Everywhere you go in Greece, you will find the local tavernas and ouzeries exuding rich smells and offering inviting atmospheres. Greek food culture embraces the flow of the country’s culture as a whole. With every celebration or holiday, traditional Greek foods set the stage for long gathering meals that can last well into the night. The night before Easter Sunday, Greeks return from church after midnight to gather with family and friends to eat what is called the Mayeretsa. The Mayeretsa is a soup made from tripe of lamb, and flavored with lemon and dill. The next morning, the rest of the lamb is slow roasted manually for a celebratory lunch where wine and ouzo flow well into a night full of song and dance. Ouzo is a clear and strong Greek liqueur that is flavored with anise. It is a very popular Greek drink and goes well with Greek foods.
A large part of the Greek food culture are mezedes,
which are akin to appetizers, or like the tapas you might
find in Spain. It is
typical for a glass of ouzo or tsipouro to accompany the
mezedes. Tsipouro is a distilled alcohol version of pomace
brandy. Tsipouro is most commonly associated with the
island of Crete, and on the mainland
in Thessaly, Macedonia and Epirus. Mezedes can be found
offered in most Greek eateries and among the most notable
is the “Greek Salad”, or Horiatiki Salata.
Of course feta cheese is part of this arrangement of sliced
tomatoes and cucumber, olives, green pepper, a dash or
two of oregano and Greek olive oil. Some would argue that
the olive oil produced in Greece is the best in the world,
and it certainly is a rich part of the Greek diet. Tzatziki
is essential among Greek foods, and is served in all authentic
restaurants in Greece. Tzatziki is yogurt mixed with olive
oil and diced cucumbers and garlic. Of course a popular
meze would be saganaki; the delicious fried cheese. Other
typical mezedes you can expect to find at restaurants
in Greece are Spanakopita, which are small spinach pies
with a dash of feta cheese, and tiropitakia which is a
small pie made usually with feta cheese or kasseri cheese.
Feta cheese, the signature cheese of Greece, is a curd
cheese that has been soaked in brine. It comes from the
milk of either, or in some cases both, goats or sheep.
Many of the main dishes you will find at a Greek restaurant will contain some form of meat, although many vegetarian Greek dishes take advantage of the local vegetables and herbs to create wonderful dishes as well. Moussaka is popular among Greek foods and consists of potatoes upon which eggplant, onions, minced beef and béchamel are layered. Another popular Greek dish is Pastitsio, which is akin to the lasagna you might find in Italy. Béchamel is also among the toppings of this dish. Throughout Greece, lamb is the most frequently used meat in Greek dishes. Two lamb dishes you can expect to find at a Greek restaurant are Paidakia, or grilled rib of lamb eaten with lemon, and Kokoretsi, which is the entrails of lamb that are barbecued.
During the winter, Greek soups become a larger part of the Greek food culture, serving more or less as a comfort food. Psarossoupa is a certain fish soup flavored with parsley that also usually has potatoes and carrots. In the islands, Kakavia is a simple fish soup enjoyed throughout. If you drank to much ouzo on your Greece vacation, a popular hangover remedy in Greece is tripe soup, or Patsa. Enjoy!
Most Greek islands have their local dishes, and Santorini and Crete are two good examples. Tomato balls, fresh split peas and cooked capers are just some of the flavors of Santorini. A local Santorini favorite is Apoxti, which is a type of ham that has been cured. Santorini produces a variety of wines from grapes excellently nourished by the volcanic rich soil. In Crete, honey is a popular commodity, as well as the island’s olive oil. Some studies have shown the Cretan diet, as it is called, to be among the healthiest. Rich in breads, vegetables and fruit, the Cretan diet reflects what the island produces directly. Boureki is baked dish from Crete with courgettes, potatoes and tomatoes that are sliced and layered with mint, soft white cheese and locally grown oregano. Crete is also known to produce some very good wines, like Santorini.
The most popular Greek restaurants are tavernas, ouzeries
and souvlaki shops. Tavernas are eateries that usually
specialize in a special type of dish and serve popular
or local dishes along with ouzo, wine and beer. Most Greeks
have their favorite taverna, and some nights, the eating
and drinking can erupt into hours of conversations, as
well as singing and dancing. Ouzeries are typically a
small Greek restaurant serving mezedes that you wash down
with ouzo. You can also order wine and beer. In many villages
and towns in Greece, you can find a few tavernas and likely
an ouzerie or two. Along the coast especially, you can
find psarotavernas, which are tavernas that specialize
in seafood dishes. And for dessert, a classic among Greek