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Bright Kitchen

Greek Food

A journey through the centuries

Greek cuisine

Greek cuisine is famous worldwide, due to its variety and amazing tastes. Restaurants and tavernas in Greece cater all flavors, while a vast variety of fusion cuisine is available everywhere.Greek cuisine is famous worldwide, due to its variety and amazing tastes. Restaurants and tavernas in Greece cater all flavors, while a vast variety of fusion cuisine is available everywhere. Greek cuisine is characterized as the Mediterranean, while it also has some common features with the traditional Italian, Balkan, Turkish, and Levantine kitchens (Middle East). Greek food and gastronomy is part of Greek history and culture. Shipping, travel, wars, colonies, conquerors, campaigns brought the Greeks into contact with new cultures, new materials and techniques and influenced eating habits. In ancient times, along with trade, spices, sugar, and new vegetables caused the Greeks to experiment with new recipes, new ways of cooking and more processed foods. Their diet was complemented by hunting, especially hares (eg hare with coriander and oil sauce).

A Taste of Tradition: Greek Cuisine through the Ages

The traditional dishes that grace Greek tables today have evolved over thousands of years while still preserving their authentic charm. Throughout history, the names of foods, cooking methods, and basic ingredients have remained remarkably consistent, reflecting the enduring essence of Greek gastronomy. Greek cuisine boasts a fascinating history that intertwines with ancient civilizations and diverse influences. From the simplicity of ancient Greek fare to the fusion of flavors brought by the Byzantines and Ottomans, each era has left its mark on Greek culinary traditions. The cuisine showcases a harmonious blend of Mediterranean ingredients, such as olive oil, fish, herbs, and vegetables, with a unique touch that reflects the Greek spirit.

The History of Greek Cuisine - A Glimpse into Ancient Greek Gastronomy

Greek cuisine’s timeless appeal stems from its deep-rooted connection to ancient Greek culture. Ancient Greece forms the foundation of modern Greek cuisine, with its influence spreading across the Mediterranean and beyond. The frugality of ancient Greek cuisine, based on the Mediterranean triad of wheat, olive oil, and wine, set the stage for the culinary traditions that followed. In those times, meat was rarely consumed, while fish played a more prominent role. The consumption of wine and olive oil has always been central to Greek cuisine, and their cultivation and spread were closely linked to Greek colonization. Lemons, now a signature element of Greek cuisine, were initially used for medicinal purposes before becoming a culinary delight. In ancient times, Greeks indulged in three meals a day. Breakfast consisted of light dishes such as bread dipped in wine, complemented by olives or figs. The mid-day meal featured small yet appetizing cooked dishes, while the evening meal took center stage with its diverse array of ingredients.

Innovations come in Byzantine times. Byzantine cuisine was similar to the ancient Greek cuisine, but with new ingredients that were not available in the past, such as caviar, nutmeg, basil and lemon, while the fish continues to be an integral part of the diet. Byzantine cuisine benefited from Constantinople’s key geographic location, which was a global center of the spice trade. The eggplant and the sunflower were the new ingredients too, and it is considered innovative to make vinegar with vine leaves.

There is little doubt that the cuisine of Greece has been influenced by the East. This is because of its geographical position where it finds itself neatly positioned between East and West. Greece is therefore as much an Eastern country as it is a Western one. Its cuisine, though, tends to be almost entirely Eastern. Together with the Middle East, it shares a culinary tradition based on lamb as the staple meat and olive oil as the basic fat. Other similarities which are also basic to Greek cuisine are rice, figs, yogurt, meat kebabs, dishes of ground or minced meat mixed with spices, rice and herbs; and often stuffed into vegetables or wrapped in leaves.

Olives, grapes and wine were used 3000 years ago. An important parameter in the formation of gastronomy is soil morphology, varied but barren in many areas of Greek land. Livestock farming is also important with pigs, sheep, goats and fewer cattle.

The oldest known plant in antiquity was the coriander. Ancient Greeks have used mustard, fennel, the cumin from seeds found in excavations and in places that witnessed culinary activities. Well known and common were the sesame, the poppy, wild saffron, ancestor of today’s cultivated saffron.

Tuna was the first choice fish as it was always plentiful in the Greek seas. Other popular fish were marsupials, the bass, the anchovies, sardines, squid, cuttlefish, and shrimp.

Byzantine cuisine was similar to ancient Greek cuisine and is the natural physics of it, but with new ingredients that were not available in the past, such as caviar, nutmeg, basil, and lemons, the fish continues to be an integral part of the diet. Byzantine cuisine benefited from Istanbul’s key geographic location, which was a global center of the spice trade.

Popular was the aromatized wine with anise, mastic or Retsina wine ancestors of today’s liqueurs. Muscat is cultivated from antiquity to the present days, and even on the same islands of Chios, Lesbos, Limnos and Samos. Their wines have been popular since then in Greece.

Innovations come in Byzantine times. Byzantine cuisine was similar to the ancient Greek cuisine, but with new ingredients that were not available in the past, such as caviar, nutmeg, basil and lemon, while the fish continues to be an integral part of the diet. Byzantine cuisine benefited from Constantinople’s key geographic location, which was a global center of the spice trade. The eggplant and the sunflower were the new ingredients too, and it is considered innovative to make vinegar with vine leaves.

In the Aegean as well as in the continental Greece experiments began in dairy products and so began the production of cheese and feta cheese.

In Byzantium, at the same time, the import of sugar begins. So they start to make sweets and liqueurs such as puddings, rice with honey, spoon sweets, fruit jam (quince or pear).

In Plato’s Republic, frugal Socrates proposes an ideal diet that would serve very well for  midday holiday meals: bread, olives, cheese, vegetables, and fruit. Epicurus, who held that the highest good is a pleasure, but not necessarily self-indulgence, declared: “Simple dishes are as satisfying as sumptuous banquets.”

Archestrate, the first gastronomy critic (4th century BC), traveled from his native Gela in Sicily throughout the Mediterranean world and composed an epic poem on his findings, named Hedypathia (Voluptuousness). Among the few fragments of his work that survive are descriptions of dog’s or sow’s belly cooked in olive oil and powdered with cumin, eel in Chinese cabbage, and an enthusiastic endorsement of Rhodes sturgeon.

For a short time, it became the fashion to disguise the food and have the guests guess what they were eating. At one banquet, they argued about whether they had eaten chicken, fish or veal; and it turned out to be vegetable marrow. Some of the more respectable ancient Greek legacies to world cuisine are fried scampi, turbot with herbs, blood sausage (black pudding), thrush in honey and grilled frogs’ legs.

So Roman cuisine was indeed essentially Greek. That is what Constantine and his court brought with them when the Eastern Empire was established in Byzantium. What the Venetians brought in also came from the Greco-Roman tradition. And, the Greeks argue, the Turks took over the Byzantine tradition – richer and sweeter perhaps, but still fundamentally Greek.”

Classical Greek cooking had much in common with French nouvelle cuisine: finesse, simplicity, authentic flavors, meats roasted and grilled rather than stewed in rich sauces, using just herbs and a very few basic ingredients.

The Evolution of Greek Dining Customs

While certain aspects of Greek dining customs have evolved, many traditions have stood the test of time. In ancient Greece, utensils were rarely used, and most dishes were enjoyed with fingers. Although modern Greeks have embraced the knife and fork, the essence of Greek cuisine remains intact. Olive oil, an integral part of Greek cooking, continues to be a source of pride for locals who cultivate their own olive trees. Its presence in numerous dishes and even wine speaks volumes about its historical significance.

Greek Food - Greek cuisine - Greek Dishes and Recipes - Ελληνικό φαγητό - Greckie jedzenie - Comida grega - Comida griega - Nourriture grecque - Cibo greco - Griechisches Essen - Mâncare grecească - Греческая кухня

Not much has changed over the course of Greek history

One of the few things that has been phased out over time, albeit not entirely, was the Greeks’ use of fingers while eating. In ancient times, utensils were rarely used, and nearly all common dishes were eaten with fingers. While a few dishes are still eaten in this manner, most utilize the knife and fork. However, many other aspects of Greek cuisine have endured over time, much like the country itself.

Throughout history, olive oil has been a basic necessity for most, not only in dishes but also in wine. Greeks tend to use a plethora of different spices to accentuate their dishes, and as most spices are locally grown, they are in good supply throughout many regions. There are hundreds of amazing Greek dishes to choose from, but some particularly popular ones stand above the rest.

Opa! The Joyful Exclamation

When dining at a Greek restaurant or celebrating a festive occasion, you may hear the exclamation “Opa!” This joyful expression is deeply rooted in Greek culture and is often accompanied by dancing, plate smashing, and overall exuberance. While not an English word in the traditional sense, “Opa!” has become a popular interjection in the English language, signifying excitement, surprise, or delight.

Overview of Greek Cuisine

Greek cuisine is characterized by its reliance on olive oil, which is used in most dishes and contributes to the distinct flavor profile. Olives themselves are a widely enjoyed ingredient, and the cultivation of olive trees is an integral part of the Greek landscape.

  • The cuisine revolves around seasonal vegetables, including tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, green beans, and onions.
  • Honey from fruit trees and citrus trees, such as lemon and orange, adds a touch of sweetness to many dishes.
  • Oregano, mint, garlic, onion, dill, and bay laurel leaves are frequent stars of the Greek culinary stage.
  • Basil, thyme, and fennel seeds add depth and complexity, while parsley adds a vibrant touch as a garnish.
  • Northern Greek recipes incorporate “sweet” spices like cinnamon, whole spices, and cloves, expertly blending them with meat in stews to create tantalizing and aromatic experiences.
  • The climate and terrain of Greece have favored the breeding of goats and sheep, making their meat more prevalent than beef.
  • Fish dishes are particularly popular in coastal regions and on the islands.
  • Greek cuisine boasts a wide variety of cheeses, including the famous Feta, Kasseri, Graviera, and many more.
  • The art of pastry-making is celebrated in Greece, with filo pastry being used in various savory and sweet dishes.

Regional Variations in Greek Cuisine

Greek cuisine exhibits distinctive regional variations, each with its own unique culinary traditions. Some distinct regional cuisines include Aegean island cuisine, Argolis cuisine, Ionian island cuisine, Cretan cuisine, and cuisine influenced by Greeks from Asia Minor, among others. These regional cuisines reflect local ingredients, traditions, and historical influences.

In the 20th century, French cuisine had a significant impact on Greek cooking, largely attributed to the French-trained chef Nikolaos Tselementes. He introduced modern Greek versions of dishes like pastitsio (pasticcio) and moussaka, incorporating French culinary techniques.

Let's explore some of these regional cuisines

In the 20th century, French cuisine had a significant impact on Greek cooking, largely attributed to the French-trained chef Nikolaos Tselementes. He introduced modern Greek versions of dishes like Pastitsio (pasticcio) and moussaka, incorporating French culinary techniques.

Thessalian Cuisine

Thessalian cuisine represents the region of Thessaly in central Greece. This cuisine is characterized by hearty and flavorful dishes that showcase the agricultural abundance of the region. Staple ingredients include grains, legumes, vegetables, and dairy products. Pies, such as spanakopita (spinach pie) and tiropita (cheese pie), are popular dishes in Thessalian cuisine.

Aegean Islands Cuisine

The Aegean islands, including the Cyclades, Rhodes, and other Dodecanese islands, boast a cuisine characterized by an abundance of fresh seafood. The cuisine showcases Italian influences due to historical connections and proximity. Freshly caught fish, flavorful herbs, and locally grown vegetables form the essence of Aegean Islands cuisine.

Peloponnese Cuisine

Peloponnesian cuisine, which encompasses the southern region of Greece, is known for its diverse range of flavors and ingredients. The region offers a wealth of fresh produce, including citrus fruits, olives, and vegetables. Lamb and goat meat is widely enjoyed, often prepared with aromatic herbs and cooked slowly to perfection.

Cretan Cuisine

Cretan cuisine is known for its simple yet high-quality ingredients. The island’s fertile land produces an array of fresh vegetables, aromatic herbs, and exceptional olive oil. Key components of Cretan cuisine include Dakos (barley rusk topped with tomatoes and cheese), lamb dishes, and a wide variety of cheeses.

Macedonian Cuisine

Macedonian cuisine represents the northern region of Greece and is influenced by Balkan and Ottoman flavors. Hearty stews, roasted meats, and aromatic spices are common in Macedonian cuisine. The region is also known for its unique desserts, such as baklava.

Ionian Islands Cuisine

The Ionian Islands’ cuisine, influenced by Italian flavors due to historical ties, offers a unique culinary experience. Seafood dishes, such as bourdeto (spicy fish stew) and bianco (fish cooked in a garlic and lemon sauce), are highlights of Ionian Islands cuisine.

Let us explore the cornerstone elements that have shaped the Greek diet:

1.Bread, Olives, and Wine: A Triptych of Greek Delights: For centuries, bread, olives (including the revered olive oil), and wine have formed the holy trinity of Greek sustenance. These fundamental components have been cherished since ancient times and continue to be integral to Greek cooking today. The Greeks’ deep-rooted connection to their land is evident in the quality and diversity of these staples.

2.Bounty of Fresh and Organic Produce: Greece, with its favorable climate and fertile lands, has nurtured a vibrant assortment of organic cheeses, oils, fruits, nuts, grains, legumes, and vegetables. The country’s small farmers cultivate an incredible array of ingredients, supplemented by an abundance of wild greens and herbs. From succulent eggplants and zucchinis to aromatic herbs like oregano, basil, mint, and thyme, Greek cuisine celebrates the bounties of nature.

3.Captivating Seafood and Meats: With its extensive coastline and proximity to the sea, Greece boasts an unparalleled selection of fish and seafood. The Greek diet beautifully incorporates the gifts of the ocean, adding depth and variety to its culinary repertoire. Additionally, lamb and goat are revered as the traditional meats of holidays and festivals, while poultry, beef, and pork also grace Greek tables with their presence.

4.Vineyards and Fine Wines: Greece’s hilly terrain is adorned with vineyards that produce a remarkable range of fine wines and spirits. The country’s viticulture heritage spans millennia, and its winemaking prowess is renowned worldwide. Among Greece’s notable libations is ouzo, the national spirit, a captivating anise-flavored liqueur that embodies the Greek joie de vivre.

Types of Eateries in Greece - Place to Dine Out in Greece

Greeks firmly believe that it is essential to eat whilst drinking visitors will find that even the most modest out of the way establishments that serve alcohol will also have some form of food on offer. This may be limited to just a few small Meze dishes of olives, bread, cheese, and the likes, but almost nowhere in inhabited Greece will you find yourself far from somewhere that can provide at least some form of nourishment. From the basic village Kafenio through to the city center cosmopolitan restaurants,  visitors will be able to eat, no matter which location they may find themselves in.

KAFENIO – Anyone who has visited Greece or its islands will know what is meant by the word ‘Kafenio.’ Often forming the social heart of a small village, its typical image is one of spartan decor, simply furnished with old chairs and mismatched tables, heavy with cigarette smoke and exclusively male occupied. With chat, backgammon, cards, and the ubiquitous Greek coffee in abundance, it may not be the first place a tourist thinks of to find food. Some might feel intimidated by the impression of it being the meeting place for the village elders, their lively discussion over a political article in the local newspaper and the thought of them as places exclusively serving coffee. They are, however, places where the welcome will generally be a courteous one to tourists, especially those who try out a little local language, where nowadays beer, ouzo, and other spirits may be found and frequently with a small area where food can be prepared. There will rarely be a menu as such (and even if one does exist, far less likely to be in any language other than Greek) and those wanting food will be best served by just asking for Meze, unless their language skills extend to discussing the various dishes that the proprietor can (or is willing) to prepare. Upmarket they most certainly are not, but they are authentic, often relatively cheap and provide a great window on the world to walk by.

OUZERIA – Ouzeria, as the name would suggest, are establishments where traditionally the main refreshment on offer was Ouzo. This would come with various small Meze dishes such as feta cheese, horta, olives, and bread. In the twenty-first century, however, many of these now offer a far more comprehensive range of drinks and food. A menu may be anything from a chalkboard to printed copies at each table and it is far more common nowadays, especially in or close to tourist areas, to find Ouzeria providing both the traditional Meze appetizers and full main meals. Those looking to eat out at lunch or in the evening may well find the local Ouzeria satisfies all their needs.

TAVERNA – The local Taverna is the traditional place to dine out for most Greek families wanting decent, nourishing and appetizing food and although some may not be particularly modern or appealing from the outside, the food is invariably well prepared using fresh ingredients to create good meals at reasonable prices. Menus may not always be available at the table, often on a board on the wall, and some staff may just tell you what is on offer on any given day. As the preparation of many dishes in Greece varies from one cook to another it isn’t uncommon to be invited to peer over the day’s various offerings as they are being prepared in the kitchen. Tavernas very often stay open until late and many are at their busiest from 10.30pm onwards. They will generally offer a range of cold salads, hot meat, fish and vegetable dishes that may be eaten on their own or combined in smaller portions to create a filling meal of Meze plates. Accompanied by a carafe of local wine and ouzo or raki to finish they more than adequately fulfill their role to provide a relaxing ambiance where one can enjoy a varied and substantial meal without breaking the bank.

ESTIATORIO – Literally translated as ‘Restaurant’ and covering a multitude of establishments from the downright poor quality through to some of the finest food to be found in the country. In popular tourist areas, many restaurants will often employ a ‘Kamaki’ on the street in front to draw people in. Literally meaning to harpoon or spear, the job of these well-dressed front of house staff is to encourage prospective customers to enter and dine and their patter will extol the superlative quality of the food inside, good prices and best service etc. In areas where competition is fierce, their approach can be almost intimidating, and if you are unsure, then always ask to see a menu before allowing them to seat you at a table. Estiatorio (Restaurants) may serve a variety of dishes alongside a comprehensive wine and drinks list. Some may specialize in Greek food, some may model themselves on Pizzerias / Spaghetterias, some may pride themselves on their seafood or steaks and many attempts to offer all things to all people. Prices and quality will vary wildly and the best option is to ask around and form your own opinions by visiting some of those that sound most promising to you, your palette and budget.

TAKE-AWAYS, SANDWICH SHOPS etc – Greece, as with anywhere in Europe, has not escaped the explosion of ‘fast food joints’ although they are by their very nature predominantly confined to towns and tourist resorts. Many offer a range of fast-food from early until late and typically you may find croissants, cheese pies and pastries available in the morning and everything from pizza slices, sandwiches, burgers, crepes and cakes throughout the day. The quality is probably no better or worse than any other similar small business throughout the EU and in all fairness better value, more appetizing and nourishing than the large multinational burger joint chains.

My diet is the Mediterranean diet, which is good food. I eat well.

The Greek Mediterranean Diet: Nourishment and Well-being

The Mediterranean diet, of which Greek cuisine is a shining example, is celebrated worldwide for its health benefits and longevity. With a rich history spanning over 4,000 years and influences from neighboring countries like Turkey and Italy, Greek cuisine has evolved into a symbol of the renowned Mediterranean diet. The foundation of Greek cuisine lies in the Mediterranean Triad, which consists of wheat, olive oil, and wine. These ingredients, along with fruits, vegetables, honey, fish, and lamb, form the pillars of Greek cuisine. Embracing this culinary tradition can contribute to overall well-being and provide a wealth of essential nutrients.

Embracing the Essence of Greek Ingredients

Olive Oil: The Liquid Gold of Greece

Olive oil, the hallmark of Greek cuisine, is an ancient and cherished ingredient that adds a distinctive taste to countless dishes. Derived from the abundant olive trees that grace the Greek landscape, this golden elixir is used generously in most Greek recipes. Its rich, fruity notes and velvety texture infuse everything from salads to main courses with a hint of Mediterranean magic. In addition to being a fundamental component of Greek cuisine, the olives themselves are widely enjoyed as a delightful snack or a flavorful addition to various dishes.

Herbs and Spices: Nature's Seasonings

Greek cuisine owes its distinct flavor profile to the abundant use of aromatic herbs. Thyme, oregano, and mint infuse dishes with their vibrant aromas, offering a delightful sensory experience. These herbs are often used to season grilled meats, stews, and sauces, contributing to the unique taste that defines Greek cuisine.

Tzatziki: A Refreshing Yogurt Dip

Tzatziki is a refreshing and tangy yogurt-based dip made with cucumbers, garlic, dill, and olive oil. This creamy condiment is a staple in Greek cuisine and is widely enjoyed as a sauce or dip for various dishes. The name “tzatziki” has become familiar to English speakers, who appreciate its cool and refreshing taste, often pairing it with gyros, kebabs, or as a dip for pita bread.

Meze: A Flavorful Symphony of Small Plates

A quintessential part of Greek dining culture is the tradition of sharing meze, an assortment of small plates served as appetizers or as the main meal. Meze embodies the convivial spirit of Greek gatherings, encouraging friends and family to come together and indulge in a variety of flavors. From tzatziki (yogurt and cucumber dip) to dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) and spanakopita (spinach and feta pastry), these bite-sized delights showcase the breadth of Greek culinary creativity.

Lamb's Legacy: Greek Cuisine and a Love for Meat

Lamb holds a special place in Greek cuisine, symbolizing celebrations and cherished family moments. The succulent taste of lamb is deeply embedded in Greek culinary traditions, with dishes like souvlaki (grilled skewered meat), moussaka (layered eggplant and meat casserole), and Kokoretsi (grilled offal wrapped in lamb intestines) showcasing the versatility and robust flavors of this beloved ingredient.

From the Sea to the Plate: Greek Seafood Delicacies

Blessed with a vast coastline, Greece offers an abundance of fresh seafood. From grilled octopus to succulent prawns, Greek cuisine celebrates the treasures of the sea. With crystal-clear waters teeming with marine life, the country’s coastal regions offer an exceptional array of seafood delicacies. From succulent fish to plump shrimp and tender calamari, the coastal villages and island restaurants of Greece showcase the freshest catch. One iconic dish is the delectable grilled or fried calamari, served with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of sea salt. The quality of ingredients allows the natural flavors of the seafood to shine, creating a truly unforgettable culinary experience.

Cradle of Cheese: A Journey through Greek Cheese Varieties

Greek cheese is renowned worldwide for its unique taste and texture. Feta, the most famous Greek cheese, is a versatile ingredient used in countless Greek dishes. Whether crumbled over a Greek salad or baked in a savory spanakopita, feta brings a delightful saltiness to every bite. Feta cheese, made from sheep’s milk, lends a tangy and creamy touch to numerous dishes, while seafood, such as grilled octopus and succulent calamari, showcases the country’s coastal bounty. The word “feta” itself is of Greek origin, and its distinct taste and texture have earned it a prominent place in international recipes. Feta is now a well-known cheese variety globally, often used in salads, pastries, and other dishes. Other noteworthy Greek cheeses include tangy halloumi, creamy graviera, and the traditional kefalotyri, each offering a distinct flavor that tantalizes the taste buds.

Local Honey: A Nectar of the Gods

In Greece, honey is regarded as a divine treat, cherished for its decadent aroma and rich texture. The warm and dry climate, combined with the salty air of the Aegean, imparts a unique character to Greek honey. Family businesses across the country work diligently to preserve the age-old tradition of honey production, ensuring that this golden elixir continues to grace our tables. The interplay of honey’s sweetness with other ingredients creates captivating desserts. A must-try when in Mykonos, baklava and Melopita showcase the magical harmony of honey, nuts, and filo pastry, leaving an indelible impression on every dessert lover.

Sweet Temptations: Indulging in Greek Desserts

Greek cuisine is incomplete without its tempting array of desserts. Indulge in the sweet delight of baklava, a pastry made of layers of phyllo dough filled with a mixture of nuts and sweet syrup. The creamy and velvety texture of Greek yogurt, often served with honey and nuts, provides a refreshing and healthier dessert option. Loukoumades, small deep-fried dough balls drizzled with honey and sprinkled with cinnamon, offer a delectable treat for those with a sweet tooth. Greek desserts are a heavenly conclusion to any meal.

Wine and Spirits

Greece has a long history of winemaking, and Greek wines are celebrated for their unique characteristics. Local grape varieties, such as Assyrtiko, Agiorgitiko, and Xinomavro, produce wines with distinctive flavors that pair wonderfully with Greek cuisine. Additionally, spirits like Ouzo, Raki and Tsipouro, with their distinct anise and grape flavors, are enjoyed as aperitifs or after-dinner drinks.

Street Food Delights: On-the-Go Greek Tastes

Greek street food presents a tempting array of quick bites that are perfect for on-the-go snacking. From classic gyros, a savory combination of meat, vegetables, and tzatziki wrapped in pita bread, to mouthwatering souvlaki, skewered and grilled meat served with fresh toppings, street food vendors in Greece offer a taste of tradition with a modern twist. Grabbing a street food snack allows you to immerse yourself in the vibrant street culture and experience the dynamic flavors of Greek cuisine.

Cultural Significance: Greek Food and Festivities

Greek cuisine is deeply intertwined with the country’s cultural traditions and festivities. From Easter celebrations featuring succulent roasted lamb to the joyful atmosphere of Greek weddings, where traditional dishes like pastitsio (Greek lasagna) and Kourabiedes (almond cookies) grace the tables, food plays a vital role in bringing people together and creating cherished memories.

NEW YEAR – The year opens on the 1st January with the Feast of Agios Vasilios. New Year is an important time in the Greek calendar and, after the traditional Greek church ceremony, gifts are exchanged and families and friends enjoy a convivial meal and social get together. The highlight of the meal is the Vasilopitta (Vasilios Pie or New Year’s Pie) made with flour, milk, sugar, lemon, butter and assorted nuts which are served up sliced. Much as with an English Christmas pudding, a coin is hidden in the pie and the recipient of the slice containing it is deemed to be blessed with good luck for the forthcoming twelve months.

APOKRIES – This is the three weeks of celebrations for Carnival preceding Lent and are punctuated by parties, family feasts and general merriment before the increasingly austere 40 days that make up Lent. Whilst there is no particular set meal or type of food served up during Apokries, the food is generally rich and indulgent with plenty of rich food, sweets and cakes accompanying the party. Visitors will see signs up around Greek towns and villages during this period for parties, often depicting people in masks, and fancy dress is the norm at such events.

CLEAN MONDAY – This is the Monday preceding Ash Wednesday or the start of Lent and will float around the calendar as with the whole of pre-Easter markers. It is punctuated by (weather permitting) open-air barbecues and picnics across the whole of Greece and at the time the skies are traditionally filled with kites being flown by old and young alike.

LENT – As Easter nears dietary constraints for the more devout adherents to the Orthodox faith becoming increasingly strict and by the week preceding the Easter weekend, many foodstuffs are forsaken altogether. Meat, wine, and even oil become an off-limits giving way to simple, austere foods based on pasta, bread, vegetables and other basic foods.

EASTER WEEKEND – Following midnight mass on Easter Saturday, families traditionally head home for a bowl of offal soup marking the end of the preceding dietary restrictions. The offal comes from the lamb that on a spit roast will form the central part of the family meals that occur the following day on Easter Sunday. Large gatherings are punctuated by music, dance, food, and drink during the afternoon and into the night as the smell of spit-roast lamb lingers in the air. Easter Sunday is arguably the most important meal in the Greek calendar

MAYDAY – The 1st of May marks another public holiday in Greece, with families heading into the countryside to enjoy open-air picnics. Flowers are gathered and turned into wreaths or bouquets which are kept and then burnt on the 24th of June, the Feast of St John the Baptist.

ASSUMPTION DAY – The 15th of August witnesses a mass movement of people in Greece to celebrate the Assumption with family gatherings centered around a reunion meal

GENESIS TIS PANAGIAS – Virgin’s Birthday is celebrated on the 8th of September with religious ceremony and the family feast.

OHI DAY – 28th October. Translated as ‘No!’ This day marks the refusal by Metaxas to allow passage through Greece to Mussolini’s troops during the Second World War. It is marked with services of remembrance, military, and civil ceremonies and, naturally, feasting.

CHRISTMAS DAY – Although Easter is by far the most important part of the Orthodox calendar, Greeks do celebrate Christmas Day with church services and family gatherings

Christmas Delights: Traditional Flavors

Christmas in Greece is a time of culinary enchantment. Chistopsomto, a loaf of bread drizzled with honey, holds a special place in Christmas Eve celebrations. Karythopita, a walnut spice cake, takes center stage in households across the Ionian islands. Turkey, lamb, or pork form the centerpiece of holiday dinners, accompanied by delectable Melomakarona cookies and Kataifi confections adorned with cinnamon and sugar. These delightful treats create an atmosphere of joy and indulgence during the holiday season.

Easter Extravaganza: A Unique Experience

Easter in Greece is an extraordinary affair, replete with timeless traditions and mouthwatering delicacies. From the traditional bread called Tsoureki to succulent lamb roasting on a spit, Easter brings together family, friends, and an abundance of delicious food. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself participating in Tsougrisma, the egg-tapping game that adds an element of fun to the Easter celebrations.

Fasting and Lenten Dishes: A Testament to Tradition

Various times of the year will see the same dishes being served up in households across the whole of the country. The most noted of these are related to the church calendar although some are related simply to the availability, or abundance, of certain foodstuffs at a given time of the year. Fasting and Lent hold significant importance in Greek Orthodox tradition, and during these periods, Greeks embrace a vegetarian and vegan diet. From the hearty Gigantes Plaki, which features giant beans cooked in a rich tomato sauce, to the refreshing Tzatziki made with yogurt and cucumbers, fasting dishes demonstrate the versatility and creativity of Greek cuisine.

Pronunciation of Common Foods

  • Aubergine – Melitzana
  • Beef – Vodino Kreas (Beefsteak – Brizola / Bifteki)
  • Bread – Psomi
  • Cheese – Tiri
  • Chicken – Kotopoulo
  • Cucumber – Aggouri
  • Egg – Avgo
  • Eggplant – (see Aubergine)
  • Fish – Psari
  • Ham – Hoiromeri
  • Lamb – Arnaki / Kreas Arnisio / Xoirodo
  • Octopus – Htapodi
  • Pork – Hoirino
  • Potato – Patata
  • Sardine – Sarthela
  • Shrimp – Ghiaritha
  • Spinach – Spanaki
  • Squid – Soupia
  • Tomato – Domatia
  • Tuna – Tonos
  • Lettuce – Marouli
  • Watermelon –Karpoúzi

Notes on the Greek alphabet : Beta should sound more like an English V, Delta is sounded on, rather than behind the teeth more akin to English TH (which in both instances have been substituted in pronunciations above), X has a sound similar to an English K.


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Greek food refers to the cuisine traditionally eaten by the people of Greece. Some popular dishes include moussaka (a baked dish made with eggplant and spiced ground meat), tzatziki (a dip made from strained yogurt, cucumber, garlic, salt, olive oil, and lemon juice), Dolmades (stuffed grape leaves usually filled with rice, herbs, and sometimes minced meat), spanakopita (spinach and feta and cheese wrapped in filo pastry), and calamari (deep-fried squid rings). Greek cuisine often features fresh ingredients like olives, lemons, tomatoes, and seafood. Many Greeks incorporate healthy fats like olive oil into their cooking as well. Overall, Greek food has earned a reputation for being flavorful, nutritious, and satisfying!

Greek food is considered healthy due to several factors. Firstly, it relies heavily on fresh produce such as vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains which provide essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants that help keep our body strong and resistant against diseases. Secondly, Greeks use mostly monounsaturated fat which is found primarily in olive oil. Monounsaturated fat is rich in antioxidants, helps regulate cholesterol levels, and supports heart health. Thirdly, many traditional Greek recipes involve marination using vinegar which enhances flavors but also reduces the amount of salt used. Fourthly, dairy products used in Greek cuisine contain beneficial properties like calcium, probiotics, etc., finally, Greeks consume less red meat compared to other cultures. As a result of all these healthy elements, Greek food offers long-lasting energy without causing unnecessary weight gain.

Many traditional Greek dishes are naturally vegetarian or can be easily modified. Some vegetarian-friendly choices include Greek salads, stuffed peppers and tomatoes, vegetable souvlaki, and Gigantes Plaki (baked giant beans in tomato sauce). Vegans can enjoy dishes such as Fava (pureed split pea dip), Briam (roasted vegetable medley), and Melitzanosalata (eggplant dip).

Greek desserts are a delightful end to any Greek meal. Baklava, a pastry made with layers of filo dough, nuts, and honey, is an iconic Greek dessert. Loukoumades, deep-fried dough balls drizzled with honey and sprinkled with cinnamon, are another popular sweet treat. Other traditional desserts include Galaktoboureko (semolina custard pie), Kataifi (shredded pastry with a nut filling), and Ravani (semolina cake with syrup).

Greek coffee, also known as “Ellinikos Kafes,” is prepared by boiling finely ground coffee beans in a briki (a small pot). It is known for its strong flavor and thick texture. Greek coffee is usually served in small cups and enjoyed slowly. Unlike other types of coffee that are filtered or brewed, Greek coffee retains the coffee grounds, resulting in a unique and robust taste.

Greek meze refers to a selection of small dishes served as appetizers or snacks. It is a central part of Greek culinary culture and is typically enjoyed with friends and family, accompanied by drinks like ouzo or tsipouro. Meze dishes can include a variety of options such as olives, tzatziki, feta cheese, dolmades, grilled octopus, keftedes (meatballs), and various dips and spreads. The communal aspect of sharing meze encourages a convivial atmosphere and adds to the overall enjoyment of the meal.

Yes, Greek cuisine boasts several regional specialties, each with its own unique flavors and ingredients. For example, on the island of Crete, you’ll find dishes like Dakos (a salad with dried bread, tomatoes, and feta), Kalitsounia (cheese or herb-filled pastries), and Gamopilafo (wedding rice pilaf). In the northern region of Macedonia, you can savor dishes like Tavče Gravče (baked beans), Gyroflatia (meatballs in tomato sauce), and Bougatsa (sweet or savory pastry). Exploring regional specialties allows you to delve deeper into the diverse culinary landscape of Greece.

Greek wines have gained recognition for their quality and unique characteristics. When it comes to pairing Greek wines with Greek cuisine, there are several options to consider. For white wines, Assyrtiko from Santorini offers crisp acidity and mineral notes, making it a perfect match for seafood dishes. Moschofilero, a fragrant and floral white wine, pairs well with lighter dishes and salads. For red wine enthusiasts, Agiorgitiko from Nemea provides a balance of fruity flavors and gentle tannins, making it versatile for pairing with various meat dishes.


Many Greek recipes are accessible and can be recreated in your own kitchen. With readily available ingredients and simple instructions, you can enjoy the flavors of Greece right at home.

While feta cheese is a common ingredient in Greek salads, there are variations that include different types of cheese or omit it altogether. Greek salads celebrate the freshness of vegetables, and the choice of cheese can be adjusted to personal preferences.

Ouzo is traditionally served in small, narrow glasses. It is often enjoyed with water and ice, which creates a cloudy appearance and enhances the flavors of this anise-flavored spirit.

From Tavernas to Festivals

For those seeking an authentic Greek culinary experience, Greece itself is the ultimate destination.

Greek tavernas, cozy family-run restaurants, offer a warm and welcoming atmosphere, serving up traditional dishes that have been passed down through generations.