One of the best reasons for spending time in Greece is to sample all of their traditional foods.
Greeks are proud of their food culture, and rightly so. They pride themselves on preparing dishes with fresh, organic ingredients from veggies to fruits. Tomatoes are plump, rich and fleshy. Eggplants are full of flavor. There are so many great spices and herbs. Dairy products like cheese and yogurt are varied and tasteful and brilliantly incorporated in fantastic types of slow-cooked dishes, savory pitas and desserts.
Greeks also love the traditional recipes that have been handed down for generations. Dishes are cooked with love and celebrations are not complete without many main dishes, appetizers, wine and drinks.
There are dozens upon dozens of entries that I could list. For a more complete discussion plus my recommendations of delis and restaurants that you should visit when in Athens, click here.
But for a quick introduction below, here are 10 delicious foods that will get you started on this culinary journey!
You can find olive oil in every Greek household. This is a food tradition that goes back to ancient times. In fact, Greeks have been cultivating olive oil for more than 5,000 years, and today it is considered the best in the world. Olive oil is used in just about every type of Greek dish for cooking, and it is also drizzled heartily over salads and dips.
Olives can also be found on every Greek dining table, eaten as is or accompanied with a meal. If you are a big fan of olives, you will be in heaven when you visit Greece.
This tasty layered dish can be found throughout the Mediterranean region and the Balkans. However, the Greek version is a truly special recipe. It features a rich combination of eggplant, minced meat, tomatoes, garlic, onion, spices and potato. It is then topped with a smooth, creamy bechamel sauce.
Souvlaki (Grilled Meats)
A longstanding favorite Greek fast food is souvlaki. These tasty spit-roasted and grilled meats are not only cheap but very tasty. At any souvlaki place you can order skewered grilled meat or the classic gyro which is meat wrapped in warm toasted pita bread that is also stuffed with tomato, onion, French fries and a dollop of tzatziki (garlic cucumber yogurt dip). Super yum!
Any Greek taverna menu will feature some sort of lightly fried patties which are often shaped into balls. There are different types of Greek fritters including zucchini, tomato or potato. The fritter itself is a grated version of the main ingredient mixed with various spices and herbs from the region.
Feta and Other Cheeses
The most popular Greek cheese is the famous Feta which accompanies many meals on its own, drizzled with olive oil or it is broken into a classic Greek salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and olives. Another popular Greek cheese is graviera, a hard, yellow cheese and yet another is mizithra, a flavorful, soft, white cheese. Some delicious cheese dishes to try include saganaki which is a fried cheese appetizer and tiropita which is a savory cheese pie.
These are little stuffed grape leaves. Rolled inside each leaf is a tight mixture of meat (lamb or beef), rice and spices. These are often served with lemon wedges and sometimes a dollop of tzatziki.
Take a single fresh pita bread, tear off a piece, and dip it into one of many flavorful dips. One of the most popular hails from Santorini island and is called fava. This smooth, creamy dip is made with yellow split peas and drizzled with olive oil. Another appetizing Greek dip to try is called melitzanosalata and is made using eggplant. Then there is taramasalata, a dip made with fish roe, and tzatziki which is a cool mix of yogurt, cucumber and garlic.
You cannot go wrong if you place an order for fresh fish and seafood. There are many family-run tavernas throughout the country that specialize in serving locally-caught seafood. For an appetizer, try fried or grilled calamari or grilled octopus. For the main dish, an excellent choice would be the red mullet, Greek sea bass, or anchovies.
One of the most classic of all Greek desserts is baklava which is a moist layered pastry featuring honey, crunchy flaky filo dough and ground nuts. Another sinful but fabulous Greek dessert is galaktoboureko, a rich custard and honey pastry. Even if you simply enjoy a bowl of fresh and thick Greek yogurt with a little bit of local honey drizzled on top, you are still combining two traditional Greek foods!
Greece has a serious coffee culture.
The ellinikos is the traditional hot coffee served in little cups from a small, long-handle copper pot known as a briki.
Cold coffees are popular during the summer time including the frappe which is a strong, frothy instant coffee drink. Another warm weather favorite is the freddo cappuccino (cold cappuccino mixed Greek style) and the freddo espresso (made without milk).
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