at his little beachfront taverna.
It is then either marinated or more typically just chargrilled and served as whole tentacles.
These Octopus photos are from Santorini.
Its often hard to find in summer as its traditionally a winter meal so if you find it on the menu off season, order it!
Fried Artichokes and eggs ( Aginares)
We came across this a fair bit on Milos and were hooked!
Gyros ( Yiros, Giro)
The meat is carved off and served wrapped in a flatbread along with salad, tzatziki and often chips.
It was originally introduced to Greece by the Turks after World War II and in fact the words Gyros and Donor (as in Donor Kebab) both mean ‘turn’. The greek version tends to be a lot juicier and has as much emphasis on the salad and sauce as the meat.
If you don’t want the meat and salad(and chips) from a Gyros wrapped in the pita you can often order a Gyros plate – a deconstructed Yiros if you like. I prefer this as it is a lot less messy!
Also known as ‘chicken on a stick’ or lamb/beef/chicken/fish skewers.
Usually served with salad and often in a flatbread or pita.
A delicious snack or appetizer these can be highly addictive!
Horiatiki (Greek salad)
Typically made with tomatoes, cucumber, onion, feta cheese and olives and drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice, there can be many variations from island to island and region to region or often simply due to what was on hand at the time.
Varations can include capsicum, lettuce, capers and in Crete it is served with or on top of dried bread and is called Dakos.
The dish is made from many layers of filo pastry then nuts then drizzled with syrup. The Greek version is supposed to have 33 layers, representing the number of years of Jesus Christs life.
Loukamades ( honey puffs)
You can often find them sold by street vendors and they are a great late night snack.
As you can see there is no shortage of delicious food in Greece and its one cuisine that you never really tire of. Wherever you go it pays to ask about whats fresh and made that day. Some of our favourite places don’t even have menus and only sell the catch of the day or whats in the oven.
Whatever you order you cant go wrong!