Contemporary Greek cuisine makes use mostly of vegetables, olive oil, fish, grains, and some meat. Rabbit and beef are popular occurrences, while pork is not used as much. The local cheeses and olives also make up a big part of the diet, as well as yogurt, greens (horta), and herbs (oregano, rosemary).
The cuisine in Greece varies from region to region, and island to island. The country’s capital, Athens, is a vibrant city and this is certainly reflected in its definitely own unique cuisine. Here, locals usually skip breakfast – my ‘food guide’ in the city recently told me that the “standard” breakfast is usually coffee and a cigarette. Though lunch is also not treated as a big deal, dinners are regarded as the day’s main meal and are often enjoyed with family and friends.
If you happen to visit Athens, I’m sharing with you a list of delicious foods to try while strolling through Greece’s capital. May they inspire you to plan a scrumptious food tour in this stunning Meditteranean destination!
The equivalent of the New York bagel, koulouri bread can be found all over Athens. They are eaten before going to work, on lunch break, or even after work, on the way home. While there are various versions of it, in its simplest form, the bagel is covered with sesame seeds. And yes, a cup of frappe usually accompanies the snack.
Koulouri has ancient origins and they have come to Athens by way of Thessaloniki. The word itself is linked to “kollyra”, the round bread served to the slaves.
The traditional Greek salad, Horiatiki is a dish well known all over the world. There are certain things that make it a “proper” salad (and not a variety for tourists). First of all, the Greek salad has no lettuce in it. Secondly, feta (or a local cheese) comes on top in a big slab (not small pieces).
Horiatiki consists of tomatoes, cucumbers, green bell peppers, red onions, Kalamata olives, feta, olive oil, and a sprinkle of oregano.
You can order Horiatiki as part of a shared meal of mezedes. Or as a side dish alongside grilled fish, for example.
Musaka (or moussaka) is an eggplant based dish which includes ground meet. In Greece, that meat is beef (or lamb). The dish can be found all over the Levant, Middle East, and Balkans, but of course, each country has its variety. The bottom layer is sliced eggplant sautéed in olive oil; the middle layer is the ground meat lightly cooked with tomatoes, onion, garlic, and spices; the top layer is the béchamel sauce.
The dish is typically served warm. Enjoy it for lunch at a traditional taverna.
The classic yogurt dip, tzatziki can be found in the “mezedes” (appetizers) part of the menu. The Greek yogurt dip is thick. The yogurt and the grated cucumbers are both strained overnight before they come together with garlic, salt, and sometimes dill.
It is a great meze to order but you can also pair it with meat, especially lamb.
Another filling meze, spanakopita or spinach pie, is a Greek savory pastry. The traditional filling comprises feta, spinach, onions, egg, and seasoning. It is layered onto filo pastry and then baked to perfection. There is even a lent (vegan) version which excludes cheese and eggs. In this version, other green herbs are added into the mix, such as dill or parsley. You can also find spanakopita served as a snack in a calzone-like shape.
Fried cheese or saganaki is a dish best enjoyed warm – exactly when it comes to the table- and as part of the shared mezedes. The perfect one has a crisp golden crust, while the interior remains soft and slightly melted.
The stuffed zucchini blossoms come with different fillings depending on where you try them. They can be stuffed with a mixture of feta and herbs, or with rice. There are lent varieties – which exclude cheese and meat – but there are also recipes which include meat. The meatless ones are served at room temperature.
The Greek honey balls are commonly spiced with honey and cinnamon. The puffy dough is deep fried and the golden balls are served hot. In ancient times, they were the prize given to the Olympic games winners. Nowadays, they are a very popular dessert and one of those foods that need to make your bucket list.
On the islands, this is your typical Greek breakfast: yogurt and local honey, together with the Greek coffee, of course. But the dish also morphs into dessert, often offered on the house. And no, there is no such thing as “Greek yogurt”. The yogurt in Greece is thick, creamy, and made from a combination of sheep’s and goat’s milk.
Cris Puscas is a contributing writer at BookCulinaryVacations.com. Passionate about Mediterranean food and countries, she could eat her weight in cheese and olives. All photos by Cris Puscas and may not be used without permission.