The food in Greece is as diverse and beautiful as the whole country itself. The Greeks are very much of a family-oriented culture, and the focal point of such family events tends to be food. Lots and lots of food. The flavor here is distinctly Mediterranean, and you won’t find anything like it anywhere else in the Balkans. Not a fan of olives? Greece’s kalamata variety will change your mind. One side effect of the infamous economic crisis is that many Greeks have “gone back to the land.” Agriculture is booming, and there’s a strong emphasis on locally grown, fresh produce and farm products. If you’re a foodie, you’re going to love it here. And don’t calorie count – it’s estimated that an average Greek person consumes at least 2L of olive oil per month. Here are some awesome Greek dishes that you have to try!
Let’s start with moussaka
, perhaps the most well known of all Greek food. Moussaka was made famous by the chef Nicholas Tselementes, and is served as a casserole. Layers of eggplant with spiced meat make up the filling, kinda like lasagna. The meat is typically ground beef, but it can be substituted with lamb. It’s all topped off with a béchamel sauce, and then baked in the oven. The topping is creamy and rich; the layers are spicy and meaty. There is likely not a single taverna menu in Greece that doesn’t include moussaka.
This dish is typically served as a starter, or as part of a mezede spread (think Greek tapas). You’re also likely familiar with the tzatziki dish: a tangy dip made with cucumber and dill, along with some garlic to spice things up a bit. It’s often served with warm pita, or as a nice side to grilled meat and veggies. It’s also spectacularly easy to make. Keep that in mind for your next international pot luck!
Baklava, although it isn’t found in only Greece, is the quintessential go-to dessert in the country. Walnuts and almonds are added to this pastry made with flaky phyllo dough. The whole thing is layered with a cinnamon-spiced filling, and then it’s entirely coated in syrup. You will get sticky fingers eating it, and it’s totally worth it. Most bakeries in Greece will sell individual-sized portions for super cheap.
Dolmades, admittedly, can be an acquired taste for some. The flavor can sometimes be too bitter or harsh. This side dish includes grape leaves stuffed with rice, pine nuts, and herbs. The Greek name is dolmathakia
, and you can find them in most tavernas. They take a little while to prepare, so treating yourself is advisable!
As mentioned before, even if you’re not an olive fan, you’ll learn to love them in Greece. They’re everywhere, and they’re swimming in oil. They’re not like the olives found in the other Balkan counterparts, or in Italy. They’re a type known as kalamata, and they’re delicious: slightly sour, slightly oily, and the perfect little appetizer to nibble on while you’re waiting for the entrees to roll out.
Bouyourdi is the equivalent of North American hangover comfort food, and although it’s sometimes hard to find on a menu (typically being a Thessaloniki special), when you do find it, you must order it. While many restaurants have their own variations, it typically involves feta cheese, slices of tomato, oregano, green pepper, chili pepper, and some olive oil all blended and baked together. Some cooks will add other types of cheese to the mixture. This is often served as a part of mezedes, as topping on warm bread. Another option? Baked feta wrapped in phyllo pastry and drizzled with honey and sesame.
When touring Crete
is the dish to try. It’s kind of like a mini-pizza, but Greek-style. It involves a thin piece of circular soaked dried bread, topped off with chopped tomatoes and crumbled feta. It can also come with ormizithra cheese, olives, and herbs. Dried oregano is always an excellent choice. When you’re looking to load up on carbs (ahem, especially after a night of ouzo), Dakos is a pretty good option.
Fava dip is a particular specialty on Santorini island. It’s a split pea spread, served with bread as a part of mezedes. The mixture also includes garlic, thyme, lemon juice, red onions, and capers to taste. It’s another one of those dishes that are extremely easy to make, and when served warm, is the perfect comfort food.
Halva has literally been around for thousands of years. Mycaeneans were using sesame to flavor their foods as early as 1500 B.C., and it’s been a favourite ever since. Halva is a special dessert consisting of milled and toasted sesame seeds, also known as tahini. Sugar, honey, or fructose is used to sweeten the mixture, and the sesame paste is added to form a mass. The halva is left to cool and harden. Some people add cocoa, peanuts, pistachios, almonds, or candied fruit. And as far as desserts go, this one is high in calcium, iron, phosphorus, proteins, and vitamins – making this perhaps one of the best guilty pleasures you can have.
The best thing about Greek food? It’s cheap. Exceptionally cheap, especially when it comes to street food like soulvaki and other grilled delicacies. Either one will cost you as little as 2EUR anywhere in the country, even the most touristy places, like Santorini. Soulvaki is grilled pieces of small meat – usually pork, chicken, or lamb — sometimes paired with vegetables on a skewer. You can also order it in a pita sandwich, with garnishes and sauces, like tzatziki. Ask for French Fries with paprika, or pair with a side of grilled potatoes.
One thing you might notice in Greece is how often the locals have plates piled with tiny pan-fried fish, typically picarel or small smelt, slightly battered. This is also referred to as marides
, and can be found most often in seaside tavernas. How to eat these things? Head and all. Seriously. You’ll be surprised by how delicious they are, even if the idea freaks you out a bit. The tails are super crunchy, and the heads…well, just don’t think about it too much.
Chances are you’ve seen a tourist ad or two showcasing octopus drying on clotheslines. They’re not very attractive creatures, are they? But served up the Greek way, they’re tasty as heck. One special dish to try is htapodi ksidato
: octopus with vinegar, olive oil, and drid oregano. Boiling the octopus keeps it nice and juicy. Another option is octapodi kokkinisto
: octopus in tomato sauce. This is a less popular version, but it’s still a treat.
In most cases, the Greeks aren’t big drinkers. They’re just not into it. Being seen inebriated in public is a bit of an embarrassment, and it seldom happens. The most popular drink in Greece? Frappe, but always of the Nescafe variety. It was actually invented in Greece during the 1950s and consists of a foam-covered iced coffee drinks made from instant coffee. Go to absolutely any café, restaurant, or bar, and you’re sure to see a handful of Greeks drinking it. But when it does come to libations, Greece has several of its very own varieties. Ouzo, of course, is the most popular. It’s an anise-flavoured drink, like Sambuca, and it’s most cultivated on the island of Lesbos. It’s a kicker of a drink, guaranteed to put hair on your chest. But if that’s not strong for you, try
But when it does come to adult libations, Greece has several of its very own varieties. Ouzo, of course, is the most popular. It’s an anise-flavoured drink, like Sambuca, and it’s mostly cultivated on the island of Lesbos. It’s a kicker of a drink, guaranteed to put hair on your chest. But if that’s not strong enough for you, try tsipouro, the unofficial official drink of Greece. It’s a pomace brandy, best served over ice, diluted with a bit of water, and with mezedes on the side.
Another variation is rakija, a fruit brandy which is also popular in other parts of the Balkans. Some other islands have their own specialties, like kitron served on the island of Naxos. It’s a citron liqueur made from the citron tree, like the lemon tree, but a little stronger. On the island of Chios, you’ll find mastika, a liquor seasoned with mastic resin from the mastic tree. You won’t find mastika anywhere else in the world!