All About Greek Cuisine: Tourists might think that Greek cuisine is Tzatziki, green Salad, Moussaka and Souvlaki, but it is totally wrong. The real Greek cuisine is one of the richest, healthiest and tastiest in the world. Try to stay away from the typical tourist tavernas and get to places where you can taste the genuine home-cooked Greek dishes where simple fresh ingredients are used. Virgin olive oil, seasonal fruit and veggies, herbs, honey and measured amounts of dairy products, meat and fish. All these combined are transformed into true feasts accompanied by good quality local wines.
Hotels featured on Smart Travelling usually direct you to nice places to eat, but you can also pick restaurants / tavernas where you see locals having a meal. Greeks rarely have lunch before 2:00 pm or dinner before 9:00 – 10:00 pm. Generally there are no strict meal hours in Greek restaurants. Basically food is served from 11:30 am until very late at night. You can go to lunch from 12:00 to 5:00 pm for instance and it is fine. You can order whatever you are in the mood for, avoiding the starter-main dish desert formula. Nobody will frown even if you only have starters.
You usually order for the entire table and not ‘per person’. In many places you are provided by a menu but the traditional Greek way of choosing and ordering is done orally. Some will tell you what the choices of the day are, and you choose accordingly. See, how you won’t miss out the good stuff.
Appetizers / Starters
Starters are an important part of the meal and include dips, seasonal salads and vegetables, fried potatoes, veggies and cheese, pies, small grilled or marinated fish, soups and a lot more. They can also be a full meal, or just a snack you have with your drink, at which point you call them ‘mezedes’. There are restaurants that serve only mezedes, offering sometimes an amazing variety of small delicacies. The most common dips are tzatziki (made of cucumber, thick yoghurt and garlic) fava (split pea puree), taramosalata (fish roe salad) and melintzanosalata (smoky aubergine puree). Mind you, order the latter two only if they are home-made.
Salads are made from whatever is fresh, so you can expect lots of tomatoes and cucumber in the summer, and cabbage and grated carrot in the winter. The so popular Greek Salad (choriatiki) in its purest form consists of onions, tomato, cucumber, olives and feta cheese sprinkled with salt, oregano and olive oil, but often also includes some extras like sweet pepper, salad leaves or capers.
All About Greek Cuisine
Some vegetables (courgettes, broccoli, cauliflower…) are simply boiled and served with lemon and olive oil; others are cooked in a sauce, for instance green beans, are usually served in a tomato sauce. Beetroot salad sometimes come with a garlic dip. Try also ‘chorta’, usually translated as ‘boiled greens’, the collective name for a number of green leafy vegetables usually collected in the wild.
You could also go for seafood for starters. Octopus comes charcoal-grilled or boiled and served in a vinegar-based sauce. Squid is served deep-fried
Marinated anchovies are to die for. ‘Marides’, are tiny deep-fried fish that you eat head, bones and all
Pies are made of dough and come with a variety of fillings. They are generally served as a starter, but if you stay in a nice place you may also get them as a breakfast extra, and of course many people have them as a snack any time of the day. There are many types: cheese pies are the most common, but there are also pies filled with spinach, courgette, meat, leaks or whatever the cook thinks will taste good.
Just like there are many pies, there’s also a variety of meatballs –called ‘Keftedes’, but depending on the vegetables added, they are named differently. The ones with chickpeas are called ‘revithokeftedes’ with gourgettes called ‘kolokythokeftedes, with sun-dried tomatoes ‘domatokeftes’ and so on.
Three most popular to try: The Lentil soup ‘Fakkes’, Fish soup ‘Psarosoupa’ which can also be taken as a main course, and the Bean soup ‘Fasolada’ usually eaten in winter. I also love ‘Revithia’ which is a cross between a soup and a side dish made of chickpeas.
They can be Stews ‘stifado’ oven-cooked dishes, grilled meat ‘psito tis oras’ pasta or fish. I usually skip the grilled meat which I often find a little dry, and order pasta only for the kids. They love it because it is always overcooked.
To help you order, if you have children who are not so adventurous when it comes to food, you can just as well get pasta with mincemeat sauce and tomato, or ‘napoliten’ with cheese. Many places serve a creamy Carbonara as well. Children also love ‘Pasticio’, the Greek version of Lasagne. Grown-ups will appreciate Spaghetti with Lobster ‘astakomakaronada’ which if prepared well is absolutely delicious. Keep in mind that lobster is generally overpriced, and not necessarily from local waters.
To help you with the meats: Chicken is called ‘kotopoulo’, lamb is ‘arnaki’, pork is ‘hirino’, beef is ‘moshari’, and ask for ‘brizola’ if you want a steak. Of course there is the goat meat ‘ katsiki’ and rabbit ‘kouneli’
‘Dolmades’ – Vine or cabbage leaves stuffed with rice, onions and usually mince beef;
‘Anginares’ – Artichoke hearts (and some other veggies) in an egg and lemon sauce;
‘Gemista’ – Oven-cooked tomatoes and sweet pepper filled with rice and onions and sometimes currants, pine-nuts or mince-meat
Eating Out at a Fish Tavern
If you eat in a tavern by the sea you can have some excellent fish served either grilled or fried in oil. Before you order enthusiastically, do keep in mind that fish can be very pricey and is sold by the kilo. The best and most common way to order is to go to the kitchen and ask them to show you the fish and point to the one(s) that appeal to you
Grilled fish is served with an olive and lemon sauce. If you don’t know what to order, ‘Tsipoura’, the Snapper is a safe bet. Another favourite is the Red mullet ‘barbounia’ usually fried and they are extremely tasty if fresh. Use your fingers to eat them!
Enjoy Your Meal / Καλή Όρεξη / Bon Appetite