I must owe the fact that I left Greece without gaining 20 pounds to some sort of miracle–I could’ve sworn at least 75% of my time there was spent eating. My love affair with Greek food began the moment I arrived and carried on all the way through to the end.
In no particular order, these are some of the Greek delicacies that might just lead to a return flight to Athens sooner than later.
Plain olives. Olive oil. Olive bread. Olive spread. In Greece, where the olive tree was first cultivated, it only makes sense that olives rule supreme. The country contains 150 million olive trees over an area of 2.4 million acres and produces 400,000 tons of olive oil per year. This delicious and nutritious oil is a major staple of the Mediterranean diet, and olives have weaseled their way into just about every type of dish you could imagine. It’s a good thing I’ve recently discovered my own profound appreciation (bordering on obsession) for olives because I would have been hard-pressed to avoid them in Greece.
Ah, the pita, the world’s most versatile little pocket of bread. Another staple of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean diets everywhere, the pita can be eaten in a variety of ways and for any occasion. This pizza-like bread topped with feta was a pre-lunch appetizer at a restaurant called Elaionas in Aliki, a small village on the island of Paros. Pita is also ideal for dipping or filling to create a sandwich.
Strained yogurt mixed with cucumber, garlic, salt, olive oil, lemon juice and dill might not SOUND all that appealing, but this combination creates one of my absolute favorite Greek flavors. Tzatziki comes as a dip or as a topping for grilled meats. Whenever I went a few days without it, I’d be hit with a nasty tzatziki craving that wouldn’t go away until satisfied. Luckily, you can find it in any Greek restaurant.
The word ‘souvlaki’ is a confusing one, even sometimes for Greeks. It can be used as an umbrella term for a variety of grilled meat dishes, or it can mean a very specific plate of grilled pork skewers accompanied by pita bread, a small salad, tzatziki and french fries. Either way, souvlaki is the most popular fast food in Greece. And it’s cheap, too! I ate gyros pitas once a day on average, because a) they’re delicious and filling and b) they rarely cost me more than €2.50. The fact that they’re doused in tzatziki sauce only sweetens the deal.
Traditional Greek salads are light and refreshing. They make the perfect midday meal when the heat makes it hard to eat anything else, or they can be shared as an appetizer before a meaty dinner. The main ingredients are cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, olives, and a block of feta cheese, although on occasion they also contained capers. Greek salads are typically seasoned with salt and pepper and dressed with olive oil.
This baked, vegetarian appetizer is actually quite simple as well–it’s made by layering eggplant with tomatoes and feta cheese, seasoned with garlic and herbs, and topped with even more cheese. It’s amazing by itself or eaten with bread, and it’s not so heavy that you won’t still have room for your meal.
Much to my disappointment, I only came across this glorious dish one time while in Greece. This honey-drizzled, raisin-showered, sweet and salty delight was by far one of my favorites. It combines so many of my favorite things! Cheese! Carbs! Fried stuff! What more could a girl ask for? Kudos to Hotel Europa in Ancient Olympia for giving me something to dream about until my next trip to Greece.
This is not a good photo. It’s a terrible photo, in fact. But even a dimly lit, grainy iPhone shot can’t negate the utter deliciousness of Greek moussaka. Seasoned ground meat (beef or veal) is topped with a layer of thinly-sliced potatoes in a creamy, cheesy sauce, then baked to golden brown perfection. Moussaka is so sickeningly rich I could actually feel my arteries constricting as I ate. I couldn’t eat it regularly, that’s for sure, but the few times I did allow myself to order it, I never left a single bite behind. This particular moussaka was enjoyed at a restaurant called Barriello on the island of Milos.
Though traditionally a Middle Eastern food, falafel is commonly enjoyed throughout the rest of the Mediterranean as well. These fried balls of chickpea are typically far too dry to eat on their own, so they’re best when accompanied by tahini or hummus for dipping. I enjoyed falafel at a healthy vegetarian restaurant near Syntagma Square in Athens, aptly named Avocado.
Fava Bean Purée
This one is pretty much exactly what it sounds like–fava beans blended to a consistency perfect for spreading onto bread or a pita. It’s a common appetizer on Greek menus, but the absolute best one I tried was at Elia, a restaurant widely regarded as one of the best on the island of Ios. The menu leans more toward Greek fusion than traditional Greek, perhaps with the exception of the fava bean purée.
Again, not a great picture but man, if you could have tasted these mushrooms for yourself! This particular variety tastes startlingly similar to meat, especially when grilled. This was yet another treat enjoyed at the Taverna Garden of Hotel Europa in Ancient Olympia.
Pork ribs with Eggplant Purée
They told me the food in the north of Greece would be different from the traditional Greek food we’d had in the south. I can’t say I noticed a huge difference, but there were a few exceptions, this eggplant purée being one of them. Holy flavor explosion, Batman! Don’t get me wrong, the pork ribs were pretty incredible too, but the garlicky blend of eggplant that came with them really knocked my socks off. This was my lunch one afternoon in Thessaloniki, the port city in the Greece’s far north.
I couldn’t leave out Greece’s sweet treats altogether, now could I?! Baklava is actually of Turkish origin, but today many variations of the dessert exist in neighboring countries. It consists of thin, crispy layers of phyllo dough and chopped nuts, all held together by syrup or honey. It’s an absolute mess to eat but SO WORTH IT.
Greek food quickly made its way onto my list of favorite cuisines. Which country do you think has the best food?