Greece is a truly fascinating country. Land of the Gods, home of the syrtaki, countless historical ruins and white sand beaches with azure waters. Greece always offers more than you can expect.
Greece is not only a dream holiday destination but also gastronomical heaven. During the night, charming Greek tavernas (eateries) invite you to try authentic Greek cuisine. Often owned and operated by a local family, the tavernas are an essential part of the country’s social culture. They are a great way to experience local customs and traditions. In the hot and sunny days, a myriad of cafes, bars and bakeries offer refreshments and comfort from the heat.
The Greek cuisine is healthy and packed with fresh ingredients and flavoursome herbs such as oregano, rosemary and basil. Below you will find a list of traditional foods and beverages that are guaranteed to leave you and your stomach satisfied…
1. GREEK SALAD
You can’t go to Greece without trying a traditional greek salad. Whether you decide to pair it with ouzo or wine, or you simply have it as a starter, the combination of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onion, kalamata olives, creamy feta cheese and oregano is a much-needed refreshment for the hot Greek nights.
2. OLIVES AND OLIVE OIL
Olive oil is the lifeblood of Greek cuisine, which is why you would often find Greek dishes swimming in a lake of grassy green extra virgin olive oil. Olives come in many shapes and varieties, but the most common ones include the deep purple kalamata, the large pale green halkidiki, and my personal favourite the wrinkled black olives such as throumba.
Most taverns will welcome you with complimentary fresh bread, olive oil and a selection of olives. Honestly, it doesn’t sound like much, but this is the tastiest thing on earth.
The tzatziki – a mouth-watering combination of yoghurt, cucumber, garlic and olive oil – is the ultimate dip. It’s usually served as an appetizer (mezze) and eaten with bread (pita). However, some restaurants also offer it with meat-based dishes such as souvlaki and gyros.
4. BAKED AUBERGINE
The aubergine is another popular ingredient in Greek cuisine. It forms the base of melitzanosalata made with roasted aubergines, garlic, lemon and olive oil. Grilled aubergine with tomato sauce and feta is another classic. And so is moussaka made from aubergine layers and meat.
5. FRESH SEAFOOD
Greece has one of the longest coastlines in the world – almost 16,000km – meaning that seafood is plentiful, fresh and delicious. Most Greek tavernas have an additional ‘catch of the day’ menu so be sure to ask for it. Some of the dishes you must try are the fried squid (calamari), mussels saganaki (usually in tomato or wine & mustard sauce), grilled octopus, and of course, fresh grilled fish (sea bass maybe?) accompanied by a delicious side of seasonal vegetables.
6. GRILLED MEAT
If you are in the mood for some fast food, fear not the souvlaki – skewered lamb or pork chunks – is here to save you. The gyros (similar to doner kebab) is all-time favourite comfort food and post-clubbing snack.
The ouzo, Greece’s national drink, is a widely consumed anise-flavoured alcoholic beverage. It’s usually served straight with ice in a tall slim glass to add as much chilled water one wants. Neat ouzo is typically clear and turns cloudy white when mixed. This is because the anise essential oil is soluble in alcohol but not in water. There is a saying that the cloudier it is, the better the ouzo.
The retsina is a Greek white wine with a peculiar taste which you either love or hate. I must admit the first time I tried it, I thought the flavour was super weird and though it’s just a wine that’s gone bad. Now, I am at that point where I would buy 20 bottles every time I am flying out of Greece (if only my hand luggage would allow me…).
The Greek tradition of making retsina dates back as far as 2000 years ago with the unique strong flavour coming from the pine resin used to seal the vessels in which the wine was stored and shipped. Nowadays, retsina continues to be produced throughout Greece and is usually sold in 500ml clear bottles. It’s a preferred drink of young Greeks and tourists looking for budget-friendly options to get buzzed. However, I personally find retsina super refreshing (not only because retsina Malamatina rhymes with Martina) and definitely recommend at least giving it a go before saying no.
Wherever in Greece you are staying, I guarantee there will be at least one bakery within walking distance. Freshly baked pastries are a much-loved Greek breakfast and should be your number one priority upon arrival. If you have a sweet tooth go for some bougatsa , baklava, koulourakia or loukoumades. If like me you prefer cheese to chocolate, then drop everything and indulge yourself in tyropita, spanakopita and a bag of pitarakia.
Last but not least is the king of iced coffee – the frappé. Made from a mix of instant coffee, cold water, sugar and milk, the frappé is the perfect summer drink for those peaceful sunny days spent on azure Greek beaches. There are two varieties – white (with milk) and black (made only with water), just make sure you specify when you order.
Although, I knew it was a Greek drink, surfing the internet for this article has taught me that the frappé was invented by a Nescafe representative who ran out of hot water and urgently needed new ideas how to serve instant coffee. Well, thank you, random salesperson. I and the rest of humanity will be forever grateful for this drink of the Gods.