With this new post, with an apparently banal title, perhaps…even if, let’s face it, we like to eat!, an interesting article has emerged on Greek food and dishes , what to eat, how to choose the right restaurant/tavern, how not to let yourself be deceived and, why not, how to save a little.
As always we don’t have the presumption of indicating one restaurant rather than another, we leave that up to you, but rather together we want to discover the tastes and flavors of one of the most delicious cuisines in Europe, and perhaps who knows in the world.
What to eat in Greece , you might say: is there really a need for a post?
Can’t we just sit down at the first nice restaurant we see and order? Of course you can do it.
However, if you have never been to Greece, some tips can help you choose and maybe even save some money.
Unfortunately, it is increasingly difficult to enjoy true, typical Greek cuisine: especially in the places most frequented by mass tourism, the range of taverns and restaurants has become uniform, offering little variety of dishes and flavours.
For this reason the idea of this post in the form of a mini-guide to the taste of Greek flavors that will accompany you from breakfast to dinner!
Breakfast in Greece
Paradoxically, having breakfast outside the home can cost proportionately more than lunch or dinner.
Almost all bars, but also some “taverns”/restaurants, especially on the smaller islands, serve breakfast in different ways: continental , based on coffee, toast with butter and jam or croissants, eggs and juice. orange, sometimes you can find it at an all-inclusive flat rate.
Be careful though, the jam is usually packaged and even the orange juice is not fresh, but canned or canned.
If you have the patience to wait for the coffee powder to settle at the bottom of the cup, try the Greek coffee, specifying how sweetened you want it (they will ask you anyway).
If you want a “Greek style” breakfast , that is: butter croissant, yogurt with honey and dried fruit, freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee (usually Nescafè, or what they call “filter coffee”, i.e. concentrated and abundant) take into account to spend more.
So, first calculate the total cost of your breakfast on the menu, also considering how and what you will eat for lunch.
Except on the day of arrival, I prefer to organize myself to have breakfast in my “studio” where there is always a stove or a kitchenette to make my coffee.
If you don’t already find them in the room, single-dose sachets of instant coffee and sugar are now on sale almost everywhere.
I add fruit juices and yogurt and fresh fruit .
At the bakery, or rather, in a pastry shop, I buy local biscuits in the quantity I need.
So, with a very low cost, I treat myself to rich breakfasts at the time I want.
In fact, if you have to get up early for an excursion or even just because you feel like it, you might have to skip breakfast because bars and taverns (except those in the ports) only open after 8.30/9.00 .
For me it is a real ritual, especially if I can enjoy it on a wonderful terrace, overlooking the bay and perhaps while admiring the sunset.
Again, I do it Greek style, with oùzo and mezèdhes.
Ouzo is a typical anise-flavoured liqueur that is served neat, with a glass of water on the side.
It’s clear, but when you add water it turns a milky color and is much more refreshing. Mezedhes are small mixed appetizers such as olives, pieces of cheese, meatballs or small fish.
After a day of sun and sea there is nothing better to celebrate the joy of living and being in a wonderful place! If you happen to find some authentic ouzeri , definitely stop by!
Like the old kafenieia, they still offer the possibility of living an authentic experience of local culture: frequented by middle-aged and elderly Greeks with caps on their heads, who pass the time rolling the rosary between their fingers, they are often dilapidated environments, with light bulbs naked and wobbly chairs.
Especially in rural centres, it is difficult to see local women there, even if travelers are welcomed with curiosity and courtesy, especially if they are discreetly dressed. With a bit of luck, live traditional music concerts can be found in some kafenions in the evening.
Lunch and dinner
I usually never eat at a restaurant for lunch, except rarely a fresh Greek salad.
In fact, I prefer to bring some bread, a tomato, some olives and some fruit with me, whether I spend the day on the beach or trekking on some path.
Or, at the usual bakery I buy a tyropita (puff pastry filled with cheese) or a spanakopita (puff pastry with spinach).
Where there are no supermarkets, you can still find emporiums that sell a bit of everything, including fruit and vegetables.
If, however, you are among those who necessarily have to have a real lunch, even on most beaches you will find one or more “taverns” where you can stuff yourself, some in truly stunning positions, perhaps under the pine trees and with a sea view.
The great classic is the famous “Greek salad” ( horiàtik i) , composed of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, olives, capers, onion and feta (the typical Greek cheese made with sheep’s milk).
Typically, they bring it to you already seasoned with oil and sprinkled with oregano.
The Greeks have several dishes of different specialties brought to them, which everyone tastes because there is enough for everyone.
So, if there are two of you, one salad will be enough for both of you and so on.
Another thing to know is that, if you order multiple dishes, they will bring them all together without distinction between “first” and “second”, unless you specify the desired sequence.
Other delicious typical appetizers that you can order are the Tzatziki , the Taramosalada, the Melitzanosalata and the Fava.
They are all creams : the first is based on yogurt, cucumbers, often very garlicky, the second is made with fish eggs, the third is with aubergines and the last with a kind of legumes which here are called broad beans, but are different from our.
I’m also crazy about dolmades, rice rolls in vine leaves. Mixed salad (lettuce etc) as we know it is only found in city restaurants or in the more “tourist” ones.
If you want fresh vegetables, in summer you will have to make do mostly with tomatoes or cucumbers. Easier to find boiled or sautéed vegetables and greens, such as courgettes, beets and potatoes.
Under the generic name of horta they will offer you different types of herbs, including spontaneous ones, which in some cases resemble wild asparagus or chard, seasoned with oil and lemon.
Another very common vegetable here is okra (or bamies), a green pod whose shape resembles a chili pepper: in Italy it is known by the name of “okra” and is mostly grown in Sicily.
Delicious are the yemistà (ghemistà) , that is, tomatoes or peppers stuffed with rice or meat, and also the Imam, a mixture of fried aubergines and then stewed together with tomatoes, onions, garlic, aromatic herbs and spices: its curious name, imam bayildi , means “fainting Imam” because of the aroma and deliciousness of this dish.
Briam, on the other hand, is a kind of very tasty ratatouille .
The myth that on the islands you always eat fresh fish must be dispelled .
Forget it, especially if you are in high season on one of the busiest islands such as Mykonos , Santorini or similar.
First of all because the local catch is certainly not enough to satisfy the enormous demand of tourists and then because, with a few exceptions, the inhabitants of many islands often dedicate themselves mostly to farming rather than fishing.
Excellent fresh fish can be found on certain islands in the North Aegean, such as Limnos for example.
In any case, fish is paid by weight and they will often invite you into the kitchen to choose it.
When the fish is frozen, they should indicate this on the menu, but in any case it is good to make sure.
In summer, you will more frequently find okthapòdi ( octopus), kalamàrakia (kalamaretti), barbounia (red mullet) or gopes (similar to sardines). Garìdhes (prawns) and astakòs (lobster) are rare and expensive .
If they offer you a fish soup, don’t miss it, it’s not easy to find!
Another peculiarity is saganàki : originally, it is nothing less than floured and fried cheese, tasty but heavy to digest. In reality, there is also mussel or shrimp saganaki, or molluscs and crustaceans cooked using local cheese.
There are many meat -based dishes such as chicken, lamb, pork, rabbit or beef cooked in different ways: grilled, baked, stewed or in the form of chops, ribs, meatballs, skewers, sausages, hamburgers etc.
But above all, the famous souvlaki, a skewer with morsels of chicken or pork, alternating with peppers and onions, is very popular: freshly prepared, it often solves the embarrassment of choice very well.
Remember that most dishes, both meat and fish, are automatically served with chips, rice and grilled vegetables and therefore it is not necessary to order the side dish. If you only want meat, ask specifically.
I have left perhaps the best-known specialty for last, namely moussaka, the famous timbale of aubergines, minced meat, potatoes and cheese .
You can find it everywhere, but it will hardly be the one made according to tradition, as happens only in certain inland villages, on the most remote islands or in a private home. Did you get the hint?
You will rarely find sweets or desserts on the menu: at the end of the meal it is more likely that they will offer you fruit, such as karpouzi (watermelon) or pèponi (melons), or a cup of Greek yogurt with dried fruit and honey.
To taste local sweets, it is best to go to a zaharoplasteia (pastry shop).
The most famous are baklava (walnut and honey) and pasteli (sesame and honey bars), both perhaps too sweet for our taste.
Perhaps better is a rizogalo, a rice and milk pudding flavored with cinnamon.
What to drink in Greece
Once upon a time there was only Retsina, a resinated white wine that was not always pleasant. Now you can find several good quality local wines, red whites and rosés, which can also be ordered by the glass.
The islands suited to viticulture are mainly Santorini , but also Samos , Lesbos, Kefalonia and Ikaria .
Even in other locations, such as Patmos , various initiatives are underway to recover forgotten native vines.
Beer is also produced in Greece, such as Fix or Mithos.
There are other native beers, such as Vergina, but it is difficult to find them outside their production area.
If the bottle of mineral water isn’t finished at the end of the meal, you can easily take it away: it’s a well-established habit and no one will be shocked.
Greek fast food
When I don’t feel like having a full dinner, or when I come back late from an excursion and I’m starving and don’t want to wait, I treat myself to a succulent gyro-pita , the real fast food made in Greece .
It is a kind of flatbread ( pita ) that wraps a skewer of pork or chicken ( gyros ) together with French fries, slices of tomato and rings of finely sliced onion: all seasoned with a generous dose of tzatziki sauce. The combination of flavors gives life to a wonderful and delicious harmony!
Accompanied by a cold beer , it is a memorable snack and, with a minimal expense (4/5 euros) it can also replace a meal.
You can easily find gyro-pita , but not all of them are equally good: ask your Greek friends or the owner of your accommodation to tell you where they go to eat it.
In several locations, home delivery is also available, so you can also enjoy it on your terrace.
How to choose the right venue?
Once upon a time there was a clear distinction between the different types of premises: the estiatorio is equivalent to our “restaurant”: sometimes even luxurious, it is especially widespread in large cities or on the most fashionable islands.
The tavern is a traditional and simpler place, it resembles our trattoria. In the psarotaverna you only eat fish. Now, however, these distinctions have become less clear and you can find very elegant taverns and free-range restaurant-restaurants.
Furthermore, it is now fashionable to eat at ouzeri , where originally only ouzo was served.
Always on the busiest islands and in the big cities, a myriad of pizzerias and fast food outlets have sprung up, which I usually avoid like the plague (and not just in Greece).
If you don’t know anyone who can advise you, take a walk around and carefully observe the customers sitting at the tables: if most of them are Greek, whether local or not, that’s usually a good sign.
However, keep in mind that Greeks eat later than us : if you see people eating at 7 in the evening, they are probably Nordic. So, for your culinary advance, take this into account.
In Greece, eating outside the home is a manifestation of sociality, which often even takes place … in the middle of the street!
In fact, it is normal for tables and chairs to be touched by cars and motorbikes in transit but, if it may bother us, for the Greeks it is a way of always keeping in touch with those passing by, friends and relatives.
As a general rule, be wary of places that are too “nice” and picturesque: with a few exceptions, they are in fact tourist traps, where the quality of the cuisine does not correspond to the beauty of the environment and the bill is often high too!
A typical example are the dozens of restaurants found in the Plaka area of Athens, the tourist district par excellence of the capital: they are the equivalent of those also found in our busiest tourist locations, such as Piazza della Signoria in Florence and similar.
So, unless you are with someone local, who knows better than you where to go, look for places in areas less frequented by bus tourism.
It’s definitely not big news but it’s worth remembering!