By Amanda Little
While no trip to Greece is complete without tasting city barbecue perfection, succulent port town seafood (especially octopus), and the specialty cheese that accompanies every village, there are some foods that are nationally loved in Greece. Be sure to indulge in every step of your trip!
Exploring a city like Athens in the morning is sure to bring in amazing sights, from historic landmarks to ancient ruins, but if you’re looking for a bite to eat, try koulouri. A popular to-go food, koulouri is a large, soft bread ring covered in sesame seeds. Stop by one of the many yellow street carts selling them and be sure to pick up a cup of ellinikos, which is the most popular style of Greek coffee served by a long-handled copper coffee pot. Brush up on your ordering if you’d like specific coffee – Vari Glyko means very sweet, metrios means lightly sweet, and sketos means without sugar.
There are many variations of saganaki, often including shrimp, mussels, and other seafood, however the most popular saganaki is the cheese variety. This dish is prepared in a small two-handled frying pan and is only two ingredients: flour and cheese. The appetizer easily catches the attention of cheese lovers and is a wonderful way to start a meal, especially in the winter!
Even if you can’t quite pronounce these tasty appetizers, enjoying them is no problem. Zucchini balls are made up of Cretan mezedes (similar to a tapas), flavored with feta cheese, salt, and fresh mint. Crispy exteriors hold creamy, gooey goodness inside. Pair it with tzatziki dip for a truly amazing start to a meal.
This iconic Greek food should at least be a part of one meal while in Greece. Dolmadakia (dol-mah-thah-kya) are grape leaves stuffed with a mix of ground meat, like lamb or beef, rice, pine nuts, and fresh herbs. Indulge in these perfectly wrapped parcels with a lemon wedge as a side or appetizer. This flavorful finger-food snack is sure to please.
Simply meaning “meat on a skewer,” souvlaki is a popular street food all over Greece. Souvlaki is often mistaken for a gyro because it's also wrapped in pita, but souvlaki is usually distinguished by the type of meat used. Usually it is simply pork meat on a skewer, but sometimes the skewer is packed into a pita alongside potato chips, tzatziki sauce, tomatoes, and onions.
It’s hard to miss a gyro street vendor - just look for the massive upright spit turning with tons of layers of meat on it. Be sure to try a gyro and watch as they slice the meat off the spit right in front of you. Opt for all the toppings and stuff your pita with sauces, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, and potato chips. It’s a delicious street food and can be enjoyed on the go.
Sure, meatballs have Italian influences in most people's minds, but the Greeks bring a delicious twist to them. Juicy and crispy on the outside, Greek meatballs are usually served up with creamy sauce and pita bread, but can also be enjoyed with basmati rice and a Greek salad. The meatballs are seasoned with a myriad of herbs, but the main difference is the inclusion of spearmint. They’re best washed down with a glass of ouzo.
If you’re in Greece around Easter, keep an eye out for the braided bread with bright red easter eggs baked into it. The red of the eggs represents the eternal life experience for Orthodox Christian believers after death, and is very eye-catching. The bread is flavored with orange and mahlab, which is an unusual spice made from ground cherry pits.
Served up in every taverna in Greece, this traditional dish consists of layers of minced beef, tomato sauce, sliced eggplant, and bechamel sauce. This dish is pretty heavy and very filling! So usually sides aren’t needed, and would be overlooked anyway with this slice of savory heaven sitting on the table. Variations on this well-known dish range all over Greece, with potatoes, onions, cinnamon, allspice, and various cheeses making appearances in many of the dishes. Of course a restaurant is an easy place to find moussaka, but the dish is so entwined with local life, many say the best moussaka is homemade.
This simple yet delicious staple makes its way onto the table for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, or just for a snack. Spanikopita is made up of spinach, feta cheese, butter, and olive oil, all packed into a triangle-shaped phyllo pie. Baked to golden perfection, it’s an easy favorite. A very similar dish is tiropita, which is the same as spanikopita but without the spinach. These smaller, cheesy triangles make for an excellent appetizer or side dish for a meal.
Spanikopita can also commonly be made vegan. If you're looking for vegan food in Greece, just ask for the "nitisimo" version!
Sauces and Dips
Many Greek dishes are accompanied by a dip that makes the meal go from great to perfect. Indulge in tzatziki, a yoghurt, cucumber and garlic dip, when enjoying souvlaki, or dip pita bread in the savory melitzanosalata, a creamy eggplant-based dip. It’s easy to enjoy fava, which is a split pea puree as either a dip or a soup on Santorini, or indulge in the wonderful taramasalata, which is a fish roe dip. The light pink creamy dip goes best with potatoes or bread. Of course, all of these dips could stand for a little drizzle of olive oil over it as well. You’re in Greece, you might as well!
While indulging in many of the foods and tasty treats found in Greece, you'll need something to wash it all down with! While the powerful ouzo is fun in small doses, sipping on a glass of Greek Retsina Wine adds a special feeling to the meal. This wine traces back over 2,000 years, and is sealed with pine resin, adding an unusual but lovely flavor to the wine. It blends wonderfully with the popular spices of the region, mint, rosemary, and dill.
Among the most popular Greek desserts is baklava, and it’s certainly earned its place. Buttery, flaky phyllo dough wraps neatly around a honey-sweetened filling loaded with pistachios, spices like cinnamon and cardamom, and a little brown sugar and butter to taste. This dessert is also found in Turkey and the Middle East, but only Greece has pistachios in their baklava. Everything from almonds to walnuts are used instead in other countries.
Bougatsa is a lightly sweet phyllo pastry layered with semolina custard. It can be enjoyed at a restaurant, but street carts also sell it, but include a dusting of powdered sugar and cinnamon on top. Another on-the-go phyllo dessert is feta me meli. Simply feta wrapped in phyllo dough, baked, and drizzled with honey makes for a wonderful salty and sweet treat.