Let us take you on a special trip to Greece today! Now, we aren’t headed to the wonderful capital of Athens or one of the enchanting islands like Rhodes, Kos, or Crete, instead we’re venturing into the Greek kitchen. In today’s article, we’ll give you a tour of the southern European delicacies of Greek cuisine.
But before you continue reading, make sure you are not hungry! These descriptions may make your stomach long for Greek specialties. Maybe you will also decide to spend your next vacation here and experience these delicacies yourself.
In any case, we can only recommend it because Greece does not just offer you delicious food, it also has an intriguing history. Moreover, this country is a perfect match for backpackers, with island hopping being an especially popular activity.
So, enough daydreaming! Now we are going to take it a step further into the Greek kitchen. First, we will take you through the history, then introduce you to the typical ingredients and the country’s best dishes. Let’s go!
At a Glance
Greek cuisine belongs to the Mediterranean cuisines, which are characterized by their use of first-class olive oil, regional herbs, and a lot of garlic. So be careful if you want to kiss your date after eating – it’s only for the brave and in love.
Along with the many culinary customs, enduring traditions, and the locals’ extraordinary way of life, the UNESCO decided to protect the numerous Mediterranean cuisines of various countries. Thus, Greek cuisine is also part of UNESCO’s immaterial cultural heritage.
When you look at their history it is not that surprising, since it has its origins in antiquity. That is also what makes it so unique. Since then, there is a lot of fresh fish and crunchy vegetables on the menu. Over time, Greek cuisine has been shaped by trade as well as politics. As a result, other spices, eggplant, citrus fruits, and yoghurt have found their way into Greece.
Climate and geography
The area and local climate have also influenced the cuisine. Since it is located in the Mediterranean region, trees like the Koroneiki olive oil tree for example, or the Kalamata olive tree can thrive in optimal conditions. Therefore, you will find the world’s oldest olive trees on the island of Crete! They are unbelievable 3,000 to 5,000 years old and look quite impressive. If you happen to be there, do not forget to check them out!
Additionally, thanks to its location by the sea, fishing and traditional sheep and goat breeding means a lot to the Greek kitchen – naturally, a visit to a restaurant reflects this. The dishes that are served are enriched with delicious regional herbs like oregano, thyme, sage, and mint. Cinnamon and paprika are also commonly used. Besides that, classic Greek white bread will also be served, which tops it all off – simply delicious!
Wine-lovers can only celebrate because the whole world romanticizes about the noble Greek tropics whose history begins back in ancient Greece. At the time, the population worshipped many gods, including Dionysus. Dionysus was the god of grapes and wine.
So, you can imagine just how proud they were of their fermented grape juice, but that still goes on to this day! Current wines worth recommending are, for example, of the grape varieties Assyriko, Athiri and Agiorgitiko. You should not miss these on your culinary trip. But don’t skip the famous aniseed liquor Ouzo either! This is often served with a side dish called mezedes – often made of grilled squid, octopus, vegetables, or fried anchovies. Are you excited? well, there is more! Read on to discover Greek cuisine’s best dishes!
The Best Greek Dishes
Like we already mentioned, Greek cuisine counts as part of Mediterranean cuisine. It is often acclaimed to be particularly healthy because it includes a lot of vegetables and high-quality olive oil. Therefore, it is often used as a diet inspiration, but you should indulge with moderation.
Note that, in every cuisine, you will find some unhealthy dishes. So, please do not generalize. Now that we have clarified that, check out the starters, main meals, and desserts.
The best-known Greek starter is probably the unparalleled tzatziki: a mix of creamy yoghurt, finely grated cucumber, regional olive oil, and a lot of garlic. When paired with some white bread, this is indeed classic! In addition to being a starter, tzatziki can also serve as a side dish with gyros.
The Greek salad is just as popular. In its pure form, this salad consists of tasty vegetables like juicy tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers, delicious olives, and fresh green peppers. Finely chopped onions add a little spiciness to it. But the main ingredient is still missing: the feta! Feta belongs to Greece like the sand to the sea. After all, it is said that it was already being made there at the end of the 15th century. This brined cheese is produced from sheep or goat milk and gives the salad its distinctive flavor! Add some oil, lemon juice, and herbs – now you have one of Greek cuisine’s wonderful starters!
For the more adventurous taste-testers, we still have a few unusual dishes ready for you. How would you like chtapodi-salata, for example? To make this salad creation, the squid must first be cooked in wine with a variety of herbs. This can take some time, but it clearly pays off! It is ultimately served with spicy capers and delicious sun-dried tomatoes.
Another extraordinary starter is the wild herb salad called chorta. Its ingredients are determined by the time of year because these so-called wild vegetables are only collected when they are in season. From dandelions and sorrel to nettle, cress, and daisies, everything is edible. These herbs are cooked with some olive oil and fresh lemon juice which you will enjoy afterward. Since no animal products are used here, this dish is also one for vegan gourmets!
Of course, Greece’s national dish: the fasolada, cannot be missing from this list. This soup is made from white beans, carrots, and celery. Depending on the place where it is served, it comes with fish, feta, or olives. Without the garnishes, this hearty soup is a favorite dish during Lent; a Greek Orthodox religious tradition that local residents practice. This begins before Easter and lasts 40 days.
Vegetarian and vegan
Even in this category of Greek cuisine there is something suitable for everyone’s taste, including vegans. You can enjoy the Greek stuffed vegetables, which are filled with for example, peppers, tomatoes, or zucchini and spiced rice then baked in the oven. This meal is called gemista. If that does not interest you, bamies or fasolakia are also good options. Both dishes consist of a well-seasoned tomato sauce. Either Okras or bean pods are prepared and put in it.
Another popular Greek specialty is moussaka. To make this treat, eggplant is baked in the oven so that its flesh can be easily removed. This is then mixed with ground lamb, tomatoes, eggs, and spices. After that, a raw eggplant is sliced and fried, a béchamel sauce refined with feta cheese is also mixed. Now the great layering of the casserole can begin. First add the shells of hollowed eggplant followed by the meat as well as the fried slices and sauce. In Greece, potatoes are also used sometimes. Finally, it is then baked in the oven – simply heavenly!
The snack bars in Greece, which you can visit on a sightseeing tour, are also in high demand. These offer you for example, juicy gyros. These are pork from a grill spit. It is especially delicious in pita, a Greek white flatbread. Gyros indeed seem very similar to the Turkish specialty doner at first, but with the refinement of tzatziki it gets its own character again! But you can also order it at a restaurant as a casserole or on a pizza. Either way, it always tastes good!
Something else you should try out at these small stands is souvlaki. These are skewers with port, chicken, or lamb meat and are prepared over a charcoal grill. This gives a smoky aroma which makes the dish even better! You can either eat it on pita bread or with fries and tzatziki. By the way, generally speaking, people in Greece love to grill.
Last but not least is stifado stew. Which meat this stew consists of does not have an exact answer because it can be prepared with pork, rabbit, wild game, fish, or squid! The chosen meat is diced and sauteed with vegetables. This is how the incredible aromas from roasting are created. It is then poured off with a splash of mavrodaphne, a sweet red wine from the region. Noodles or potatoes are eaten with this onion-rich dish.
There is always room for dessert – in Greece too! It is best to drink a coffee with it to settle your food. And it’s a good thing there’s a Greek mocha. But don’t be surprised when drinking your coffee, unlike our commercial filter coffees, their coffee is unfiltered, so you will probably find coffee grounds at the bottom of your mug.
What goes better with a black pick-me-up than a deliciously sweet dessert? Nothing! Perhaps a juicy baklava would be the right choice for you. This is a very thin filo pastry, which is layered with chopped walnuts, pistachios, and almonds. After this very thin layered dough has baked in the oven, it is dipped in a sugar syrup flavored with lemon, honey, or cinnamon. That is exactly what makes it so special! But let us mention one thing: it is best that you avoid talking about the dessert’s origin. Its history is not completely clear so the discussions about it could go on for a while.
Another internationally known dessert is the kataifi. Maybe you know it by the name angel hair. Like baklava, the dough strings are also filled with nuts. The finished pastries can then enjoy a bath in sugar syrup before they are devoured! In addition to that, there are also fried yeast-cinnamon balls, served with sweet syrup or honey. These so-called loukoumades are also sprinkled once again with cinnamon before being enjoyed.
If you have had enough of so much sugar syrup, then it is time for a piece of galaktoboureko. This is a cake made from filo dough and delicious pudding. Maybe you can also try traditional Greek yoghurt with nuts and honey. Its creaminess really can’t be surpassed!
Has your appetite been awakened? If yes, then now you know where your next vacation will take you – to Greece! There you can enjoy all the dishes we introduced you to in a comfortable restaurant right on the Mediterranean Sea.
If you do not have time for these delicacies, perhaps because you are still exploring a Greek city, then just try out a little snack stand. These often have delicious gyros or souvlaki on the menu – a perfect boost while you are on the go!
Like you have seen, Greek cuisine includes a variety of dishes. Whether they are savory or sweet, grilled or baked, with or without meat – they make every heart jump for joy. But what you cannot get past is the high-quality olive oil. It is used almost everywhere, just like the many different herbs. Now it is high time you see for yourself. So, when does it start?