Wanna explore Greece?! Well! Why not start with food? From mouth-watering desserts to scrumptious seafood to history, we’ve listed everything you need to know about Greek cuisine!
Food unites people. No matter what race, religion or creed you are, there’s one thing that makes all of us stand and even crave for – food. And wishing about food makes me super happy. So when Shilpa asked me to write about the Greek cuisine, I couldn’t be happier.
Apart from breathtaking views and spots that leave us drooling, Greece has some mouth-watering dishes to offer. From their seafood to salads to desserts, Greek food doesn’t feed your taste buds but also feeds your senses.
Let’s check out everything about Greek cuisine! Whether you’re just increasing your knowledge about this exotic cuisine or wondering how to get the best experience at a Greek restaurant, this guide will make you want some Greek foods immediately!
Introduction to Greek Cuisine
Greek cuisine is fresh, rich and diverse. It’s flavorful and, to outsiders, obviously exotic. From various foods to beverages, there are thousands of years of history to it. Greece is a nation that produces organic fresh vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, oils and cheese. Herbs are also an important element in the Greek cuisine.
These are the major ingredients that form the traditional Greek food. Greece’s moderate climate is perfect to grow olives and lemons, which constitute a major part of Greek cuisine. Vegetables such as tomato, eggplant and zucchini are widely used.
Spices, garlic and herbs like oregano, basil, mint and thyme are popular. Greek mythology, history and, of course, cuisine are rich with olives and olive oil. Kalamata olives with their rich chocolatey, smokey flavor, are their own signature!
Greece is known for its seafood as it’s filled with islands. No part of Greece is away from the sea. Fish and other seafood like octopuses are common in Greek diet. Lamb, goat, poultry, beef and pork are other meat intakes during traditional festivals and holidays.
Greece is also known for its vineyards in the hilly terrains. Famous wines and spirits are produced, especially ouzo, an anise-flavored liqueur, which is the national spirit.
Greek Food History
Greek cuisine has influenced and been influenced by other cultures. It is also termed as fusion cuisine due to its diversity. Back n 350 B.C., when Alexander the Great extended the Greek empire from Europe to India, the Greek cuisine was influenced by north and east.
In 146 B.C., Greece was under the Romans, hence it has a blend of Italian cuisine. In 1453, Greek was part of Ottoman empire ruled by Turks. So many Greece dishes were given Turkish names, which remain the same even today with classic Greece dishes. It’s also said that vegetarian cuisine can be traced through Greek food recipes.
Ancient & Traditional Greek Food
Greek food has a rich history that dates back to centuries ago. A few of these old, traditional Greek foods include:
1. Lentil Soup
2. Fasolada – Greek bean soup
3. Retsina – White or rosé wine flavored with pine resin
4. Pasteli – Candy bar with sesame seeds baked with honey
5. Roman influenced Loukaniko – Dried pork sausage
6. Byzantium influenced feta cheese
7. Avgotaraho – Cured fish roe
8. Paximadi – Traditional hard bread baked from wheat barley and rye
There are many dishes that are not consumed any more like porridge as the main staple, fish sauce and salt water mixed with wine.
Greek Island Cuisine
Greece is filled with islands, which makes Mediterranean seafood quite favorable. Greek island dishes include:
1. Greek mussels – Dark blue shells cooked with tomato sauce and feta cheese
2. Greek shrimp saganaki – Cooked in two-handle heavy-bottomed frying pan, called a saganaki or sagani
3. Greek lobster pasta – Lobster pasta sauce is usually made of garlic, onions and fresh tomatoes with addition of a splash of wine and a pinch of star anise with lobsters as toppings
4. Greek crispy fried squid – Summer food crispy fried calamari rings made with flour and seasoning mix
5. Greek sea bass – Seabass grilled and filled with garlic and herbs baked-wrapped in greaseproof paper
6. Greek fried anchovies – Cheapest fish in Greece
7. Greek cod with garlic sauce
8. Greek cuttlefish with spinach
9. Greek octopus with pasta
10. Greek crab salad
Greek Herbs and Spices
Spices include cloves and cinnamon. Greek herbs include basil, thyme, parsley, and fennel. Sage, rosemary, oregano and dill are also common.
The traditional snacks to try in Greece are feta slices with tomatoes, courgette balls or zucchini balls, zucchini strips, dakos – rusks with tomatoes and cheese, olive tepanade (spread).
Also, roasted Greek cheese, hot pepper cheese dip, saganki (fried Greek cheese), spicy stuffed peppers with feta cheese, and tzatziki (yogurt, cucumber, and garlic dip) are must-try snacks.
Greek Pastries & Greek Baked Goods
Greek cuisine is filled with the most amazing pastries and baked desserts like:
1. Bougatsa – Greek style custard pastry
2. Milopita – Greek apple cake
3. Karidopita – Vegan Greek walnut cake
4. Koulourakia Voutirou – Greek butter cookies
5. Sesami Biskoti – Greek sesame cookies
6. Ladopsomo – Greek fried bread
7. Lagana – Greek style flatbread with sesame seeds
Cooking Methods in Greece
Different cooking techniques are used in Greek cuisine like stovetop and oven cooking. Recipes like Kapama – poultry casserole cooked in a sweet and spicy tomato sauce are prepared. Pane – a dish that is both breaded and fried, Tiganita – food fried in a skillet use frying methods.
Anything baked with bechamel sauce and cheese form the major oven recipes. Also, clay oven and clay pot cooking are famous. Recipes like spit-piercing food such as meat, poure (puréed) and toursi (pickled) are cooked in clay pot.
Usually, Greek food includes wholesome meals with stews, soups, simple side dishes. The best entrees in Greek cuisine are Greek feta and olive spread, pickled cheese, roasted goat cheese with garlic, caramelized onion tartlets.
Hummus, pesto pita, cheese stuffed cherry tomatoes, spinach cheese mushroom, crispy Greek lamb balls, fried eggplant, fried zucchini, potato balls are also famous dishes.
Greek Main Dishes
The main dishes include:
1. Greek chickpea soup
2. Lemony Greek rice pilaf
3. Moussaka with mushroom sauce – Layered sweet aubergine and potatoes
4. Pita pizza
5. Greek mixed roasted vegetables
6. Greek pork chops
7. Sea bass stuffed with tomatoes
8. Marinated Greek lamb
9. Spicy lamb kebab with yogurt sauce and pita bread
10. Marinated Greek lamb chops with roast potatoes
11. Greek octopus with onion stew
12. Greek potato stew
13. Traditional zucchini pie
14. Greek spinach and rice
A traditional Greek meal has three courses that consist of appetizers, starter and main course with sides. Wine is brought with pita bread or olives. This is followed by appetizers like marinated eggplant, goat cheese with olives etc. This is followed by starters like chopped vegetable salad with feta and olives.
The main course consists of dishes like Greek potatoes with lemon vinaigrette followed by dessert. The traditional desserts include baklava, Greek butter cookies and spiced fresh orange and honey sorbet.
Greek desserts include:
1. Greek rice pudding
3. Greek fried dough
4. Greek custard pie
5.Greek style baked apples
6. Greek-style mastic ice cream
7. Greek walnut cake
8. Pasta flora – Greek jam tart
9. Svinghi – Greek donuts
Famous Greek Dishes
There’s gonna be a never-ending list to mention famous Greek dishes. However, I’m listing a few of them that you should definitely try.
1. Moussaka: This is one of the most widely recognized Greek dishes. It is an oven-baked casserole of layered eggplant and spiced meat filling topped with a creamy bechamel.
2. Baklava: This traditional Greek pastry is made with flaky dough layered with cinnamon spiced nut and dipped in sweet syrup.
3. Horta Vrasta: Greeks love leafy greens in almost all of their dishes. This dish is boiled leafy greens that are healthy and will compliment any meal. It’s served with a drizzle of olive oil and squeeze of fresh lime.
4. Pastitsio: Pata, meat filling and creamy bechamel sauce are layered in a pan and cooked until golden brown.
5. Fassolatha: This is a staple in any Greek household. It’s basically a classic white bean soup. One can keep it simple or add vegetables.
6. Spanakopita: It is nothing but a spinach pie. It’s so famous that you can find frozen one in grocery shop. But the fresh ones taste better.
7. Dolmathakia: Stuffed with rice, pine nuts and fresh herbs inside grape leaves and is served warm or cold.
8. Fassolakia Lathera: Vegetables cooked in olive oil are referred to lathera and lathi (olive oil) is the key ingredient of the dish. Green beans are cooked in tomato sauce and mixed with vegetables. This dish can be served as a vegetarian main dish.
9. Melomakarona: The delicious honey walnut cookies flavored with honey syrup and cinnamon are a must-try.
10. Domates Yemistes: This dish is a summer staple food. Tomatoes are stuffed with meat and herbed rice. Tomatoes are at peak during summer, hence its known as a summer dish. One can stuff peppers, zucchini, or any other vegetables that may be available.
Traditional Greek desserts include:
1. Greek yogurt with honey
2. Fried dough pastries
3. Greek samolina cake
4. Custard and whipped cream pastry
5. Chocolate brownies
6. Greek Easter cookies
7. Greek milopita – apple pie
8. Loukoumades – honey puffs
9. Greek yogurt cake
10. Greek rice pudding
11. Greek-style yogurt chocolate mousse.
Greek Fast Food & Food in Modern Greece
Greek food is known for its Mediterranean touch but fast food is not that popular in Greece. However, a few dishes are noteworthy! Souvlaki or kalamaki is a famous Greek fast food. Any meat is cubed into 1-inch chunks and is marinated overnight in lemon juice and olive oil. Greek spices and herbs such as oregano and thyme are used. Then it is skewered on wooden skewers and broiled over charcoal and is salt and peppered.
Soulvlaki pita is yet another famous fast food. Any type of meat is garnished with sliced tomatoes and onions, sauced and wrapped in a lightly grilled pita. Gyros pita is another version where the souvlaki meat is replaced with gyros (kebabs usually made with pork or chicken).
Vegan Greek Food
If seafood and meat are not your go-to choices, worry not! The Greek cuisine has some cool vegan food to offer. Rice pilaf, Greek pita bread, fava bean spread, roasted garlic skillet bread, Greek lentil salad, Greek carrot cake, braised cauliflower, stewed artichokes and fava beans, almond cookies and chickpeas with orzo are a few Greek vegan food preparations. Previously mentioned stuffed tomatoes with herbed rice also have vegan variations.
Greek Christmas Food
Christmas is celebrated in a grand manner in Greece. Traditional dishes that have become a part of the Christmas tradition for generations are prepared. Egg with lemon chicken and rice soup, stuffed cabbage, walnut spice cake, lemon pork with celery, melomakarona cookies (cinnamon, cloves and orange cookies), cheese pastries are traditional Greek Christmas food items.
Food and Wine
Food and wine is an important culture in Greece. A few famous Greek wines are raki, ouzo, mavrodafni and retsina.
Hope you enjoyed the Greek cuisine! Have you tried Greek food? Let us know by tweeting @shilpa1ahuja!
–All About Mexican Cuisine: History of Mexican Food, Best Dishes to Try!
– Moroccan Food: Complete Guide to Moroccan Cuisine, Best Dishes & More
– Greek Food Obsession: 8 Recipes from Greek Cuisine You Need to Try!
– Italian Food: All About Italian Cuisine & Traditional Italian Recipes
Sahana is a Senior Staff Writer at ShilpaAhuja.com. With an experience in fashion and lifestyle writing, Sahana is responsible for Indian and international fashion week coverage every year, and is developing an expertise in apparel trend forecasting. She also writes about health and fitness, having pursued yoga for 6 years now. She’s not a gym person at all but is all for “running in the park” and is an amateur cyclist. Books and coffee are her other passions. She’s also an amateur photographer. She’s a hardcore Bollywood fan and she loves to cover the nostalgic topics on the same. From fashion trends to famous characters, she can make anyone love Bollywood! Her best article has been 90s Bollywood fashion, a readers’ favorite so far! Prior to her experience with ShilpaAhuja.com, Sahana has written as a freelance author for online magazine, Mashup Corner, and interned at EventsHigh as a content writer. Her blogs on basic fashion, makeup, fitness and city’s food joints that gave her a chance to experiment with her writing. She also has voiced her opinions about feminism and equal rights for men and women at PolkaCafe journals and after quitting her job, she decided to take up writing as her full time career.
Sahana is an engineering graduate and has worked in an MNC, Tesco, for more than a year as an Operations Support. It was her sheer love for fashion that made her quit the monotonous 9 to 5 job to pursue a career in the fashion industry. She’s originally from Bangalore and is currently settled in Chennai (she’s loving the city)! For any queries and discussions, contact her at [email protected] You can also tweet her at https://twitter.com/Sahana_17