The cuisine in Greece varies from region to region, and island to island. The country’s capital, Athens, is a vibrant city and this is certainly reflected in its definitely own unique cuisine. Here, locals usually skip breakfast – my ‘food guide’ in the city recently told me that the “standard” breakfast is usually coffee and a cigarette. Though lunch is also not treated as a big deal, dinners are regarded as the day’s main meal and are often enjoyed with family and friends.
If you happen to visit Athens, I’m sharing with you a list of delicious foods to try while strolling through Greece’s capital. May they inspire you to plan a scrumptious food tour in this stunning Meditteranean destination!
The equivalent of the New York bagel, the Koulouri bread can easily be found all over Athens. They are eaten before going to work, on lunch break, or even after work, on the way home. While there are various versions of it, in its simplest form, the bagel is covered with sesame seeds. And yes, a cup of frappe usually accompanies the snack.
Koulouri has ancient origins and they have come to Athens by way of Thessaloniki. The word itself is linked to “kollyra”, the round bread served to the slaves.
The traditional Greek salad, Horiatiki is a dish well known all over the world. There are certain things that make it a “proper” salad (and not a variety for tourists). First of all, the Greek salad has no lettuce in it. Secondly, feta (or a local cheese) comes on top in a big slab (not small pieces).
Generally, Horiatiki consists of tomatoes, cucumbers, green bell peppers, red onions, Kalamata olives, feta, olive oil, and a sprinkle of oregano. You can order it as part of a shared meal of mezedes (appetizers). Or as a side dish along with an order of fresh grilled fish, for example.
Musaka (or moussaka) is an eggplant based dish which includes ground meet. In Greece, that meat is beef (or lamb). The dish is actually offered all over the Levant, the Middle East, and the Balkans, but of course, each country has its own variety.
The bottom layer of the dish consists of sliced eggplant sautéed in olive oil; the middle layer is the ground meat lightly cooked with tomatoes, onion, garlic, and spices; the top layer is the béchamel sauce. The dish is typically served warm. Enjoy it for lunch at the city’s traditional taverna.
The classic yogurt dip, tzatziki can usually be found in the “mezedes” part of any taverna’s menu. The Greek yogurt dip is thick. The yogurt and the grated cucumbers are both strained overnight before they come together with garlic, salt, and sometimes dill.
It is a great meze to order by itself but you can also pair it with meat, especially lamb.
Another filling meze, spanakopita or spinach pie, is a Greek savory pastry. The traditional filling comprises feta, spinach, onions, egg, and seasoning. It is layered onto filo pastry and then baked to perfection. There is even a Lent (vegan) version which excludes cheese and eggs. In this version, other green herbs are added into the mix, such as dill or parsley.
You can also find spanakopita served as a snack in a calzone-like shape.
Fried cheese or saganaki is a dish best enjoyed warm – exactly when it comes to the table- and as part of the shared mezedes ( or mezes). To me, it’s absolutely perfect when it has a crisp golden crust, while the interior remains soft and slightly melted.
Greek stuffed zucchini blossoms
The stuffed zucchini blossoms come with different fillings depending on where you try them. They can be stuffed with a mixture of feta and herbs, or with rice. There’s plenty of delicious Lent friendly varieties – which do not contain cheese nor meat – but there are also recipes which include meat on offer. The meatless versions are served at room temperature.
The Greek honey balls are commonly spiced with honey and cinnamon. The puffy dough is deep fried and the golden balls are served piping hot. You would be interested to know that in ancient times, they were given as prizes to the winners of the Olympic games. Nowadays, they are a very popular dessert and one of those foods that need to make your bucket list.
Yogurt and honey
On the islands, this is your typical Greek breakfast: yogurt and local honey, together with the Greek coffee, of course. But the dish also morphs into dessert, often offered on the house.
And no, there is no such thing as “Greek yogurt”. The yogurt in Greece is thick, creamy, and made from a combination of sheep’s and goat’s milk.
*All photos by Cris Puscas and may not be used without permission.
Hungry for more? At BookCulinaryVacations.com you can find and browse through a vast selection of Mediterranean cuisine food tour where you’ll be able to not only enjoy the delectable local dishes but also learn how to make them too!