What to Eat and Drink in Greece

Greek Food

When I’m not traveling, half of what makes me want to go somewhere, anywhere, is the idea of eating more interesting food. While we certainly have Greek restaurants where I live, in Raleigh, it’s not the same as eating in a real Greek restaurant in Greece.

So here’s my list of foods and drinks to look forward to, seek out, and try when you visit Greece. My biggest tip for eating in Greece is to go hungry!

Souvlaki and Gyros

For some quick and easy street food, try souvlaki. Souvlaki is simply meat grilled on a skewer. Pork is most common, but it could be chicken, lamb, or occasionally other meats.

Souvlaki can be served on its own and eaten straight off the skewer, or served as souvlaki-pita (souvlaki meat wrapped in a pita with sliced tomatoes, onions, and tzatziki sauce, and fried potatoes either in the pita or on the side,) or souvlaki-merida (souvlaki meat served on a plate with fried potatoes, vegetables, sauce, and quartered pita.

Souvlaki is also sometimes called kalamaki, and to make things more confusing, ‘souvlaki’ sometimes just refers to any sort of pita wrap.

Gyros is meat shaved from a vertical rotisserie, then served in pita along with sliced tomatoes, onions, and tzatziki sauce, and fried potatoes either in the pita or on the side. Gyros is usually made with pork, but can also be found as chicken, lamb, or other meats.

Where to find good souvlaki and gyros in Greece:

  • O Thanasis near Monastiraki Square in Athens serves traditional gyros and souvlaki as well as vegetarian alternatives and is also great for people watching. It’s super touristy, but don’t worry about it.
  • Hoocut near Monastiraki Square in Athens offers elevated souvlaki.

Philo Pies

Pop into any bakery for a tyropita (cheese pie) or spanakopita (spinach pie).

Drinks

  • Ouzo is a liquor that is made primarily from distilled grapes and flavored with spices, primarily aniseed. It can be served in a small bottle or carafe with a bowl of ice cubes to dilute it, and sipped alongside mezedhes. Alternatively it can be served chilled as an aperitif.
  • Raki, nicknamed Cretan fire-water, is a spirit distilled from what’s leftover after pressing grapes for wine.
  • Vinsanto is a naturally sweet white wine from sun-dried grapes, from Santorini.
  • Retsina is produced by the addition of pine resin during fermentation of white wines.

Where to find good drinks in Greece:

  • We did this wine tour on Santorini, which allowed us to learn about the unique way the grapes are grown (they basically look dead), and try wines at three different wineries.

Mezedhes

I could pretty much live off of mezedhes alone. Mezedhes (meze for short) are small dishes that are great for sharing and usually served as appetizers. Many of them are dips so make sure you get some warm bread or pita to go with them.

  • Tzatziki is a dip or sauce made with yogurt, cucumber, and garlic.
  • Melitzanosalata is an eggplant dip.
  • Taramasalata is a fish roe dip, if you’re into that kind of thing.
  • Tyrokafteri is a lightly spicy cheese and pepper dip.
  • Fava is a specialty of Santorini and is a fava bean puree with lemon juice and topped with onions.
  • Gigantes is giant white beans in tomato sauce.
  • Keftedes are meatballs.
  • Tomatokeftedes are tomato fritter balls found in the Cyclades.
  • Loukaniko is pork sausage.
  • Grilled gavros are white anchovies.
  • Dolmades (dolmas for short) are grape leaves stuffed with rice and sometimes minced meat.
  • Cheese saganaki is cheese fried in a small frying pan.

Where to find good meze in Greece:

Mayirefta

Mayirefta are basically casseroles that can be prepared in advance and eaten hot or at room temperature. These are staples of every taverna.

  • Moussaka is eggplant baked with minced meat, potatoes, béchamel, and cheese, and is often referred to as Greek lasagna.
  • Gemista is tomatoes or peppers, hollowed out, stuffed with rice and herbs, and baked. Sometimes minced meat is also added.
  • Pastitsio is macaroni baked with minced meat and béchamel.

Where to find good mayirefta in Greece:

Seafood

Seafood is a major component of Greek food. You’ll find many varieties prepared many ways and you should jump at the chance to try all of them. Grilled fish is often drizzled with lemon and olive oil.

  • Calamari or cuttlefish – fried, grilled, or stuffed with cheese and herbs
  • Shrimp – fried, grilled, or as shrimp saganaki (grilled in a small pan with tomato, pepper, and feta)
  • Octopus – grilled, marinated, or stewed in wine sauce
  • Anchovies or sardines – grilled or lightly fried and eaten whole or nibbled of the bone

Where to find good seafood in Greece:

Seafood platter at Cave of Nikolas
Seafood Platter at The Cave of Nikolas

Veggies

  • Horiatiki or Greek salad includes the essential ingredients of tomato, cucumber, onion, feta, olives, and often green bell peppers. It’s dressed with oregano and olive oil, and capers if you’re really lucky.
  • Fasolakia giahni is braised green beans.
  • Revithia is stewed chickpeas.
  • Horta is is boiled wild greens, usually served with olive oil and lemon.

Cheese

Most Greek cheeses are made using goat’s and sheep’s milk.

  • Feta is a brined white cheese made from sheep’s milk, or from a mixture of sheep’s and up to 30% of goat’s milk.
  • Graviera is a nutty, mild sheep’s milk cheese, similar to Gruyere.
  • Kasseri is a medium hard sheep’s milk cheese, similar to provolone.
  • Myzithra is a whey cheese made from goat’s or sheep’s milk, similar to ricotta.
  • Manouri is a semi-soft fresh cheese made from the whey that is drained from feta when it’s produced.

Where to find good cheese in Greece:

  • Geros Tou Moria Restaurant in the Plaka area of Athens offers a great atmosphere, a worthwhile experience, and extremely adequate food. But they don’t make their own cheese, so it’s the perfect opportunity to enjoy a cheese plate and some meze along with a few glasses of wine.
  • Another great option for sampling a number of cheeses is to do a wine tour with snack pairings such as this one we did on Santorini.

Dessert

You will find sweets shops everywhere, all with their own specialties. Stop in and try a few tasty looking things.

  • Baklava (thin layers of pastry filled with honey and nuts.
  • Greek yogurt drizzled with Greek honey is magical.
  • Halva is basically a dense semolina cake.
  • Loukoumades are airy Greek donuts with a crispy exterior.

Where to find good dessert in Greece:

  • Make your way to Tsagkaris Pastry on Hydra to pick up some amigdalota (cookies made with honey and almonds) and anything else that looks good.
  • Lukumades near Monastiraki Square in Athens has amazing loukoumades with all sorts of fun flavours. There will be a wait and it will be worth it.
  • Nancy’s Sweet Home near Monastiraki Square in Athens has options to satisfy every sort of sweet tooth.

Regional and Seasonal Greek Specialties

There is also a myriad of seasonal and regional specialties that are surely worth trying. I can’t speak to many of these, but ask at your hotel or airbnb if there’s anything local worth seeking out.

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