I’ve always been a big fan of Greek food. Every year, Joe and I attend Memphis’s huge Greek festival and load up on pastries and delicious entrees. On our recent return to Greece, I wanted to make sure Joe and I didn’t waste any meal (or stomach space) on subpar food, so before we left I did tons of research of what and where we should eat. The only downside of the entire trip was the limited space in our bellies! Keep reading to see what to eat and drink on your next trip to Greece!
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As a centrally-located civilization in the Mediterranean, Greece has been influenced by other civilizations for thousands of years. Having rocky, volcanic soil, Greeks relied on the olive tree and seafood as staples in their diet. As a result, Greek cuisine is heavy on vegetables, fish, and olive oil.
- A Greek tour guide told us, “If you see a restaurant with an annoyed looking middle-aged man as a cook, you’re in for a very good meal. If the cook is an angry grandma, then get ready for the meal of your life.”
- In the major tourist areas, most wait staff can speak English, and portions of menus are in English. Some didn’t have descriptions of the food, so I did what I would do in any restaurant, I just ask what it was.
- Anything you want to eat, order in the beginning. Greek waiters usually don’t come at the end of the meal and ask if you’d like dessert.
- If you want your appetizer brought out before your main meal, specify it. Many times all your food will be brought out at the same time, including dessert which is fine with me!
- Often restaurants will bring out a complimentary drink or dessert at the end of your meal. To decline it would be insulting.
- You may have to ask for your check. If you are brought out your check early, it is not meant to rush you. Take as long as you want to eat.
- Another restaurant owner told us that they don’t care if you want to just sit at a table and order only drinks. He said, “You don’t have to order a meal to enjoy resting your feet, sipping some good wine, and taking in the beautiful views. Competition is fierce and the economy is terrible. I need my tables filled. Even if you are just ordering drinks, it makes my place look busier and more popular than my neighbor’s!”
- Most Greeks order bottled water with their meal. They frown on people who drink to get drunk. If drinking beer or wine, Greeks will drink more water than alcohol. Tap water is okay, it just doesn’t taste very good, especially on the islands. Expect to pay for bottled water.
- Leaving a tip isn’t necessary, but really appreciated for good service.
What to Eat & Drink in Greece
Probably the most well known Greek dessert, baklava’s history is well-rooted in the Middle East. Ottoman Turks are said to have brought phyllo dough to the Greek islands and the peninsula during the Ottoman Empire. It is a fabulous pastry made of a combination of phyllo dough, butter, nuts, and honey.
Although more famous for Ouzo, raki, and wine, Greek beer is worth a try. Joe enjoyed the many varieties recommended by locals.
Unlike restaurants in the states, to have bread with your meal at a Greek restaurant, most places will require you to order it. Usually for about two euros, you will get bread, olive oil, and sometimes a tzatziki dip will be included. Pay the extra two euros! A majority of the Greek bread that we ate had a yellow tint because it is made with olive oil instead of butter– very tasty!
I’m well aware that crepes are not a Greek food. That being said, except for baklava, Greeks aren’t big dessert eaters. However, in almost every city we went there was either a creperie or crepes were offered as a dessert on the menu. Most crepes that I saw offered were dessert crepes, but there were also savory crepes, too.
Any of it! Trust me on this. Food from Crete reminded me of southern food here in the states. Its foundation is on simple, fresh ingredients prepared with with lots of time and love. When we talked about our itinerary, all of our guides in Athens told us that we would love the food in Crete. They couldn’t have been more right in their prediction!
Again, I know these aren’t Greek, but the Greeks seemed to have embraced dessert waffles with a passion! Just like crepes, you will find specific waffle stands and dessert waffles offered on many, many restaurant menus. I can attest that after a seven mile hike in the hot, shadeless Greek sun, nothing on earth tastes better that a dessert waffle, crepe, and large beer. I speak from experience!
This stuffed grape leaf dish can be found all over the middle east and are a frequent Greek offering. We had them at breakfast and as part of a meze (small plate). The grape leaves are served cold or warm (I preferred warm) and are frequently stuffed with rice, herbs, and nuts.
Most of the bakeries had fresh donuts every morning, but I had been told by some friends that while in Mykonos I had to get a donut on the beach from the donut man. So our first morning in Mykonos, we headed to the nearest beach and had our donut. Okay, we had our donuts. We may have had some more donuts on the other mornings in Mykonos, too.
Feta Me Meli
Greek pastry of custard cream filled phyllo rolls, baked, then drenched in syrup, like Baklava. If you see anything that looks like baked or fried phyllo dough with honey, order it!
Regular Greek coffee is really Turkish coffee. Like many aspects of Greek culture, the occupation of the Ottoman Empire had an undeniable impact on Greece. Just don’t dare call it Turkish coffee because we encountered a salty disdain for Turks in Greece. Found in Kafeneios (traditional coffee shops) and more modern coffee bars, the process for making the sand coffee is fascinating. The coffee is brewed unfiltered in hot sand. The sand is said to give a more even heating producing a deeper flavor.
We were told that to be like traditional Greeks we needed to drink the coffee until we got to the grounds, then flip the grounds over in the saucer. A Greek fortune teller can read your fortune in the grounds left in the saucer. I tried doing this, but all I could see in the grounds was a muddy looking blob.
I’ve eaten plenty of Greek salads here in the states. Such a simple salad, you wouldn’t think there would be that much of a difference where it is made. WRONG! Cucumber, juicy tomato, olives, and red onion grown in the perfect Greek volcanic soil make all the difference. The feta cheese chunks placed on top is so much milder than the feta here in the US. Drizzled with olive oil, vinegar, and lemon juice makes for a perfect balance. Joe loved these salads so much that he bought the ingredients in a Santorini market so he could make himself a salad anytime he wanted!
Along with baklava, gyros are one of the most well known Greek foods. Greeks aren’t huge meat eaters, but when they do, it’s usually put in pita bread and covered with tzatziki sauce. Souvlaki and kebabs are also popular meat choices, and I wasn’t sure what the differences were. Our tour guide told us that gyros refer to meat cooked on a vertical rotating spit, souvlaki is any meat grilled on a skewer, and kebab is ground meat formed in a long, hotdog shape.
Not the skewered meat, that would be the Turkish name. In Greece skewered meat is called souvlaki and a kebab is ground meat shaped like a long, thin sausage link. I wasn’t a big fan.
This is a Cretan dish frequently served as a meze (small plate) in taverns. “Keftedes” in a dish name refers to a fried meatball made with onions and herbs. Kolokithokeftedes are made of zucchini, onions, feta cheese, and a breading, and fried until golden brown. When I first saw their description in Greek menus, I was a little leery whether or not it would be worth filling up my belly since there were so many other good choices. After seeing it listed at several different restaurants, I decided to give kolokithokeftedes a chance. I’m so glad I did. Apparently zucchini fried with feta cheese is a tasty mix!
These wonderful street snacks consist of a soft, chewy bread ring covered with toasted sesame seeds. They are sold everywhere and made for a great energy “pick me up” on several of our walking tours. We found them very cheaply priced at about 50c a ring.
The Greeks know what they’re doing when it comes to this meat. We had lamb chops at several different places, and unlike in the states when lamb is frequently overcooked, in Greece it was cooked to juicy perfection!
Translates to “eggplant slippers”, it is a side or main dish that includes half of an eggplant stuffed with tomatoes, feta cheese, and sometimes a ground meat. It is very similar to the popular Greek dish moussaka.
Think Greek shepherd’s pie. This dish is found all over Greece, from the peninsula to the numerous islands. It is made with eggplant, some type of ground meat, tomato, onion, potatoes, and layers and layers of cheese.
Olives and Olive Oil
I must admit that I’m a big olive fan. When I was pregnant with my youngest, I would sit down with a new jar of olives and eat the whole jar in one sitting! The olives found in Greek restaurants and markets took my love of olives to a new level. One night, I even had a nightmare that we sat down at a restaurant and the waiter sadly told us that they were out of olives. When I woke up, Joe assured me that it was just a bad dream. If you’re going to bring back any souvenirs from Greece, make it’s olives and olive oil!
Ouzo is an alcoholic beverage made from the remnants of grapes that have been pressed for wine production. It has a distinctive licorice taste. When water is added, it takes on a milky white color. Ouzo is meant to be sipped (not drank as a shot) while enjoying mezedes “little bites”, not a full meal. This usually takes place in the late afternoon to tide you over until dinner. Most Greeks drink water, beer, soft drinks, or wine with their main meals, not ouzo.
Raki is ouzo’s Cretan cousin. Also made from the remnants of grapes, Cretan’s are very proud of their raki, especially the homemade versions. Many of the Cretan restaurants we visited had their own homemade raki flavored with stawberries, rose water, you name it! Also like ouzo, it is often served with meze in the late afternoon. I wasn’t a big fan, but when a Cretan goat farmer gives you a glass, what else can you do but give a smile back and sip it down.
Saganaki refers to any Greek dish made in a small frying pan. We normally saw it in restaurants as an appetizer using fried cheese. Yes, that’s right. Cheese fried in a pan. Do you need any other reason to visit Greece?
Anywhere, anytime, in any dish. Greece is surrounded by water. Seafood doesn’t get any fresher! Would it surprise you to know that I ate calamari three days in a row?
Before our trips to Greece, this was my favorite Greek festival dish. A spanakopita is a pastry (phyllo) pie filled with spinach, feta cheese, and onions. We had the wonderful opportunity of making this dish with a Greek cook as our teacher. I know I’m biased, but I thought our creation was heavenly!
Souvlaki is the most common meat dish that we encountered. It refers to any meat grilled on a skewer. Sometimes it is served in pita bread like a gyro and sometimes it is served still on the stick. Don’t make the mistake like I did and call it a kabob. That’s what the Turks call skewered meat, and as I mentioned before, the Greeks aren’t big fans of the influence from the Ottoman Empire occupation.
I tried taramasalata as part of an avocado salad, but you will most likely find in as a dip in a meze (small plate) of fresh vegetables. Taramasalata is made of fish roe (eggs) ground smooth with olive oil, lemon juice, and a starch. It is is usually pink or beige.
Similar to kolokithokeftedes, but much more popular, tomatokeftedes are a fried vegetable ball made with Greece’s prized tomatoes.
This is a Greek staple. Made with cucumbers, Greek yogurt, garlic, olive oil, and vinegar, tzitziki sauce goes with just about everything!
Tyropitakia (little cheese pies)
Often a street snack or an appetizer, the cheese pies are made with phyllo dough and stuffed with feta cheese. I don’t know how many of these babies we devoured!
Which of these foods and drinks have you tried or want to try? Please share by commenting below! Any questions? Please ask!
We would love to hear any other Greek restaurant tips or recommended foods and drinks!
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