One of the most authentic cultural elements of a place is gastronomy.
At the same time, food is also a form of communication, a way to “speak” to someone’s heart.
Greek cuisine is rich in flavors and aromas. It has a history of around 4,000 years, with special characteristics based on pure and quality goods of the Greek land.
There is more to the Greek cuisine than just moussaka, gyros, souvlaki and the famous Greek Salad choriatiki.
It offers a great variety of delicious and healthy dishes that can fully satisfy everyone, both vegetarians and meat lovers.
Greeks use good quality fresh ingredients, herbs and spices and the famous Greek olive oil.
Do not forget to also try the Greek feta cheese. The sheep and goats are free-ranging and the pastures have all kind of flowers so the Greek meat and milk have a unique taste that cannot be compared. Mediterranean seafood is much tastier than those from the oceans. The Aegean and Ionian Seas are crystal clear and rich with fish. Fresh fish on the grill is considered to be a true delight.
Greeks gathering around the table to enjoy a meal or various hors d’oeuvres (mezedes) with ouzo is a tradition that every Greek maintains respectfully. The Greek word “symposium” means “drinking, eating, talking with friends”.
The atmosphere in an ordinary Greek restaurant or tavern is relaxing, simple and informal. On the other hand the preparation of the food has its own rules. A good cook can spend days preparing a meal for his/her friends.
McDonald’s and Pizza Hut have made a significant presence in Greece over the past 15 years. However, they face strong competition from the popular local chains.
Goody’s is the most popular fast-food chain in the country, offering a large variety of fast food meals, with numerous outlets throughout the country. A more recent chain is Everest which specializes in hand-held snacks.
Flocafé is gaining popularity through its coffee and dessert items. There are also many independently-owned fast food businesses that offer typical fast food items, such as gyros. Many of these small businesses tend to be open late at night, and are popular with younger crowds on their way home from a night out.
Drink a glass of ouzo or wine with grilled octopus or any other Greek dish while sitting under the shade of a tree in a small tavern by the sea on an island. When you return home, try to repeat this experience by preparing the same meal and serving the same drink.
Wherever you try to repeat this, you will soon realize that it does not “taste” the same. It’s not that something is wrong with your palate or your culinary skills; it’s that the Greek ritual when eating a meal –mainly a combination of what you are eating and where you are eating it- cannot be repeated, extracted or copied. It is simply something you can only find, taste and enjoy in Greece!
Well known Greek dishes are: moussaka, pastitsio, spanakopita, fasolada, Souvlaki, skordalia, tzatziki, feta cheese, olives, stifado, spetzofai, saganaki, paidakia
Sweet deserts are: diples, galaktoboureko, melomakarona
Drinks: ouzo, metaxa, retsina, frappe (instant nescafe)
Herbs / spices: oregano, mint, onion, basil, thyme, cinnamon, cloves
To be able to purchase alcohol in Greece you must be 18, but there is no legal drinking age. Greece, an ancient wine producing country, offers a wide variety of local wines
The traditional domestic Greek alcoholic beverages products in Greece are easily available, mostly cheap by European standards, and usually of good quality. For non-local drinks avoid places that mainly cater to young (such as all-inclusive resorts in party islands) as drinks there will, more often than not, be mixed with ingredients (thus, giving them the name “bomba” which means bomb) that will make you feel sorry the following morning. Stick to decent places that cater mainly to Greeks.
Wine is most Greeks’ drink of choice.
Almost every tavern has “barrel wine,” usually local, which is usually of good quality and a bargain (but check this before ordering when you are in a touristy area!).
If they have it, try also the Imiglyko (Half-Sweet) red, even if sweet wine is usually not your preferred thing, it is different from anything you know.
Retsina is a “resonated wine” with a strong, distinctive taste that can take some getting used to; the flavor comes from pine resin, which was once employed as a sealant for wine flasks and bottles.
Ouzo is the most famous Greek liquor, an anise-flavored strong spirit (37.5%), which is transparent by itself but turns milky white when mixed with water (ouzo effect). Mainlanders do not drink ouzo with ice, but tourists and Greek islanders generally do.
Raki or tsikoudia is the Greek equivalent of the Italian grappa, produced by boiling the remains of the grapes after the wine has been squeezed off. It is quite strong (35-40% of alcohol) and in the summer months it is served cold. It costs very little when one buys it in supermarkets or village stores. In Crete, raki is traditionally considered an after-dinner drink and is often served with fruit as dessert
In northern Greece it is also called tsipouro.
Keep in mind that It’s common to charge a cover fee in restaurants, especially of the intermediate to high quality ones, officially (i.e. stating it in a receipt), such as €0.30 to €2 per person, which sometimes includes bread or bread sticks and some kind of vegetable or olive plate but if it’s above €2 you should really consider eating somewhere else.
A glass of water is traditionally served free of charge with any drink you order. Sometimes you even get a glass of water first and then get asked what you want to drink. Sometimes you might as well get a bottle instead of just a glass. In touristy areas you might have to ask for a glass of water if you want one. If you don’t get water with a coffee you just stepped into a tourist-trap. In general ask for a glass of water or a jug of water that is free of charge, or steel-cap bottled water that you have to pay for it in a very reasonable price.
Tap water in most places a traveller would go today is drinkable; if in doubt, ask your hotel. But often though technically drinkable it doesn’t taste very good, especially on some small islands (as it is imported in and heavily chlorinated), and many travellers, like many Greeks, prefer to stick to bottled water.
Coffee is an important part of Greek culture.
The country is littered with coffee shops called cafeterias that serve coffee, especially among the under 40. They tend to be pretty trendy yet relaxing and serve a variety of beverages from coffee, to wine, beer, spirits, as well as snacks, desserts, and ice cream. In the pleasant months of spring, summer, and fall, all cafeterias provide outdoor tables/seating and they are busiest with customers in the late afternoon and evening hours. Several also double as bars towards the evening.
They are found even in the smallest village, where they traditionally serve a function similar to that of the village pub in Ireland. Their clientele tends to be overwhelmingly men over 50, however everyone is welcome, male or female, young or old, Greek or foreigner; and you will be treated extremely courteously.
During the hot summer months, the most popular coffee at the cafeterias is frappe shaken iced instant coffee. This is actually an original Greek coffee and can be really refreshing, ordered with or without milk, sweetened or unsweetened.