Besides magnificent blue waters and a bright warm sun, Greece is also renowned for its wider Mediterranean cooking culture, distinguished by the simplicity and diversity of the dishes infused with Greek philosophy regarding well-being, the gourmet tastes, and the colors and nutritional value of its ingredients. Virgin olive oil supplements the vast majority of dishes while the Greek countryside provides an abundance of herbs and vegetables that add to the perfection of everything placed on a table. As for the dairy products, such as Greek yoghurt and feta cheese, the wood stove baked bread, the local livestock (e.g. free range goat and sheep), and the fresh fish, they have rightfully earned Greece a special place in the hearts of everyone experiencing hospitality in the land of sun and the Gods!
Food means much more than a nutritional need to the Greeks, which is why you will find dishes made with excessive love and attention, following meticulously cooked starters, called mezedes, and distilled local wine (also retsina, ouzo, and tsipouro), allowing a group of friends or family members have fun and share vivid moments while living the ultimate Greek culinary experience. To help you decide which dishes to try when visiting Greece, here is a top 10 list!
With aubergines, minced meat, potatoes, and béchamel as its main ingredients, Mousaka is every Greek’s favorite and a very popular dish among fans of excellent cuisine! It is a casserole made famous by legendary chef Nicholas Tselemendes, and is all about layering the ingredients, topping them off with the creamy béchamel sauce, and baking to golden-brown perfection! You can find it in many variations (with any vegetable you like, instead of eggplant, e.g. zucchini). No matter the combination, the result remains delightful to the last bite.
An intricate taste that enchants almost all your senses, from the smell, to taste, to sight! Cabbage leaf rolls are stuffed with rice and all-natural, local lamb (minced), and topped with a light lemon sauce called “avgolemono” (meaning egg and lemon), made by mixing 2 eggs and the juice of a lemon, or more, if you prefer more acid tastes. Some may add a few tablespoons of corn flour in the sauce to make it thicker and fuller in your mouth. Definitely a winter, hearty meal you just have to try!
Tip: You may also find this dish with grape leaves instead of cabbage, and only rice (no meat). In this case, the dish is called dolmathakia and is a great appetizer, served either warm or cold.
3. LAMB FRICASSEE
It used to be a dish served on the first Monday of the Orthodox Easter and was very popular mainly across South Greece. Made of prime lamb cuts (you may also hear of variations with chicken or kid goat substituting lamb, offering a low-fat meal), lettuce that you cut into small pieces with your hands, chopped onions, plenty of dill (some may also use mint), and avgolemono sauce (meaning sauce with egg and lemon). The result is a soupy dish with tastes and smells from all over Greece!
Indeed, a delicate summer Greek dish cooked in every household more than once a month, or once a fortnight! The classic recipe has green peppers and tomatoes, stuffed with rice, minced meat (many omit the meat and make it perfect for vegetarians and a dish eaten during fasting periods), a plethora of spices and herbs, such as parsley, dill, mint, and pepper, and chopped onions. It is accompanied by potatoes and, of course, olive oil.
What is a traditional Greek household without fasolatha on the menu at least once a week, in winter? White bean soup like you have never tasted before. It is a simple, nutritious, delicious, and definitely hearty recipe; a staple of any Greek dinner table. You may also have it embellished with fresh vegetables, such as carrots and potatoes while the addition of extra virgin olive oil, fresh tomato juice, and parsley (and sometimes celery) will satisfy your taste buds for sure.
6. LAMB KLEFTIKO
Τhere are many stories regarding the origins of this dish. Some say it was first cooked in the mountainous regions of Greece, others say it is a dish of the northerners. Regardless of origin, lamb kleftiko is simply irresistible. Tender and juicy, melt-in-the-mouth lamb cooked with fluffy potatoes and white (or red) wine, wrapped in parchment paper until the aromas of sweet onions, garlic, juicy tomatoes, roast peppers, and bay leaves inundate the place to the point you can’t restrain yourself anymore!
7. SHRIMP SAGANAKI
One of the most delicious appetizers you could taste in Greece is shrimp saganaki served in every seaside fish tavern around the country. Saganaki is a term used to refer to various local appetizers, prepared in a small, heavy-bottomed (two-handled) frying pan. In shrimp saganaki, medium-to-large-sized prawns are sautéed in extra virgin olive oil and deglazed with ouzo (famous traditional Greek drink), before they are added to spicy tomato sauce and finished off with feta cheese (saulty) and fresh herbs.
Tip: You can find many other foods in Greece cooked in a saganaki pan, such as mussels and cheese.
Who hasn’t heard of tzatziki and has not associated it with Greece, summer fun days, laid-back fish tavernas, friends and families around a table by the sea, with a glass of ouzo or retsina (local drinks) by the hand, toasting for good health! Made of the world renowned Greek yogurt, sliced cucumber, garlic, olive oil, and vinegar, tzatziki makes an excellent creamy appetizer that can accompany both fish and meat excellently. It is customary to add some olive oil (Greeks have been cultivating olives for centuries!) and place an olive in the middle, when served!
9. GRILLED MEAT (GYROS)
Spit-roasted and charcoal-drilled meats are a specialty of the Greeks. Traditional souvlaki is Greece’s most loved fast food and has 2 yummy versions: with skewered meat (kid goat or local free-range pork or lamb) or gyros, wrapped in pitta bread, with potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and as much tzatziki as you can take! An enticing explosion of tastes right inside your mouth!
10. FRESH FISH
Surrounded by blue seas, Greece offers a plethora of different dishes of fresh fish. Ever since ancient times, Greeks would sit at a seaside tavern and eat fresh squid (calamari in Greek) or any other fish they had caught from the Aegean or the Mediterranean Sea. Cooked with minimum fuss, fresh fish are not only tasty, but also healthy and nutritious. You can have them grilled or lightly fried (for smaller fish, such as whitebait) and drizzled with a lemon-olive oil dressing (ladolemono). Absolutely divine!