Greek cuisine is renowned across the globe for its wholesome, hearty dishes and philosophy of simple, but superior-quality raw ingredients, making it one of the most nutritious (and delicious) in the world.
Unrushed dining is an integral part of the country's culture, as the Greek table is the center of many time-honored social and family rituals and traditions. And although Greek recipes can be enjoyed in thousands of Greek restaurants in every city of the world, the locale and ambiance of eateries in Greece are the special ingredients that make dining out when visiting the country an extra-special experience.
Famous Greek fare
Souvlaki, the quintessential Greek street food, is tasty and inexpensive, and a visitor is never more than a few steps from a decent neighborhood souvlaki joint. It generally consists of meat grilled on a skewer, and is often served with vegetables, pita, fried potatoes. Toppings depend on the meat being served and the preference of the diner.
Moussaka is the king of the Greek dishes. It's often sought out by tourists, but the mouth-watering layers of creamy sauce, minced meat, eggplant, and potato also bring memories of home cooking and Sunday lunches to every Greek mind.
Horiatiki salad is another classic and can be enjoyed as a side dish or full meal. The essential ingredients here are tomato, cucumber, onion, and feta, but more can be added according to taste. You might find it made with green peppers, olives, capers, oregano, or parsley. Regardless of what's in it, the salad must be topped with copious amounts of extra virgin olive oil - the blessing of the Greek soil.
Other archetypal Greek recipes include gemista (tomatoes or peppers filled with rice, herbs, and minced meat), dolmades (grapevine leaves stuffed with rice), filo pies filled with cheese and greens, and tzatziki, a divine garlicky yogurt dip.
Locally-grown fruit (and some local vegetables) are often turned into mouth-watering spoon sweets. These delicious sugar syrup preserves are offered as treats to guests in almost every Greek household and restaurant.
Bougatsa in Thessaloniki and the north
It's a common belief among Greeks that the cuisine from the north is a class above the rest of the country. There are good reasons for this, and the most important is the influence this part of Greece has had from other cultures over the centuries. Consequently, the northern fare is a fusion of Balkan, Turkish, Middle Eastern, and of course, traditional Greek food, with all the usual ingredients.
Bougatsa is a local pastry with either sweet or savory fillings such as cream and cinnamon, cheese, or minced meat and spinach. They can be found served as street food or on a menu at a sit-down restaurant.
Chargrilled seafood or roasted pig in the Peloponnese
The Peloponnese is a large Greek region that combines high mountains and thousands of miles of coast, making it the perfect culinary destination for both meat and seafood lovers.
Roasted pig, with its crispy skin and mellow meat, is a local delicacy ideally enjoyed in a picturesque cobblestone central square in of the region's many mountain villages. And on the coast, octopus, squid, and other seafood are cooked over charcoal and washed down with one of the palatable and crispy white wines from the region.
Other delicacies of the region include syglino (a specially cured meat) from the Mani area, and kagianas, a breakfast of scrambled eggs mixed with thinly chopped or grated tomatoes. Another popular dish is rooster with hilopites (a local homemade pasta), slow-cooked in tomato sauce. Yogurt or milk pie is a top choice to round off any meal.
Kalitsounia and dakos in Crete
Cretan cuisine, which blends Mediterranean flavors with distinct local touches, is one of the most celebrated in Greece and one of the main reasons to visit the largest Greek island. Significant elements of Cretan cuisine include wild greens, local goat or sheep, rabbit, and snails. Delicacies like pickled artichokes and wild onion bulbs are the perfect pairing to local raki or wines.
Dakos is another Cretan favorite: Bread (paximadi) is topped with grated tomato and local soft cheese (xinomizithra) and then sprinkled, of course, with olive oil and oregano. Other flavorsome local cheeses, made mainly with sheep and goat milk, include graviera (a rich, yellow cheese), mizithra, and anthotyro (both lighter, soft, white varieties of cheese).
Kalitsounia are delicious fried pastries often enjoyed as a quick and luscious snack. They're typically filled with greens or local cheeses and often come topped with honey.
Greek wines and spirits
Wine has been produced in Greece since ancient times, but thanks to a new generation of winemakers, Greece is re-emerging as a quality wine producer, asserting its place in the worldwide vinicultural stage. Almost every region boasts its local "Protected Designation of Area" varieties, but some (like Santorini, Crete, and Thessaly) are especially popular for their wines. Aficionados can follow specific "wine routes," which connect wineries and vineyards that offer tours and wine tastings led by experienced staff.
Exceptional spirits are also distilled all over the country, with ouzo being the most notable. The strong, anise-flavored liquor is usually served chilled as an aperitif, although it’s also often mixed with ice or water and sipped alongside mezedes, or small plates. Lesvos is the major ouzo-producing region, but many other areas have their own local varieties. Tsipouro, which some consider to be the grandfather of ouzo, is a fierce clear spirit that is sometimes flavored with anise and is consumed almost everywhere in the mainland. And if you make your way to Chios, look for Masticha, a delicious, sweet, and aromatic liquor produced exclusively on the island.