Greek cuisine: Top dishes to try
By Martha Hales
A classic Mediterranean diet - rich in fish, olive oil and fresh vegetables - is one of the world’s healthiest, and Greece is a nation where these ingredients are the mainstays of the cuisine. In fact, the island of Ikaria is one of the handful of ‘blue zones’ in the world, noted for the longevity of its population.
Diet is not the only factor in the long healthy lives of the Greeks, but it is a significant factor. There’s much more to Greek food than fish and vegetables, here’s a quick introduction to some of the most mouth-watering dishes you should look out for during your dream holiday in Greece.
Greek food staples
There is a reason that vegetarians eat really well on holiday in Greece - the quality of fresh produce is so high. Courgettes, aubergines, tomatoes, cucumbers, fava beans, spinach and onion are commonly included in all sorts of dishes, from the classic Greek salad to the rich and spanakopita, a savoury spinach pie.
The Greek pantry will usually also feature feta, or other similar salted sheep’s cheese, nuts and pulses, as well as a modest amount of meat and fish. Bread, olives and olive oil are ubiquitous and come in a huge number of varieties depending on your location, so sample as you go to find your favourites.
Breakfast in Greece
Wherever you wake up on your tailor made Greek holiday, what could be nicer than starting the morning with a bowl of cool, creamy yoghurt topped with aromatic local honey and perhaps some fruit? This is the traditional breakfast in Greece, though many places also offer a continental breakfast, including pastries, cheeses and cold meats. But for a true taste of Greece, thick strained yogurt and a drizzle of honey is the way to go.
Lunch or dinner
Dependable classics often find in tavernas include famous Greek specialities such as moussaka, a rich baked dish with plenty of aubergine, lamb, potato and béchamel; souvlaki, skewers of meat grilled with herbs and typically served with pita or French fries and tzatziki; calamari, deep fried battered squid rings; stuffed vine leaves or vegetables, usually filled with a combination of rice, herbs, onion and lamb; fried courgettes slices or balls; baked or grilled pieces of fish or meat with a tomato and olive oil sauce; and octopus either grilled or stewed.
The most typical sides include the classic Greek salad, involving chunks of tomato, cucumber, feta, a few olives and sliced red onion; creamy dips such as tzatziki, taramasalata and melitzanosalata; and warm flatbread or pita to dunk.
Sweet Greek treats
Baklava is a catch all term for the endless variations of crisp filo pastry filled with chopped nuts and spices then soaked in honey syrup, great with a coffee or to round off a meal. Greek honey drizzled over the delicious local yogurt is another popular dessert. Indulgent galaktoboureko is a flaky pastry filled with sweet custard and soaked with an orange syrup.
Just like tapas in Spain, meze are designed to be enjoyed as nibbles alongside an aperitif, and they are often served in dainty portions. Some to look out for on your foodie trip to Greece include chunks of octopus, marinated olives, skordalia garlic dip with crudites, or kefthedes - fried meatballs.
Greek street food
The king of street food in Greece has to be the Gyros kebab. Spiced meat is cooked on a spit, carved off in pieces and wrapped in a warm pita with tzatziki, salad and sometimes a few fries. Simple, cheap and undeniably delicious.
Souvlaki is often served in the same way, and its equally tasty. Tiropita and spanakopita are portable flaky pies, the former filled with crumbly feta cheese and the latter with spinach and sometimes also feta. You’ll need a few napkins for all these mouth watering treats.
A dense shot of coffee is the traditional favourite, but more fancy coffee styles are gaining ground in resorts and cities. With dinner there are usually various local wines on offer and though Greek wine doesn’t have a great reputation it is often a pleasant surprise. Ouzo is the classic tipple for pre- and post- dinner drinks, a strong aniseed concoction served over ice and good with meze. Regional beers such as Mythos and Mix are pretty good too, and for the craft beer enthusiast there is a burgeoning craft beer scene, notably in Athens.
Packets of dried oregano or saffron are an easy way to take the flavours of Greece back home with you, and require very little space or weight in your luggage. Honey and oil are equally fabulous gifts or souvenirs, produced in the traditional way all over the country, but not as simple to pack. Baklava keeps very well out of the fridge and you can find packs suitable for transporting home in some of the bigger pastry shops.
Make it happen
Dreaming of sampling delicious dishes under the stars on your next holiday in Greece? Find out more about the special foodie experiences our local experts can arrange for you. Send them a few details by filling in our enquiry form, and they will craft a bespoke itinerary just for you. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.