If you are following my Instagram account (and if not, you should 🙂 ), you most likely know that I am a major foodie. I am actually going to the gym to lose weight so I can eat guilt free, whenever I want :D. Between the training sessions and all my trips, I enjoy thoroughly the amazing dishes I encounter in the nice places I visit. One of these places happens to be Greece. By a stroke of luck, this year, I have visited Greece in two separate occasions, a vacation and a business trip. On both occasions, my taste buds had a field day, due to the extremely delicious food that Greece has to offer. Since I am a very caring person, I would like to share with you what to eat in Greece.
Let’s start from the basics! Greece, as you might know, is the land of olives. You cannot go to Greece and not eat a dish that Greeks consider to be a “signature” – bread drizzled with olive oil and oregano. Every child knows how to do it; every adult craves it whenever they are hungry.
This simple dish is so nourishing that is often preferred as an alternative to actual meals. Olives are a main part of the Greek food culture and they are proud of being internationally recognized for having the world’s finest olive oil. A fact that I absolutely agree with.
Another dish that is internationally recognized and I frequently enjoy in my own country is the Greek salad. It is a traditional salad, made out of lettuce, feta cheese, black olives and red onion, which is a meal in itself. Of course, depending on the country or even the region in Greece where you find yourself, the salad can also have green peppers or cucumbers in it. I prefer the traditional version, as it is already full of nutrients and very nourishing.
I often found myself at restaurants ordering Greek salad and another course, only to be full after the salad and not being able to eat more. Although the traditional Greek salad is made with feta cheese, the Greeks have so many cheese varieties to choose from, that you can always twist the recipe and use some other type of cheese, such as myzithra or kefalotyri.
Greeks love milk based products. One of the most enjoyed dish is the tzatziki. I am sure that each of us has had tzatziki at least once so far, as it is a dish which was “borrowed” in other cuisines as well.
Tzatziki is made out of Greek yoghurt, garlic and cucumbers and it is such a refreshing dish that you can eat it at all times of day. It is usually served with pita, the Greek flatbread. Again, as most of Greek dishes, it is a meal itself. You can easily get away with lunch or dinner, by just serving tzatziki.
If you love spicy food more, the Greeks have an alternative for you, as well. It is called tirokafteri and it is a spicy Feta cheese dip. This traditional Greek dip has it all: creamy, just a touch spicy and satisfying. Also served with pita, it goes away in just a few minutes, once arrived at the table.
I must admit my all-time favorite cheese-based Greek dish has to be bouyiourdi. During the vacation spent on Thasos Island, we had it so many times and not once did we manage to take a picture of it. Each time it was brought to the table, in a very hot ceramic dish, we would immediately start dipping pita bread in it, even though it was really hot. The dish is traditional to Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece and it is a mélange of gooey cheese, tomatoes, peppers and herbs, baked to perfection, to become the perfect Greek equivalent of fondue. It is served as appetizer and you can find it in any traditional Greek restaurant.
Being a Mediterranean country, Greece has a lot of dishes based on fish and other types of seafood. One of the dishes I enjoyed most was the astakomacaronada, which is a dish containing spaghetti and lobster. Unfortunately, the photo that I managed to take to this dish, while savoring it on Thasos Island does not do it justice. My taste buds were so happy! The tender lobster meat together with the al dente cooked pasta is such a delight and an unexpected combination. Topped with a spicy tomato sauce… to die for!
Of course, in restaurants throughout Greece you find a variety of dishes based on fish, cooked in the most different ways. One of my friends’ favorite dish became the stuffed octopus – filled with a creamy stuffing made out of feta cheese, this dish is so nourishing that it can only be eaten by itself, without any other garnishes or extras. Overall, if you are a seafood or fish lover, this is the country to visit.
One of the other main ingredients in Greek cuisine is meat. Whether pork, chicken or lamb, there are so many dishes with meat to choose from that it is a heaven for carnivores, such as myself. While in Greece be sure to enjoy souvlaki, gyros or roasted lamb or some minced meat dishes, such as moussaka or pastitsio.
The souvlaki is actually grilled small pieces of meat (usually pork but also chicken or lamb) served on the skewer for eating out of hand, or served as a sandwich wrapped in pita bread together with tomatoes, onions, tzatziki and tomato sauce; a popular fast food, also called kalamaki (small reed) mainly in Athens.
Also a popular fast food is the gyros – meat (usually lamb, pork, beef, or a combination thereof) roasted on a vertically turning spit and served with sauce (often tzatziki) and garnishes (tomato, onions) on pita bread or served as a sandwich wrapped in pita bread together with tomatoes, onions, tzatziki and tomato sauce.
The moussaka is an oven-baked layer dish: minced meat and eggplant (aubergine) casserole, topped with a savory custard which is then browned in the oven. There are other variations besides eggplant, such as zucchini or rice, but the eggplant version, melitzánes moussaká is by far the most popular. The papoutsákia (“little shoes”) variant is essentially the same dish, with the meat and custard layered inside hollowed, sauteéd eggplants.
Pastitsio is also an oven-baked layer dish cooked with a Béchamel sauce top, then pasta in the middle and minced meat cooked with tomato sauce at the bottom.
Another typical Greek meat dish, which can be found also in more Oriental cuisines, such as the Turkish cuisine, is the kokoretsi. This is actually lamb or goat intestines wrapped around seasoned offal, including sweetbreads, hearts, lungs, or kidneys, and spit-roasted. It is not a favorite dish for many, due to the intestines, but I can assure you it is very tasty and the herbs usually used give it a flavor that does not resemble any other meat dish from the Greek cuisine.
If you are a more veggie type of person, you can also find a lot of choices in the Greek cuisine. Some of the most notable are briami, which is a Greek vegetable stew, made out of various vegetables, such as eggplant, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes and potatoes, flavored with onions, garlic and various herbs, and the Greek version of the eggplant salad. I am saying the “Greek version”, since it is cooked differently that, for example in Romania.
In Greece, the eggplant salad, which is one of my favorite dishes, is made with garlic and feta cheese, which makes it even creamier and more nourishing. Drizzle a bit of olive oil on top and you have the perfect appetizer, to be eaten with pita bread.
If you go to Greece, you have to face the harsh truth – your diet has gone buh-bye! You cannot visit this country, without tasting some its magnificent deserts : ravani, tsoureki, Greek baklava, orange pie. I cannot even begin to explain to you how they taste. It is something made in heaven. Or, as the Greeks call it, the food of the Gods.
Ravani is a cake made out of semolina (a type of floury grain) and lemon syrup – it is so full of flavor and moist that it literally melts in your mouth.
The orange pie is a similar dish, but the twist is that it is made out of normal flour and it is usually baked in such a way that it is very crisp. Served with vanilla ice cream and topped with liquid chocolate is the preferred desert of many Greeks.
The baklava is a dish that can be found in various Oriental cuisines. However, in Greece, the baklava is made out of honey and walnuts (or almonds), while as in Turkey or Iran, it is made out of pistachio and sugar syrup. It has, however, the same very sweet taste and I, for one, cannot eat more than 1 or 2 pieces at a time.
I left the tsoureki as last, as it is the Greek version of a dish that many countries have. Most of the countries that celebrate Easter (a Christian holiday, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ) bake various types of cakes, fill them with different fillings, made out of chocolate or nuts or vanilla cream. In Greek, this is also the case and the result is a chewy cake, filed with all sorts of creams (I prefer the one filled with chestnut cream!), which is literally gone in almost 5 minutes after it was baked. It can be savored throughout the year, though and can be found as a stand-alone dish in many pastry shops.
My journey in the Greek cuisine finishes with the street food. In Greece, you will find street vendors, no matter where you go. Whether they sell fruits, baked chestnuts, roasted or boiled corn or a variety of nuts, chips and seeds, the street sellers enchant you with their well-rehearsed lines, singing them loud and clear, so that they can convince you to buy some of their merchandise. And I can assure you, you definitely should. The street food is so delicious that you will then think: “why did I not try it earlier?”
I urge you to visit Greece – if not for the beaches, the history or the many activities that can be done in this country, at least for the food. It is simply exquisite! And if Greek food doesn’t do the trick, you may want to try out Mexican food 🙂