I was aiming to write a short post about the best food from Greece, the things you simply must try on any trip to Greece. However, it looks like the list is rather long, and there aren’t too many things I would leave out.
So, my suggestion is to book a longer holiday in Greece and enjoy the best food that Greece has to offer. I followed my own advice, and on my recent trip to Sithonia in Halkidiki, I did my best to taste every good thing.
Eating habits in Greece
But first, a few things you need to know about eating in Greece:
- Greeks eat rather late. It is not uncommon for the restaurants to be full at 10 pm for dinner.
- Breakfast is usually light, with yogurt and honey, cheese or some pastry, and of course – coffee.
- Greeks like to go out to eat with friends or extended families. The idea is to socialize, and they can spend long hours over a meal.
- The food has adapted to the social needs in the form of meze (or mezedes) – small dishes meant to be shared.
- In taverns, the waiter will greet you and place a paper cloth over the table as you sit down.
- It’s customary in Greece to have water brought to the table immediately after you sit down. It will be on your bill, but water is cheap in Greece.
- Many restaurants will bring you a small complimentary dessert at the end of a meal.
- Greeks usually accompany the start of a meal with a drink of tsipouro or ouzo.
Food from Greece – What to eat in Greece
I’ll split the food you need to try in Greece into 4 categories:
- Vegetarian dishes
- Fish and seafood
- Meat dishes
1. Mezedes culture in Greece
Mezedes are a very important part of the Greek food culture. They are small dishes that were originally designed to accompany drinks. They are usually simple starters, but not necessarily. Modern Greek restaurants and ouzerie serve more complex dishes as well, together with high-quality Ouzo drinks.
Greeks will order a few different mezedes. They are brought to the middle of the table, and everyone will share. As they drink their ouzo, they slowly make (or better-said talk) their way through the food.
Sometimes they work as an appetizer, before the mains and sometimes the mezedes become the whole meal.
Mezedes in Greece
Some of the best mezedes you need to try in Greece are:
-Tarama salad – a fish-roe spread served with pita or toast bread. It’s delicious, though a heavy spread.
–Tzatziki sauce – may be the best-known food from Greece. Tzatziki is actually Greek yogurt mixed with cucumbers, seasonings, sometimes garlic, and olive oil. The taste of Greece, in my opinion.
–Tirokafteri is a cheese spread with a hot twist from the chilly inside.
-Fried veggie balls – you can find zucchini, eggplant, cheese, or octopus balls in the menus throughout Greece. Choose your favorite.
–Dolmades are veggie rice and seasonings wrapped in wine leaves. They are served cold, usually with some tzatziki on the side.
-Fish meze. The choice here is pretty generous: raw fish, marinated, smoked, all drizzled with olive oil, and served with toasted bread. I like some marinated anchovies served with some fresh onion on toast. Also, the smoked mackerel served warm with olive oil is to die for.
-Small salads: beetroot salad, olives, pickles, tabbouleh, and roasted peppers are among the most popular.
-Other spreads like hummus, tahini, or my favorite-fava beans. Don’t ignore the eggplant dip either.
-Cheese can also be a mezede. There are multiple choices here aside from the well-known Feta cheese. Look for local cheeses – the different varieties are worth trying in every region.
2. Veggie options in Greece
Though some of the most iconic food from Greece includes meat, you’re not going to be suffering if you’re a vegetarian and you find yourself in Greece.
The food you need to try if you’re on a vegetarian diet in Greece (but not necessarily) includes:
-Salads: the famous Greek salad that you might also find as Village Salad in the menus, Kalamata salad (kind of the same but without that delicious Feta cheese), carrot and cabbage salad, beetroot salad, roasted peppers with or without garlic. Don’t forget the green salads, served fresh or the lesser-known boiled greens (called horta in the menus)
-Deep-fried goodies: fried zucchinis taste even better than chips (especially if you dip them in some tzatziki), zucchini balls (you can find other veggie balls depending on the region and the time of the year)
-Beans: giant beans in tomatoes sauce are my favorite, but you should also try the spreads (fava beans, hummus)
Cooked veggie dishes
-Cooked dishes: tomatoes and pepper bells filled with delicious rice, vine leaves also with a rice filling.
-I don’t know where to include it, but my latest find is bouyourdi (right bottom pic). It’s a breakfast dish essentially but no one minds if you have it later in the day. It doesn’t look like much but the egg+salted cheese+peppers+tomatoes+some Greek seasoning combo, going to the oven makes a great dish that will refuel you for a few more hours.
-Cooked cheeses. The list here is almost endless. From Halloumi cheese (which is, in fact, a Cypriot food) to Graviera, Kefalograviera, Feta, and a lot of other regional cheeses, they often appear in the menus with a sweet siding. I don’t know about you, but I love a hot, salty cheese with a sweet sauce like some cooked figs. It also goes very well with some of that wine!
3. Typical food from Greece: fresh seafood
Wikipedia says the Greek coastline has 13,676 km. I couldn’t measure it, but between the peninsula and the thousands of islands and islets, it’s kind of obvious that they have access to fresh seafood.
So, taste everything, fried and grilled: squid and octopus, anchovies, and red mullets are just a few of my favorites. Try the Greek-style squid, filled with Feta cheese and vegetables. Taste the fresh mussels and shrimps every day and don’t forget that any seafood with saganaki in the name means that it’s been pan-seared with some tasty cheese.
I won’t say more about fish or seafood because the menus will talk for themselves.
Only one thing, where there’s a small fishing harbor with old nets in every boat, you’re bound to have at least one tavern with some amazingly fresh seafood.
4. Greek meat dishes
Where should I start? Meat is an important part of Greek food. I guess they eat a lot of pork, lamb and some beef. I wouldn’t say they love chicken too much.
There are some regions where the focus is on one type of meat. For example, you just have to taste the lamb in Theologos village on Thassos island, but on Samothraki island close by, the goat is the star of the meal.
Regardless of the region, you will always find some great gyros (the Greek equivalent to shawarma, but made with pork meat), and souvlaki (meat on a skewer, usually pork). Greeks also enjoy their pork chops or tenderloins.
Cooked meat dishes in Greece
It does get more complicated than roasting some pork and putting it into/next to some pita bread and sides.
The cooked meals usually involved minced meat. The most iconic Greek dish is probably the moussaka. With layers of potatoes, ground meat, and bechamel sauce on top, moussaka it’s the ultimate Greek delicacy. There’s also an eggplant (instead of potatoes) variant, and I’m not sure which is best.
On the same page, I have to add two other iconic cooked Greek dishes: pastitsio and papoutsakia. Pastitsio consists of small pasta and minced meat cooked with tomatoes sauce, and papoutsakia is a half eggplant filled with the same minced meat. Both dishes are oven-baked, as well as moussaka and they are absolute must-tries for any meat-eater in Greece.
One dish often ignored by tourists, but very popular with Greeks longing for a hearty meal is orzo. Orzo is a small pasta but when cooked with a meat sauce it becomes an incredible dish.
I also have to mention meatballs here. They are often served simple, or with some fries as a side, but the best is the soutzoukakia (spiced meatballs cooked in a tomatoes sauce).
Dessert in Greece
Frankly, I never make it to dessert in Greece. The right combo of meze and mains will leave me satisfied every time.
Did I mention that beautiful Greek custom, where they bring you some small dessert pieces together with the bill? Sometimes it’s a bit of sponge infused with orange syrup, sometimes a piece of baklava, and other times it is some Greek yogurt with some honey or some fruit on top. Yogurt and honey is my idea of a not-so-interesting breakfast, but that rich Greek yogurt plus some flavorful fruit&honey makes for a dessert I yearn for.
Final thoughts on food from Greece
As you can see, I made some terrible efforts to try some of the best food from Greece.
Regardless of your culinary preferences, I urge you to try every good thing that Greece has to offer on your holiday. Then, come back and tell me all about it in the comments below. I’d be happy to update the list with your suggestions!
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