Greece may be famous for its rich history and striking landscapes, but if you thought you were only coming for statues, beaches and an iridescent sun, think twice. The Greek cuisine is at the core of Greek culture and its delights are not be missed by anyone who visits the country. Everything made in Greece is fresh, rich, satisfying and packed full of flavor. However, similar to many other holiday destinations, trying to navigate the tourist traps can be challenging, and even when you do, you may find yourself unsure of what to order. That's why we're here; let us give you a head start and show you how to order like a local!
First off, you should understand that meals are more like social events to Greeks rather than just an exercise in satiating hunger. Greek food is to be shared and so, our advice is to order local delicacies and share them with your friends and family. The dishes will arrive as soon as they're ready, however, you are under no pressure to hurry. It’s completely normal to take hours over lunch and dinner, trying different dishes, drinking wine and coffee and enjoying fruits or pastries as a dessert after your main meal. In many old tavernas, they will even invite you in their kitchen to show you what's the specialty dish of the particular day.
As soon as you sit on the table, the waiter will most likely bring you a basket of bread, either soft or toasted. sometimes sprinkled with a little salt and oregano and instead of butter, olive oil on the table to drizzle it with. Across Greece, depending on where you are, the appetizers will differ but, on the whole, you can count on tzatziki, tirokafteri (spicy cheese spread), taramoslata (fish roe dip), melitzanosalata (aubergine spread) and of course horiatiki salata (Greek Salad). Horiatiki is a much-loved local favorite and usually comes in an enormous bowl; plenty for you to share! Apart from the typical Greek salad, there are quite a few salads worth trying. The Cretan Dakos salad is truly delicious and consists of rusk dakos bread that softens with moisture mixed with olive oil, tomato, olives, capers, herbs, and feta or mizithra cheese. Other delicious starters to try are dolmadakia (rice stuffed vine leave parcels), keftedes (meatballs), cheese saganaki (fried cheese), spanakopita (spinach pie) and skordalia (a puree of potato, garlic, olive oil & vinegar that normally goes with fried cod, bakaliaros). Although they are called appetizers, don't be fooled, their size make it ideal for a main course as well.
The main dishes to add to your Greek feast vary depending on which part of Greece you're in. Often, in tavernas or restaurants, you will see on the menu dishes which are best described as family favorites; the sort of dishes our Greek grandmothers cook! Here are a few of them you must try:
- Pastichio- A sort of Greek ‘lasagne’, usually consisting of minced beef or lamb in a béchamel sauce with layers of pasta sheets between.
- Moussaka- Based on sautéed aubergine and tomato with minced meat (usually beef), similar to both the Egyptian and Turkish version. However, the Greek take on this dish is also topped with béchamel sauce. Yummy!
- Melitzanes Papoutsakia- stuffed baked aubergine with minced meat and béchamel sauce-essentially mini moussakas! ‘Papoutsakia’ translates in Greek to 'little shoes'!
Souvlaki - credits: gioiak2/Depositphotos.com
- Loukanika- Greek sausages. A hit across both adults and children alike!
- Souvlaki- A world favorite Grilled meat (either lamb, pork or chicken) served on a skewer, wrapped in pita bread with tomatoes, onions, tzatziki, lettuce, and crispy french fries
- Arni sto fourno me patates- Oven-baked lamb with potatoes and garlic, can also be cooked with chicken, flavored with lots of lemon juice
Seafood - credits: mariakraynova/Depositphotos.com
Greece is ever so fortunate in that whilst it has the perfect climate to grow many fruits and vegetables, it also has access to beautifully fresh seafood. So, remember to ask your waiter for the catch of the day and whether there are any local dishes specific to the area. For example, on the island of Symi, the local favorite is Symi shrimps, little fried shrimps. Of course, the following suggestions are but a few examples!
- Chtapodi – grilled octopus is usually served as a main., while boiled and marinated with vinegar is usually served as a starter.
- Kalamari- squid, usually fried and absolutely delicious! There is also a baked and stuffed calamari version, usually with feta or spinach -do try it, you won't regret it!
- Barbounia- red mullets often fried with a crunchy smoky taste
- Astakomakaronada- spaghetti with lobster, simple and finger-licking good!
Horta - credits: Orlio/Shutterstock.com
Vegetarians welcome to your Mecca because Greece has one of the most vegetarian-friendly cuisines going. Therefore, forget enduring a sub-par vegetarian version of a dish and join us for a veritable banquet of delicious meals!
- Gemista- whilst this is also a meat dish, the vegetarian version is baked stuffed vegetables (such as tomatoes or peppers) with a rice-and-herb filling.
- Kolokythakia Tiganita- courgette in a crispy batter which has been made with soda water to keep it light and crispy!
- Horta- wild greens steamed and simply dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. Delicious as a light meal with potatoes or freshly baked bread.
- Spanakorizo- rice cooked with spinach, onions, seasoned and drizzled with lemon juice.
- Tomatokeftedes- tomato and mint fritters fried in olive oil; a specialty to try if you’re in Santorini!
Traditional Greek ravani cake - credits: Alexander Narraina/Shutterstock.com
Greeks cook legendary desserts. However, in many traditional tavernas, you won’t find a huge selection, because locals tend to prefer pasty shops for a luscious dessert after their main meal. However, often, after your meal, you may find a complimentary dish of watermelon or a slice of Ravani cake, a semolina-based cake that will leave the sweetest taste in your mouth!
Greek wines - credits: Boarding2Now/Depositphotos.com
With the origins of winemaking in Greece going back to almost 6,500 years, Greeks certainly know how to make the most delectable of wines, and with many different varieties of grapes, there is something for every palate. You can try retsina, a dry white, resinated wine. Unfairly considered to being an unrefined ‘people’s wine’, this term in itself could be seen in another light. It’s a people’s wine for a reason, consistently a favorite of many!
Greek beer - credits: Alexandros Michailidis/Shutterstock.com
On a scorching hot summer day, a frozen glass of ice cold beer is a tempting thought for most! Be sure to try beers from Greek breweries such as Mythos, Fix-Hellas, and Alpha. Our mouths are watering just thinking about it!
Rakomelo - credits: http://kostastelife.com/
Ouzo, Greece's traditional anise-flavored liquor, is a world-renowned choice, as well as a local. However, there are plenty of other lesser-known ones to try. Not for the faint-hearted, the fiery Tsipouroi s a good way to kick start your afternoon if you're up for fun times! Alternatively, you can try its sweeter counterpart, Rakomelo, a combination of Tsipouro/Raki and honey blended with cinnamon and cardamom - yeap it is exactly as delicious and as dangerous as it sounds! It can be enjoyed cold in the summer or served hot as a perfect winter tipple. Moreover, if you’re a brandy enthusiast, try Metaxa, a Greek spirit invented by Spyros Metaxas in 1888, which is among the 100 strongest spirit brands worldwide. It is a blend of brandy and wine made from sun-dried Savatiano, Sultana and Black Corinth grape varieties. Additionally, you should try Mastiha, a unique liquor flavored with mastic, a resin gathered from the mastic tree found on the Greek island of Chios that has acquired a protected designation of origin in the European Union. Its taste is very distinctive and we promise you that it's nothing like you've ever tried before. Last but certainly not least, finish off with a local dessert wine such as Mavrodafni, made from the black grapes of Achaea; a sweet end to a sweet journey though flavor.
Since the best way to get local tips about Greek food is from local foodies themselves, here are the favorite authentic Greek dishes of the founders of Greeking.me:
- Anna’s dish of choice is garides saganaki or shrimp saganaki, which is a dish of sautéed shrimps with tomatoes and feta cheese, served straight out of the pan with bread to soak up the juices. Absolutely perfect for lunch with a glass of Moschofilero white wine on the beach!
- Nikos' favorite is Mosxari yiouvetsi, which refers to slowly cooked beef in an aromatic tomato based sauce with orzo pasta and mizithra cheese. Pair it with a glass of deep Xinomavro red wine and you have the perfect dinner to share with family and friends!
Join us for a Greek culinary experience, engage in a little menu browsing and of course, Kali Orexi (Bon appetit)!