Dining

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 foods, Baklava.

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