Greece is one of the top culinary destinations in the world. If you are wondering what to eat in Greece, these are ten typical dishes worth trying.
Greece, due to its long history and its geographical position between the West and the East, has a distinct culinary tradition. Recipes from ancient Greece and Byzantium are combined with influences from the Balkans and the Middle East. At the same time, during the 20th century, western influences mainly from Italian and French cuisine were incorporated into the Greek diet.
Each region of Greece has its own distinct dishes that are shaped differently according to traditions and the available raw materials. Of course, there are also dishes and ways of cooking that are found all over the country, and thus we can talk about a Greek Mediterranean cuisine and diet.
Check out our guide to street food in Athens!
What to eat in Greece: 10 typical Greek dishes
When planning out your wish list of foods to eat in Greece, make sure to include as many of the below dishes.
Perhaps one of the most famous Greek dishes worldwide is mousaka. Although it is a traditional food of the wider region of the Balkans and the Middle East, it became known through the Greek variation. This version was created by the Greek chef and writer Nikolaos Tselementes. It is a food that is baked in the oven and consists of three layers. The first layer consists of baked or fried vegetables, usually eggplants (but also zucchini or potatoes). The second layer consists of minced meat cooked with tomato sauce. And finally, the last layer is a milk-based sauce thickened with egg or flour.
Mousaka used to be a favorite specialty of many restaurants, but in recent years, due to the complexity of its preparation, there have been fewer restaurants that make it. But it is really worth looking for and trying this unique dish that will fill you with the flavors and aromas of the Mediterranean.
Pastisio is another famous Greek dish, somewhat similar to mousaka, that is an invention of Tselementes. Although it started as a chef’s recipe, it became so loved by the Greeks that it became a favorite food in many homes.
It is a food that is made in the oven and consists of three layers: boiled pasta, minced meat with tomato sauce, and béchamel. In many cases, the pasta and minced meat are mixed in one layer. Over time, pastitsio became one of the dishes that housewives prepared on Sundays and holidays, while at the same time, it became one of the most popular dishes in Greek taverns.
One of the most representative dishes of the Greek summer is kalamarakia, which actually are fried squids. The squids are cut into slices and dipped in batter, before they are fried in oil. The quality of the squid (whether it is hard or soft) varies, but the taste is excellent. You will find kalamarakia in all fish restaurants, and it can be eaten as an appetizer or main dish. It goes perfectly with a cold beer by the sea.
Another excellent and characteristic dish of the Greek summer is htapodi xidato (octopus marinated with vinegar). It is a traditional Greek dish full of Mediterranean aromas that is an integral part of a seafood meal. The octopus is boiled for several hours and then marinated in vinegar, olive oil, and other herbs.
Served with olive oil and oregano, it is the most popular appetiser to accompany ouzo. In taverns on islands or in fishing villages on mainland Greece, you will taste the tastiest octopus because, most of the times, it is freshly caught.
Ntolmades or Ntolmadakia is one of the most typical Greek dishes. Although some scholars believe that they have an ancient origin, what is certain is that they are a food from the Middle East and the Balkans (where they are found as sarmas). In Greece, they became known mainly by the refugees from Asia Minor.
Ntolmadakia are tender vine leaves stuffed either only with rice and spices (also known as yalaji) or with rice and minced meat. It is considered a dish of spring, as that is when the leaves are more tender. It is often served with yoghurt and is a unique taste experience.
One of those dishes that you don’t know about unless you visit Greece is fava. Also, although it is a traditional food, you don’t find it in all restaurants. It is a food originating in ancient Greece. The name fava appears in the text of a tragedy by Aeschylus in the sense of a lowly food. However, the first mention of it as a food in its current form was made by the Greek Dioskouridis in the 2nd century AD.
The fava beans are prepared from the peeled seeds of the legume lathuri. The seeds are boiled, ground, and served cold or hot with olive oil and onions. The most famous fava beans in Greece are produced in Santorini. It is a very tasty and cool vegan dish that you must try.
A traditional dish based on eggs is Kayianas. It is found mainly in the Peloponnese but also in the Ionian Islands, where they call it strapatsada. Its origin is probably Turkey or Persia, where you can find variants of the recipe. It is a simple dish that looks like an omelette.
It is made with scrambled eggs, tomatoes, feta cheese, and sometimes olives. The secret to the recipe is good ingredients. The tomatoes create a sweet aftertaste that is balanced by the feta cheese and the olives. It is a dish that, in recent years, has been included in restaurants with contemporary Greek cuisine and in places that serve brunch.
Pies are an integral part of the Greek diet and cuisine. Recipes for pies can be found almost all over Greece. A pie that, however, has stood out and can be considered purely Greek is definitely spanakopita. It is made either with traditional thick phyllo or with puff pastry in two variations. One version is only made with spinach and other herbs and spices (it is usually made during periods of fasting), and the other also has feta cheese.
It is a dish that is usually eaten as a quick meal or as a first course in a proper meal. A piece of spanakopita is a piece of Greece and is a delightful way to satisfy your hunger.
Roast lamb (or goat) is a typical meal that is usually combined with festive occasions (such as Christmas and Easter). It is a food found all over the Balkans and all over Greece (even on the islands). However, a dish that is a special delicacy and in reality utilises all those parts of the lamb that cannot be cooked together with the meat is kokoretsi.
It is lamb or goat intestines wrapped around offal. They include sweetbreads, hearts, lungs, and kidneys. The origin of the dish is Byzantine, but its name is Albanian. It is definitely a food for those who like heavy flavours and lots of spices, but it is a very tasty meat dish that deserves to be tried.
The most well-known and popular Greek street dish is souvlaki (also known as kalamaki). Although it could be obtained elsewhere, “souvlatzidika” are specialised eateries where it is primarily served. Ancient Greece may have been the place where souvlaki first appeared.
In his well-known work “Deipnosofistes,” the ancient author Athinaios mentions a dish called kandavlos, which consisted of grilled meat pieces served with bread, cheese, and dill herb. Small slices of meat and occasionally vegetables are roasted on a skewer to make a modern souvlaki. Although pork was used to make souvlaki in the beginning, today it is also made with chicken, beef, and lamb. It is typically eaten with bread but may also come with fried potatoes, pita bread, and lemon.
These ten dishes are just a small introduction to the culinary treasures of Greece. It is almost impossible to cover everything in one article.
Let your senses run free and discover without preconceptions the magic of Greek cuisine in the taverns and restaurants that you will find in every part of the country, and always pay attention to the suggestions of the locals.