Heralded all over the world for its nutritional benefits, colourful dishes, time-honoured combinations of fascinating flavours, and eco-friendly ‘slow life’ approach, the Mediterranean diet is almost as iconic as the images of the sun-blazed hills, white villages and stunning coastlines that bore it. Nowhere is this rich culinary tradition better celebrated than in the wonderful restaurants, tavernas and marketplaces of Greece.
From the earthy to the divine, the Greek mainland and hundreds of inhabited islands that surround it boast a magnificent array of culinary experiences for you to indulge in. In fact, it’s difficult to think of Greece without conjuring a cornucopia of succulent grapes, shiny olives, stuffed vine leaves, fresh herbs, sheep’s cheeses, ripe lemons, gleaming fish, heavenly parcels of filo pastry, rich Greek yogurt…
It’s our pleasure to present you our following picks not to be missed during your holiday in the Hellenic sun.
Greece has long sat at the crossroads of many cultures and trade routes, and this fusion of cultures and the diversity of products available to it is represented in its culinary offering. Ingredients and approaches often found in other cuisines - be they Turkish, French, Balkan, Libyan, Italian - reappear in fascinating combinations throughout Greek cooking. Here are some of the key components.
Greece produces over 2.6 million tonnes of olives a year, making it the third largest producer in the world, behind Spain and Italy. However, any lack in production is made up for in consumption, with the Greeks getting through more olives and olive oil than any other country in the world. A trip to Crete offers you the chance to try sensational olive oil at very reasonable prices.
Given its 16000km of coastline, it’s no surprise that Greek cuisine is abundant in fish and seafood dishes. Thanks to the fishing tradition of many of the villages and their proximity to the coast, you can enjoy a relaxed glass of wine and some mezze at a portside taverna, knowing that the grilled octopus you ordered for your main most likely arrived after you.
Due to its geography, both the fertility of its soil and its position as an ancient trading port, Greece is blessed with an abundance of herbs, including (but not restricted to!) basil, dill, oregano, bay leaves, mint, fennel, marjoram, thyme, parsley, tarragon and rosemary. Expect to find any number of these garnishing your meal.
Almonds, walnuts, chestnuts, chickpeas, lentils, broad beans among others and are all cultivated in Greece, and make their way into many of their signature dishes. Fasolada, a hearty bean and vegetable soup, is considered the national food of the Greeks.
Packed with nutrients and offering both a creamier and tangier flavour, Greek yoghurt is famous worldwide, and enjoyed locally with a drizzling of thyme honey, or as a base for Tzatziki and other dips. Greek cheeses, meanwhile, are often made with sheep or goat’s milk and heavily salted, offering an interesting juxtaposition to leafy dishes.
Lamb, beef, goat, chicken and pork appear in a wide variety of Greek dishes, often chopped and forming the base of stuffings and soups, or marinated and then cooked on skewers over an open flame.
The quality of Greek food is consistently high, whether served in a taverna or at home, as mezze or dessert, on a plate or in a pita. Here are some of our favourites:
A typical Cretan mezze, albeit of middle eastern origin, these grape leaves stuffed with rice and onions and dressed in lemon juice, mint and dill are eaten throughout Greece and indeed the world. Explore the markets and restaurants of Greece to discover some delicious variations, including with beef, lamb, pine nuts and even grilled sardines!
This wonderfully simple-yet-tasty pie is made with layers of filo pastry filled with spinach and cheese (usually feta), onions, egg and herbs. In more rural parts of Greece the spinach is often replaced with sorrel, leeks or chard. It can be served as a large pie or in smaller triangle-shaped parcels.
These crunchy deep-fried kalamari can be found in seafood taverns throughout Greece, often with twist of lemon juice, a touch of parsley and served as a meze dish.
This Greek classic comprises of layers of aubergine and tomato, minced meat (often lamb) mixed with spices and other vegetables all topped with a creamy bechamel sauce and oven baked – with spectacular results!
A delicious warm, fried cheese, with a texture similar to halloumi, which has gained great popularity in all regions of Greece and is commonly eaten as a mezze.
These tasty grilled meat skewers can be eaten hot off of the skewer or placed inside a pita and drizzled with tzatziki and served with tomatoes and onion. Usually prepared with pork, variations using chicken, lamb or beef can also be found. Street food at its best.
If you’re feeling particularly decadent, then you can do worse than to indulge yourself with this Greek dish of lobster pasta, slowcooked in a stew of tomato and herbs and served with spaghetti.
Although of Italian origin, orzo - a type of pasta that can easily be mistaken for rice – can be found throughout Greece. It’s often prepared within a salad and sprinkled with feta and herbs before being drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice, to offer a refreshing meze option.
This sweet dessert is a favourite among Greeks and can be found all over the country, although its consumption is often reserved for special occasions. It is comprised of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with honey.
A delicious Cretan delicacy that can be eaten both as a dessert or mezze. These sweet mizithra cheese pastries are sprinkled with cinnamon, and sometimes powdered sugar too if they are eaten as a dessert - extremely soft and highly addictive
The delicious treat looks like a pancake but is actually made of fried dough mixed with sweet mizithra cheese, and then topped with honey, nuts and cinnamon.
Greece produces high-quality wines to compliment your dinners perfectly. In particular, the robola produced in Kefalonia is very appreciated. For the aperitif, try the aniseed-flavoured ouzo or the Cretan preference Raki. Kitron of Naxos is another local speciality, made from the local citron fruit – which is very similar to a lemon.
in Sifnos, in the town of Artemonas, the world-renowned festival of Cycladic gastronomy, Nikolaos Tselementes, takes place every year in early September.
During this festival, each island has its own stand, where professionals and amateurs from the respective islands prepare and present traditional island recipes. Visitors can then come and taste them for free. Who could turn down an invite like that?