My Guide to Greek Food

By Nomadic Matt | Published May 21st, 2010

I’ve never really eaten much Greek food. All I ever knew about it was that it has strange names, gyros are really good, and I like Greek salad. I’m currently in Greece visiting the Greek islands and on this trip I was determined to dig into the local food. So far all my meals have involved traditional Greek food with every meal being a revolving door of new dishes. My thoughts? Greek food is delicious. There’s a lot of variety, a lot of good flavors, and lots of cheese and meat. Additionally, I always thought of Italians as masters of doing stuff with eggplant but the Greeks do just as good of a job. After doing some really “hard” research, here’s some of my favorite dishes:

Moussaka
Moussaka
This eggplant, cheese, and meat dish is by far my favorite Greek dish. I love eggplant (it’s one of my favorite foods) and this is the best. (I also like the stuffed eggplant.) The meat and eggplant are cooked under flavorful cheese with just the right amount of tomato sauce. In many ways it reminds of Eggplant Parmesan but a lot less saucy.

Greek Salad
delicious and healthy greek salad
I always thought a Greek salad was an American invention. Like Chinese food is Americanized with crab rangoons and sesame chicken, I always thought this salad was the same. Turns out, I was wrong. Of course though, in Greece it’s different. There’s no lettuce, a lot more tomatoes, and a big block of feta cheese on top. It’s not what I get back home….it’s way better. I tend to have it a lot for lunch.

Souvlaki
Souvlaki meal with side dishes
This is the complete package- meat, rice, and salad. You get a full meal here and the portions are quite big- no need for an appetizer! Souvlaki is what we Americans call a kebab- skewers of meat and vegetables grilled to perfection. It’s simply delicious. I love grilled food. There’s nothing better than the mix of grill tomatoes and chicken in your mouth.

Fried Cheese
greek fried cheese
There’s not much to say about this dish. It’s a big block of cheese fried to heart clogging goodness. Make sure you eat it right away otherwise the cheese gets hard and its not as nice.


Stuffed Vine leaves

traditional Greek stuffed vine leaves
Usually grape leaves stuffed with rice and meat, these are a great appetizer. Small finger sized portions make them easy to eat, the meat is very juicy, and the sauce (don’t know what it is) adds a lot of flavor to it. It’s a very traditional dish around Greece and Turkey. They are found everywhere. Great snack food too!

Kleftiko
Kleftiko, great cooked lamb
Lamb on the bone, this dish is succulent and savory. The lamb is mouthwatering. It’s said that this dish comes from bandits who used to steal lambs and cook them in sealed pits to avoid being seen. Yet cooking any meat this way, keeps the flavors in and makes the meat mouthwatering. There’s also a lot of garlic and lemon with this dish.

Gyro
the widely known and common Gyro
These wraps are a late night snack staple for me. Only about 3 Euros, I dig into these every night on my way home from a night out. It’s deliciously unhealthy….especially when they put french fries in them too! A cheap and quick meal, it is like they were created for the budget traveler!

Now this is just a small (emphasis on small) selection of Greek food. It’s just what I’ve tried and what I’ve liked. There is a lot more out there I have yet to try, though I’m going to make a great effort to! If you can’t make it to Greece to have these dishes, try them at your local Greek place. Your stomach will thank you. Now, after writing this article, I’ve gotten hungry myself and, luckily, it is dinner time here. I’m off to try more delicious food. Suggestions are welcome.

For more information, visit my page on backpacking Europe or my country and city guide to Greece.

comments 43 Comments

Deelicious!! Makes me want to go back to Greece right now! I love the food there, and am excited to replicate it here at home. :-)

Christine

Yum indeed! I would recommend you also try pastitsio (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pastitsio) and Greek pastries such as baklava with a Greek (or Turkish) coffee.

Jo

That fried cheese is “saganaki” and here in Australia (especially within the Greek community) we can’t get enough of it as an entree. Have you tried the “dolmades” with ouzo? I definitely recommend that combination ;)

I love grape vine leaves! I also used to love getting my late night gyros, the perfect end to an outrageously fun Greek Isle evening. Now I’m a vegetarian I don’t know what I would do. From the sounds of this I could well starve.

Wow Matt, excellent shots – I’m starving now. Thanks for that! I was on a really strict budget when I was in Greece and lived off of the gyros. Not healthy, but man are they good!

Bernd Fischel

Yummi for the tommi! I like Moussaka. In Berlin I used to frequent a Greek restaurant, where the cook was Turkish. Great food!

Matt Stop! The food looks too good! I have been dreaming of Greece for a while now and the food has always intrigued me. The eggplant dish looks amazing! And the salad – yum! I love salads without lettuce.

Out of curiosity – have you run into any problems due the economic issues they’re having?

Nikcii

oh you got me just that more pumped! i am off to greece next week and cannot wait to sink my teeth into one of those gyros and the real greek salad! (gotta balance the good and the bad (: )

Wow. *drool* looks sooo good, especially the fried cheese!

I think I do have to disagree with you about the eggplants. Chinese are actually masters of the veggie. Eggplant is not common in western Chinese food, but is it super common in China and so good. I actually didn’t like eggplant until we moved here.

Maybe China and Greece should have an eggplant cook-off! :)

Love, LOVE Greek food — it can be a bit time-consuming to make (especially moussaka and rolled grape leaves), but it is worth the effort, especially for special occasions (and if you have a couple of extra cooks in the kitchen to help you)! I would also recommend pastitsio if you haven’t tried it yet. Delicious!!!

Hey Matt, don’t you just love the fried cheese, it’s called “saganaki” and it’s sooo easy to make it at home, you just wet the cheese with water, cover it with flour and deep fry it. And the moussaka is delicious, would recommend to try the passticio as well.

Enjoy your time in Greece, it’s something you will remember for the rest of your life!

NomadicMatt

I like anything with the words “fried” and “cheese” in it!

Ben

Damn, I miss the late snack gyros….
A rotten BigMac just isn’t the same!

NomadicMatt

They sure aren’t….

Greek food is amazing and pretty healthy for you too because everything is fresh. If you haven’t tried it yet, you must try tzatziki which is basically a staple such as hummus. It’s yogurt with lost of herbs and spices in there so delicious. But I think gyros are my favorite especially late at night with french fries in them. Enjoy!

Yum, yum, and yum. It all looks tasty! Great pics too.

Matt, the pictures are making me hungry..!!

YUM! I’ve never been to Greece, but I absolutely love Greek food–benefits of having Greek friends and a large Greek community in my hometown. Greece has been on my list of places to travel for a while now, but just seeing that Greek salad with that huge block of feta convinced me I need to figure out a plan ASAP. Thanks for sharing!

Andrew Irwin

Hey Matt, I’ll be heading to Greece in around 4 months time and will definitely try and check out some of this food. I’ve been reading a lot of your posts about travel on this site and your other, even bought some of your eBooks. Thanks very much in general for everything, you’ve been a huge help to my travel plans and my blog. Cheers!

NomadicMatt

Glad I could help!

Natalie

YUM. I miss Greek food from Greece. Just an FYI, that stuffed grape leaves are also called Domaldakia. The greek salad is also known as a “village salad,” if for instance, you were to order Greek food in another country. I know that Toronto’s Greektown and Melbourne are good alternative cities for Greek food outside Greece. If you have a chance, go for the calamari too. The fish there is so fresh. Have fun!

NomadicMatt

Ironically, the fish in the Greek Islands is super expensive! I did have a little (how could you not?) and it was yummy. I know there are a lot of Greek people in Australia so I suspect they have quite good greek food.

Hi Matt, great post. Greek food is indeed delicious, I think because at its heart, like many of its southern European neighbours, it comprises fresh, seasonal produce grown in a wonderful climate. Veg particularly is never quite the same here in the UK! Supermarket tomatoes just can’t compete! I second @ali ‘s comments – I love and would recommend Meze as it enables you to to sample a wide variety of dishes and can also be quite cheap, but VERY filling! I’ve also linked above to a free travel cookbook I put together that comprises some recipes and recommendations from holiday home owners with properties in Greece. So if you fancy trying your hand at Kleftiko or a typcial Greek Salas you’ll find those here, plus Spaghetti with lemon, Artichoke with Goat, Pork with Citrus fruits, and there’s a dessert for @Adam – figs with mascarpone. You’ll also find some recipes for Cyprus here too.

Chris

Delicious! I grew up in Michigan and have fond memories of the food in Detroit’s Greektown. Of course, I haven’t been there in years and given the current economic conditions in the Motor City, I suspect that a lot of those old restaurants are long gone. On a more positive note, I live in the Tampa Bay area now and Tarpon Springs, Florida is actually a little hidden Greek gem. Lot’s of authentic and delicious food to be had there.

NomadicMatt

Excellent! When I go back to the states, I plan to eat a lot more Greek food.

Wanda

The food looks delicious…
but what good is looking at photos with no recipes of how to make it?

NomadicMatt

ha! This isn’t a food blog…yet…

Hi Wanda, I posted a link to some recipes – click my name above. Kleftiko and Moussaka, which Matt mentions above, are in there, plus some other classic Greek and Cypriot dishes too. – Sarah

NomadicMatt

Noted! Will do so this week!

I have never been to Greece but I worked at a Greek restaurant for so long. It’s cool to see how authentic their menu really was! They had many of the items you listed.

There really are a lot of delicious things to enjoy in Greece. Be sure not to miss the excellent fish and seafood! But be careful about the cost. Category A fish is quite expensive. Since most of the time it is sold by weight in restaurants, ask about the price. It also is a good idea to ask for small fish or category B fish, which are a lot cheaper and in my opinion often even more interesting to try, since they are little known outside Greece.

Nice post, Matt. And welcome to one of my great obsessions.:)

If you’re hunting down good moussaka, aim for non-touristy places – they’ll sell the drier version, with less beschamel sauce slathered on the top. The bechamel sauce layer is an early 20thC addition (mainly a popular chef/author called Tselementes), and before that moussaka was more packed with mince and aubergine and all the other ingredients. The sauce is a cheap way to pad the dish out, but it does the taste no great favors…

I’d never seen the cheese before! Saganaki, eh? Sounds fun.

I can also thoroughly recommend Halloumi, a Cypriot goat cheese…..

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halloumi

It has an unusually high melting point, so you can fry it, like chicken. When you eat it (obsessively, in huge quantities – it’s that kind of cheese) it squeaks in your mouth. :)

I love grape leaves! And Greek salads, which I was surprised to see listed on the menu as Greek salads in Greece (at least on the islands I visited).

I love Greek food. I often make spanokopita (Greek spinach pie) at home. I also love the way they cook seafood – eat plenty of grilled fish and calamari while there.

NomadicMatt

I had a calamari feast one night. It’s one of my favorite foods.

Yummy post!!
I fell in love with Moussaka when I was in Crete. There’s this restaurant called Maria in Kato Stalos (near Chania) that make the best Moussaka I’ve ever had! The portion was big, so I always finished my favouriite part first: the eggplant layer. Soooo velvety!

NomadicMatt

Plus, “moussaka” is just a great word to say.

I count only 2 dishes suitable for veggies. But 2 very delicious dishes, which I’ve sampled in Vancouver. Betcha the country of origin dishes would be wayyy better. :)

I’m just back from Greece and eating all these same dishes – Greek salad with every meal. Because I stay with my sister and her husband’s Greek and they grow all their own food I’m struck by the way they use all the local produce – the olive oil, the vine leaves, the tomatoes – all from the vegetable patch – I wrote an article about what goes in to a simple dish of stuffed tomatoes.

I dig everthing apart form the stuffed vine leaves…those things are terrible!

Ever since I partied for a week on Ios eating only cheap gyros and fries I can’t even stomach the thought of Greek food, as delicious as it may well be!

Emelie

If you haven’t tried keftedes yet, you should next time you are in Greece.
I love Greek food, and those are my favorites.

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