Ah, Greek food! Just the thought of a warm filo pastry with a mizithra cheese stuffing and a cup of dark Greek coffee brings back near-perfectly preserved memories of sights, sounds, and aromas from a two-week holiday in this delightful country in May.
Greek cuisine is known to have developed from the country’s deep-rooted history, sprinkled with cultural and geographic influences from within and across its borders. In fact, while the base ingredients for a dish may remain the same across the country, each area brings certain unique ingredients and prep styles to the mix, marking out differences in the final dish – some distinct, some subtle.
You can’t just eat good food. You’ve got to talk about it too. And you’ve got to talk about it to somebody who understands that kind of food.
On that note, here are my favourite Greek dishes that I believe anyone who has ever considered themselves a foodie should try.
Mains, Sides, and Snacks
A delightful Cretan meze fare, Dakos consists of soaked dried bread or barley rusk as the base, topped with chopped tomatoes and crumbled feta or mizithra cheese, and flavoured with dried oregano, pepper, and olives. It is the perfect snack to feast on after a relaxing swim in the Aegean Sea.
We dug into this uber-delicious and oh-so-filling Falafel wrap from Falafellas, after our visit to the Acropolis in Athens. The fried aubergine and sauce were the heroes of this wrap; throw a Ginger Ale to the mix, and you’re set till your next big meal!
Perhaps my favourite of the lot, Fava is a traditional Greek preparation made from yellow split peas. The final form is a smooth and creamy purée, flavoured with onion and sometimes sun-dried tomatoes, and served with olive oil. Trust me, this dish does not fail to please the taste buds, whether served as a meze at room temperature, or as a warm main dish.
When in Greece, have a Greek salad!
The seemingly humble salad is one of the most palatable dishes you can savour in Greece. The vegetables are supremely fresh and crisp, the cheese is to die for, and the olive oil dressing is a fitting blanket on the whole production.
Possibly the most popular Greek street food, Gyro (pronounced yeero) is the beloved of budget travelers not only because of its affordability, but also because it is so bloody good! Dig into this filling dish made of meat (pork, chicken, or lamb) cooked on a vertical rotisserie, and wrapped in a pita, with tomato, onion, tzatziki sauce, and potato fries for zero regrets and happy tummies.
A super-filling rotisserie dish, Kontosouvli had us decide that we’d henceforth order just one portion of any dish that costs above €5, because the quantity was MASSIVE! Large chunks of meat (chicken, pork, or lamb) are marinated and skewered, secured by a rod/spit and slow-roasted over an open charcoal pit.
Looking for delicious breakfast on-the-go? Look no further than the Koulori! These freshly baked Greek bread rings can be picked up from street carts, and come with a variety of sweet or savoury stuffings – jam, cheese, ham, turkey, and vegetarian options as well.
Imagine a bed of the creamy but firm potatoes and sliced aubergine sautéed in olive oil, followed by a layer of minced meat with puréed tomatoes, onion, garlic, and spices, topped off with a layer of Béchamel sauce, and baked to perfection. Such a rich dish, the Moussaka, that it is enough to be served as a meal on its own.
Pita with Tzatziki
Tzatziki is a delectable sauce that boasts of origins in the Ottoman empire. Often served with grilled meats or as a meze, tzatziki is made of strained yogurt mixed with cucumbers, garlic, salt, olive oil. Ingredients such as lemon juice, dill, mint, or parsley may also be added. Scoop up a generous helping of tzatziki with warm pita, and you’re good to go!
The sleepy island of Milos is known for many unique dishes, and Pitarakia is one of them. These traditional Greek cheese pies come as pockets of soft golden pastry wrapped around a melting savoury cheese filling, mostly mizithra. They make the perfect tea-time snack, and we absolutely loved ours from Rifaki, a restaurant overlooking the Pollonia beach.
Saganaki is the colloquial term given to dishes that are prepared in a small frying pan, with the most popular of these dishes being the Cheese Saganaki. A slice of kefalograviera (hard cheese made from goat’s milk) is soaked in milk and covered with a dusting of flour. The cheese is then pan-seared with olive oil until golden on both sides, and until the cheese has become soft. Sounds delicious? That’s because it is!
One cannot go to Greece and not have the seafood (unless one is a vegetarian/vegan, of course)!
Most tavernas and restaurants let you pick seafood from their fresh catch-of-the-day. I highly recommend the Fried Red Mullet at Fratzeskos Fish Tavern in Santorini, and the Fried Sardines at Fatses in Milos.
The God of street foods, the souvlaki! Eaten straight off the stick or with pita, Souvlaki consists of small pieces of meat (sometimes veggies too) grilled on a skewer, and seasoned with spices or herbs. It’s available on every street corner, so there is no way to miss out on this inviting Greek fast food.
I’ve had Baklava before, in its filo-pastry avatar, topped with chopped nuts. I’m not a fan of desserts that have a flakey body, so when we ordered a Baklava as our choice of dessert at Taverna Dion in Delphi, I didn’t expect to be blown away.
I was in for a surprise, because the Baklava that we received was so decadently moist, dripping with honey, zero flakiness, and absolutely divine! Second helpings? Yes, please!
Milos fascinated us in many ways, especially with the food. Koufeto is one of the island’s specialties – a traditional dessert made with white almonds and wild honey, and has a jam-like consistency. The decadent, bite-sized dessert that we savoured was made with white pumpkin, honey, cinnamon, and almonds. I loved it so much that I picked up a jar of Koufeto to eat when I’m back home.
We devoured a generous portion of yogurt with candied fruit segments at Taverna Dion in Delphi. The yogurt was amazingly creamy, and the fruits went so well with it – a match made in the navel of ancient Greece!
If you are in the mainland or in one of the more popular Greek islands, try out the frozen Greek yogurt at Chillbox. The customizing option makes it so much fun to add as many toppings and flavours as you want to your box. Now you can check ‘Have Greek Yogurt in Greece‘ off your list!
Greek food reflects the warmth and pride of the local people who have made or somehow contributed to a dish. What the cuisine lacks in aroma, it makes up in the integrity of its constituents and the final product – the ingredients are fresh and full of flavour, everything is cooked with utmost care, and the portions are supremely generous!
Note: If you’re looking for a reason to make Greece your next destination, the food ought to convince you. 🙂 Also, watch out for a post on where to get the best food in Greece, and a travel guide to Greece, which will be up soon!
Food is our common ground, a universal experience.