Greeks love their food. They love to eat and love to feed others; this is one place you’re guaranteed never to feel hungry. Unlike the typical British or American three square meals a day, the Greeks eat up to five times a day.
Greek food uses mainly fresh local ingredients such as Mediterranean vegetables, olive oil, lemon juice, various types of fish and meat, as well as grains. Dishes are flavoursome and packed with variety of fresh and dried herbs. If you’re heading to the Mediterranean to graze on Greek food – five times a day, of course – then you should have room for at least a few of these delicious dishes.
One of Greece's most famous dishes, moussaka consists of layers of fried aubergine, minced meat and potatoes, topped with a creamy béchamel sauce and then baked until golden brown. Some restaurants will also serve an equally delectable vegetarian version.
Another of Greece’s national dishes, although not so well known internationally, is this classic white bean soup. It’s a simple, yet hearty affair consisting of beans, crushed tomatoes, and vegetables such as onions, carrots and celery. It’s often flavoured with thyme, parsley and bay leaves.
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Walk around any of the big Greek cities such as Athens or Thessaloniki in the mornings and you’ll often see locals on their way to work munching on koulouri – large soft bread rings covered in sesame seeds. They’re often sold from yellow street carts and eaten on the go with a cup of coffee.
A Greek delicacy loved by children and adults alike, loukoumades are small fried doughnut-like balls drenched in honey syrup and sprinkled with various toppings such as cinnamon or crushed walnuts. People usually order a large plate of them to share with friends or family.
Perennially popular all over the world, these grilled meat (usually pork) skewers are often served with tzatziki (a sauce made from yoghurt, cucumber and mint), pita bread, salad or rice.
Eaten as an accompaniment to a main meal, dolmades are vine or grape leaves stuffed with herby, lemony rice and folded over to create a small parcel, which is then steamed. You can also find them filled with meat or vegetables.
The Greeks love their pies and you can find many varieties, from those made with enriched dough to those made from flaky phyllo (also filo) pastry and filled with anything from aubergines or meat to greens or cheese. The most classic is the spanakopita – phyllo pastry layered with feta cheese and spinach and flavoured with dill. Another favourite is tyropita – crunchy phyllo pastry wrapped around a savoury cheese filling.
A bit like a kebab, a gyro is a typical Greek sandwich. It consists of pieces of meat (usually chicken, pork, lamb or beef) cooked on a rotisserie and wrapped in a flatbread or pita along with salad, onions and a variety of sauces. Vegetarian versions can include grilled halloumi (a salty Cypriot cheese made from a mix of sheep’s and goat’s milk) or feta cheese instead of the meat.
These sweet custard slices, made with layers of flaky phyllo pastry and sprinkled with cinnamon, are worth a visit to Greece alone, even if you don’t do anything else. They’re best eaten warm, straight from the oven.
Found all over Greece, Turkey and the Middle East, baklavas are small sweet pastries soaked in honey-like syrup and layered with crushed nuts such as walnuts or almonds. In central Greece they are made with almonds, in the eastern regions with walnuts and in northern Greece with pistachios.
Similar to Italian lasagne, but made with small macaroni instead of pasta sheets, this is Greek comfort food at its best. It’s made by layering ground beef or lamb with macaroni and béchamel sauce and is often flavoured with cinnamon, nutmeg and Greek herbs. Sometimes it’s also topped with grated cheese before being baked in the oven.
Top image: Traditional Greek Souvlaki © hlphoto/Shutterstock