Greek cuisine is the quintessential Mediterranean cuisine and this makes it the most “in vogue” cuisine form in the world. This is a vegetables and meat based cuisine with bread only used as a side dish. Even the desserts shun an overabundance of sugar using nuts, honey, filo pastry and fruits instead.
If you are a health food freak then Greece is the place for you. Food here is freshly prepared, flavourful, simple and always healthy. Most Greek meals are cooked in organic olive oil and have super healthy dips of cucumber, yoghurt and garlic apart from creamy peas and aubergine and sometimes there are special roe fish dips too.
The quantities of olive oil used in Greek food is generous unlike the rest of the world which uses just a dash of it. You will find seeds and nuts everywhere in Greek food right from starters to desserts and this is probably the reason behind the robust health of most Greeks.
The concept of olives was gifted to the world by Greeks and the Goddess Athena gifted the Olive tree to Athens. No meal here is complete without a handful of olives… eat them cured in brine or freshly plucked from trees.
The Greeks have a diverse variety of Pita bread though this originally came from the Middle East. The Greeks adopted Pita and then treated it like Pizza covering it with minced meat, zucchini, beans, spinach and cheese and many other things and then carving it into bite sized pieces. You will also find lots of barley rusk bread in Greece.
Dolmades i.e. a rice preparation cooked in Grape leaves is found in each Grecian region and has endless variations including minced meat, nuts fennel, thyme, dill etc. Moussaka the famous Greek baked dish incorporates beautiful layers of meat, garlic, tomatoes, cheese, potato and spices and also has regional variations.
Charcoal grilled meats are hugely popular in Greece and its either gyros or skewered meat with pita bread, onion and tomato that’s a Greek staple workday meal. Usually you will see the word Souvlaki a lot in menus and this basically means a skewer and anything right from fish to chicken to pork and lamb can be grilled on it.
One of the world’s longest coastline gives Greece an abundance of fresh seafood…. fish and calamari from the Aegean waters are incredibly tasty and the preparations incredibly simple i.e. just a drizzle of lemon and olive oil.
Red mullet, squid and whitebait are also popular fish along with the legendary Octopus (best had stewed in wine sauce). Courgette balls with tzatziki (cucumber-yoghurt-garlic) sauce is another Greek speciality and so are the fresh cheeses…. feta, tyropita, mizithra and graviera. Saganaki is a very popular fried cheese dish exclusively available in Greece.
If you are vegarian/ vegan then Greece is one of the few European countries that won’t disappoint you gastronomically. You can munch on the traditional Horiatiki greek salad and then dig into the Spanakopita (spinach pie) before moving onto the Yemista (whole tomatoes and peppers stuffed with rice) and the Spanakorizo (rice and spinach tempered with lemon juice and olive oil).
The Greeks do not traditionally consume meat for a long period of time before Easter hence the variety of vegetarian food on offer. The Greeks do lovely things with cheese …they fry it up and serve it in sheets (saganaki) and balls (sfougata) and this will immediately transport you to culinary utopia.
And of course you must wind up your Greek meal with baklava (delicate layered pastry) and galaktoboureko (custard stuffed pastry) with generous servings of Greek thyme honey. And the fitness world will remain ever grateful to the Greeks for inventing the ultimate health food….Greek yoghurt.
However you need to know that Greek Yoghurt from Greece is only made from the milk of sheep and is usually consumed plain with honey or maybe walnuts as the only dressing. So in effect if you are eating store brought chocolate flavoured Greek yoghurt then in effect there’s nothing Greek about it!!
And Ouzo the national drink of Greece is special because of its herby infusions (cinnamon, fennel, aniseed, cloves etc.). Try buying a couple of bottles from the ones made in Lesvis and Tyrnavos islands…they are the best.
Go to any of the charming Kafenio (cafes) dotting Greece and you will find people saying Gia sas (cheers) while downing glasses of Metaxa that’s a mixed spirit blended from spice, wine and brandy. If you had too much to eat then round off your meal with Mastika… straight from Chios this is a popular digestive alcoholic blend.
Greece is also known for its Raki (from Crete) and Tsipouro (from Greek mainland) made from grapes that aren’t considered for wine making. And never leave Greece without trying Masticha or mastic first (produced in Chios)… it’s the rest from the masticha tree that releases magical aromas.
The Greek make everything from soaps to candle to chewing gum from this resin and chewing this is supposedly how the concept of chewing gum emerged. The Greek’s have their own little vice…. sucking on liqueur created with masticha which is said to be addictively delicious. A more sophisticated way to sample masticha is to have it mixed with vodka based cocktail in an upscale Greek pub.
Greek food can be appreciated better if you look at their cultural connotations. Like their architecture and aesthetics the themes behind food are simplicity, durability and a distinct class.