Greece may be famous for many things but if you thought you were only coming for statues, beaches and an iridescent sun, think again. Food, food, food; the core of Greek culture and the delights of which you cannot miss. Everything we make is fresh, rich, satisfying and packed full of flavour. The problem? Like in so many holiday destinations, it can be challenging trying to navigate the tourist traps and even when you do, how do you know what you want? Let us give you a head start and show you how to order like a local!
Once you understand that meals are more like social events to Greeks (rather than just an exercise in satiating hunger) you will be halfway to knowing how to order. Greek food is to be shared and so our advice is to order as a group/ couple to share. Dishes also tend to arrive as and when they are ready and if you like something you can always order more; you are under no pressure to leave. It’s completely normal to take hours over lunch/ dinner picking at different dishes, enjoying fruits or pastries afterward and drinking wine and coffee while sharing cigarettes. In many old tavernas, they will even invite you into the kitchen to show you what has been made that day.
To start with, 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 favourite and usually comes in an enormous bowl; plenty to share! However, there are quite a few salads worth trying. The Cretan Dakos salad is truly delicious, rusk dakos bread (that softens with moisture) mixed with olive oil, tomato, olives, capers, herbs, and feta or mizithra cheese in Crete. 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 called appetizers, as you can see you could, in fact, have an entire meal from these!
The main dishes to add to your meal are numerous and will vary depending on where you are in Greece. The Greeks will often talk about their grandmother’s recipes and arguably everybody’s grandmother does the best moussaka. So often, in tavernas or restaurants, you will see dishes which are best described as family favorites, the sort of dishes your Greek grandmother might make! Here are a few to get your taste buds tingling…!
- Pastichio- A sort of Greek ‘lasagne’, usually 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), like both the Egyptian and Turkish version, but the Greek take on this dish is also topped with a béchamel sauce.
- Melitzanes Papoutsakia- stuffed baked aubergine with mincemeat and some béchamel sauce-essentially mini moussakas! ‘Papoutsakia’ by the way, literally translates to little shoes!
Souvlaki - credits: gioiak2/Depositphotos.com
- Loukanika- Greek sausages. A hit with adults and children alike!
- Souvlaki- A world favorite, grilled meat (either lamb, pork or chicken) served on a skewer or served 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 done with chicken flavored with lots of lemon juice
Seafood - credits: mariakraynova/Depositphotos.com
Greece is ever so fortunate in that whilst she has the perfect climate to grow many fruits and vegetables, she also has access to beautifully fresh seafood. So, remember to ask your waiter for the catch of the day and if 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 which you eat whole and are crunchy to taste. Of course, the following suggestions are but a few examples!
- Chtapodi – grilled octopus as a main. Boiled and marinated with vinegar is usually a starter
- Kalamari- squid, usually fried and absolutely delicious! There is also a and baked and stuffed calamari version, usually with feta or spinach -do try it!
- Barbounia- red mullets often fried with a crunchy smoky taste
- Astakomakaronada- spaghetti with lobster
Horta - credits: Orlio/Shutterstock.com
Vegetarians welcome to your Mecca because Greece is one of the most vegetarian-friendly cuisines going. Greeks themselves, due to the majority being Orthodox Christians, have parts of the year where they avoid meat altogether. So, 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, pan cooked with spinach, onion, and seasonings 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 do fabulous desserts. However, in many traditional tavernas, you won’t find a huge selection. This is because locals usually go to a zacharoplasteio( pastry shop) where dessert is a specialty and coffees are served as an accompaniment. However, often after your meal, you may find a complimentary dish of watermelon or a slice of Ravani, a semolina-based cake with which to round off your meal!
Greek wines - credits: Boarding2Now/Depositphotos.com
With the origins of winemaking in Greece going back around 6,500 years, Greeks certainly do know how to make the most memorable of wines. With many different varieties of grapes, there is always something for every palate. You can also try retsina, a dry white, resinated wine. Unfairly relegated 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 day in summer, 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.
Rakomelo - credits: http://kostastelife.com/
Ouzo, an anise-flavored liquor, is world-renowned and beloved by locals too. However, there are plenty of other lesser-known ones to try. Not for the faint-hearted, the fieryTsipourois a good way to kick start any afternoon or try its sweeter cousin Rakomelo, a combination of Tsipouro/Raki and honey blended with cinnamon and cardamom. It can be enjoyed as a cool summer drink or served hot as a perfect winter tipple. If you’re a brandy enthusiast try Metaxa,aGreekspirit 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. You should definitely try Mastiha, a unique liquor flavored with mastic, a resin gathered from the mastic tree which is produced on the Greek island of Chios and has a protected designation of origin in the European Union. Finish off with a local dessert wine such as Mavrodafni, made from the black grapes of Achaea.
Finally, if you’d really like to know what locals who truly love authentic fresh Greek food would order, who better to ask than the founders of Greeking.me?
Anna’s dish of choice: Garides saganaki or shrimp saganaki: 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!
For Nikos? It has to be Mosxari yiouvetsi: Slowly cooked beef shoulder/shank in an aromatic tomato based sauce with orzo pasta and mizithra cheese. Pair it with a glass of deep Xinomavro red and you have the perfect sunset dinner to share with family and friends!
So, come join us, engage in a little menu browsing and of course, Kali Orexi (Bon appetit)!