Do you have a napkin or a small towel handy? If not, perhaps you want to grab one. Because reading about Greek food – be it an in-depth exploration of the cuisine or simply a traveller’s list of what to eat – is nothing short of a drool-icious journey.
Observe the way Greeks eat and you will note the role geography plays in the selection of produce. Greece has the longest coastline in the Mediterranean basin and 11th longest coastline in the world. While 80% of Greece is mountainous region, it has several islands of which around 227 are said to be inhabited. All of this translates into lot of fresh fish, vegetables, fresh and dried herbs, lemon, olives and olive oil!
Athens was the first time I experienced Greek food. One does not count the Greek salad served at restaurants in your city unless a Greek has made the salad. #enoughsaid
We – my travel companions and I – loved the fresh produce available at all the restaurants we visited. As per locals, in this case the servers and hosts at restaurants we visited, Greek cuisine leans towards fish and vegetables over meat of any kind. In terms of meat too, there is a tendency to opt for lamb for the succulent souvlakis or gyros. Almost every dish has variations – be it different households or as you move from the mainland to the islands.
Here is a list of traditional Greek food that I sampled and absolutely loved hence strongly recommend. p.s we did get our camera stolen so all the photographs are those clicked on our phones.
Fish, fish and more fish
Remember the long coastal line I mentioned? Seafood, especially fish of different kind, is an absolute must have. These are best eaten at small tavernas. Order a grilled fish and you will re-realise the magic of herbs used to marinade the fish before it is cooked, drizzled with a mix of lemon juice and olive oil and served with a side of fried potatoes and rice.
In the rush of ticking places off the must visit list, I had missed out on sampling the gyros till the last day. The gyros is the local fast food and one of the most popular foods for the take-and-go category or when you are in a hurry and need a filling lunch or dinner. Gyros is a wrap wherein slivers of meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie are stuffed in pita with some sliced onion, tomato, a dash of tzatziki and served wrapped in parchment. The best way for a tourist to enjoy this is to settle down at a taverna in the lane off Monastiraki Square where taverna owners jostle with each other to pounce on customers. Wolf down that gyros as you rub shoulders with people from different countries or even locals seated behind you or at the next table and from the corner table, watch the world go by.
Gyros is best enjoyed with the traditional Greek salad i.e. the Horiatiki. The authentic stuff is going to make you swoon. Unlike the fancy variations available in restaurants worldwide, the traditional horiatiki is a wholesome affair as fresh tomatoes, cucumber, red onion and fat olives are seasoned with salt and oregano, topped with a huge chunk of feta cheese and then all of it is given a healthy drizzle of olive oil. I swear you will moan in delight when the flavours do the jiggy whiggy in your mouth.
This seemed to me to be a chilly night hearty meal kind of dish. The meat – lamb obviously! – along with spices are packed in a parcel which is then cooked until the meat and the spices do their mingling bit to produce a fragrant, delicious meal. Something you want to have while snuggled in your favourite sweater and watching your favourite romantic comedy or the latest action flick. Didi1 chose this for dinner on our last night in Athens when we strolled into one of those open restaurants near Hadrian’s Library.
This one I had to miss as I am allergic to brinjal/aubergine but having heard fellow food lovers rave about this layered meat and vegetable dish, I ordered a serving for Didi and my BIL2 as part of our evening snack. Moussaka is something that the locals apparently prefer to eat lunch but there are some restaurants that do have it on their dinner menu. Didi and BIL loved the moussaka. The only thing: “Share it with someone if you want to eat other stuff. This is heavy.” But then, we thought we would be unable to eat dinner after a snack at 6pm. Imagine our surprise (or not!) when we were out at 10pm for dinner the same day.
The favouritest thing from my trip, the souvlaki is something that I attempted to make at home too. Check out the Greek style kebabs, the Chicken Souvlaki for my easy as a breeze version of this grilled meat. Served with pita or herbed rice with salad or fries, there is much tastiness happening here despite the limited use of herbs and spices.
Greek dips – the Tzatziki and Fava Dip
Oooooo… what can I say about these two delightful dips. Another one of those amazing things that are deceptively simple but pack a punch with flavours, as was evident when I successfully managed to pull off whipping up a batch. Read my attempts at making the tzatziki on ‘Dip’ it Greek style: Skordalia & Tzatziki.
I have never been a fan of zuchinni/courgette but these little fried balls of the herbed vegetable had me at first bite! Crispy on the outside, perfectly cooked inside, these little balls are made with the flowers that are stuffed with spices, dipped in a batter and fried till crispy brown. The best appetizers ever! Dip in tzatziki for a cool, fresh pairing.
This was one itsy bitsy dish that I was not too keen on. Perhaps the balance of tart and mush did not endear to my palate. But my sister did enjoy it. The dolmades are a dish of grape leaves stuffed with a herbed rice preparation, tied and then cooked. Mostly served as a part of a meze platter or an appetizer, it can serve as a meal for one person too.
Stuff I want to eat the next time I am in Greece
* Saganaki – fried cheese
* Loukoumades – crispy fried doughnuts smothered in honey, dusted with sugar and sprinkled with chopped nuts (sugar overload!)
* Koulouria – I am still at a loss as to why and how I missed seeing the loukoumades and koulouria despite being told that they are available at stalls.
* Yemista – Can’t eat a lot in just three days can we! Had to miss out on the stuffed tomato and bell peppers delicacy but next time, you and I have a date my lovely.
* Spanakopita – spinach, cheese, vegetables, filo pastry and olive oil. Hungry yet?
* Galaktoboureko – a custard filled pastry
* Taramosalata – not sure whether I want to try this or not. I am a non vegetarian but fishes make me think twice. And a dip made of fish eggs definitely does.
Some eating out tips
- Greeks have 4 to 5 meals in a day so those used to late dinners need not worry. Most restaurants are open well into the night. We had dinner at 11.30pm once.
- If you need help deciding on the food and can’t figure out the menu, just ask the server. The Greeks are friendly and would be more than willing to guide you.
- You should know by now that a lot of Greek food is vegetarian. So don’t go around looking for a vegetarian restaurant; you might end up paying extra.
- Binge on local desserts please and if you want to have ice cream, then local dairies or handmade. Taste the local.
Photos: Rapti Bhaumick
1 Didi – older sister
2 BIL – Brother In Law