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)
Mezedes is an assortment of small dishes usually eaten at the beginning of a meal or on their own. Similar to spanish tapas or italian antipasto. In some parts of the world we would call them ‘nibbles’.
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
Very similar to Haloumi and thought to be more traditionally Greek. I personally find it a bit salty which is why it is often served with sweet things like figs.
It will also crumble and can be used to top casseroles.
There are many dips in Greece and they are commonly eaten at the beginning of a meal and sometimes as an accompaniament.
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.
Haloumi is a semi-hard, unripened, brined cheese made from a mixture of goat’s and sheep’s milk, and sometimes also cow’s milk. It is fried and served hot with fresh lemon juice. It has a squeaky texture but is very delicious.
‘Dolma’ is a family of stuffed dishes found across the mediterranean and one of the best known is Dolmades.
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 very common at seaside towns and villages to see freshly caught octopus strung up to dry by fisherman, and in more recent years restaurants, probably more as a novelty. It is then either marinated or more typically just chargrilled and served as whole tentacles. These Octopus photos are from Santorini.
This iconic dish is a casserole made of meat and vegatables and has a number of variations. It usually contains slices of eggplant but may also have zucchini and/or sliced potato as well as mashed potato and/or cheese on top.
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!
The Greek version of Lasagna. Very similar although usually made with penne pasta or large hollow tubes and has a little more cinnamon and a lot more bechamel.
Fried Artichokes and eggs ( Aginares)
Simply fresh fried artichokes with eggs, onions and dill. Commonly served at breakfast.
We came across this a fair bit on Milos and were hooked!
Oblong shaped meatballs mixed with cumin, cinnamon, and garlic served in a rich tomato sauce. Soutzoukakia are generally served with pilaf or risoni.
A lamb casserole(stew) that has many variations with the common ingredients being lamb, tomatoes, beans, onions and potatoes. Often found at road side tavernas and hard to find in summer.
The vegetarian version of Yahni. Served alone or as a side dish.
Gyros ( Yiros, Giro)
Another iconic dish the Gyros is made from meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie. It used to be lamb but these days its more likely to be pork ( which is cheaper) or chicken.
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!
Souvlaki is very similar to Yiros but the meat is cooked and served on its own small skewers. It is usually accompanied by dips/yoghurt, flatbread and salad.
Also known as ‘chicken on a stick’ or lamb/beef/chicken/fish skewers.
Sheftalia are long sausages made from minced pork, onion, parsley and spices that are then wrapped in the membrane that lines the pigs stomach and cooked on the grill. That may sound a little off putting but they really are delicious.
Usually served with salad and often in a flatbread or pita.
These little cheese pies are sold by street vendors and bakeries particularly in Corfu and the other Ionian islands. There are many variations across the country which have to do with the pastry used and how it is styled, for example in the Sporades islands the cheese filled pastry is often formed into a spiral.
A delicious snack or appetizer these can be highly addictive!
Horiatiki (Greek salad)
One of the best known salad’s on the planet Greek Salad is hard to beat when it comes to simplicity and nutrition.
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.
Traditional cheese and spinach pie made with eggs, onions, dill and crispy filo pastry. You can sometimes buy individual ones or otherwise a slice of a big pie and usually served with salad. Also makes a great snack on the go.
Typically a street food usually eaten at breakfast these delicious sweet pies are full of custard and are served warm, sprinkled with icing sugar.
Gala means ‘milk’ in Greece and this is the Greek version of the custard slice. Thick semolina custard is set on layers or crispy filo pastry and it left to cool before covered in syrup. Absolutely divine.
Thought to be originally from the palaces of Istanbul Baklava is found throughout the mediterranean, the Balkans and Asian Minor. The main variation between them all is in the nuts used ( the Turks love pistachios) and the number of layers.
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)
Loukamades are deep fried balls of dough traditionally covered in honey and often known as ‘honey puffs’. They are also now popular covered in many things such as chocolate sauce, Nutella and caramel.
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!
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