One of the great things about traveling abroad is the chance to enjoy the local cuisine. If you are traveling to Greece, promise yourself to definitely eat like a local as Greek food not only tastes delicious, the traditional Greek diet is one of the healthiest in the world!
The Greek diet is high in vegetables, fruit, pulses and olive oil. In the past, meat was rarely eaten except on festivals and Name Day celebrations. Greek housewives do often buy frozen foods and much prefer to shop in the market for fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables. Consequently, the Greek diet reflects the passing seasons.
During the hot summer months, a large bowl of horiatiki salada – village salad – topped with slices of Feta cheese is eaten with every meal as it is light and refreshing. Huge slices of chilled watermelon are equally popular. If you fancy being adventurous, try some babotsosika – these are chilled prickly pears that have had all the prickles carefully removed – they are delicious!
A great way to enjoy a variety of traditional dishes is to order a Mezé – which is short for Mezédhes meaning ‘little bites. The Mezé comprises an array of different dishes including dips, fish, vegetable dishes, and oven-baked and barbecued meat. The final course is always a bowl of chilled seasonal fruit.
The Mezé is much more than a meal – it is an occasion! You can choose which different dishes you would like to eat and it is fun to enjoy these with a group of friends or family. The idea is that the Mezé is enjoyed at a leisurely pace over a couple of hours, with plenty of good conversation and Greek wine or beer.
Many of the fish and meat dishes served as part of the Mezé can also be enjoyed as main dishes. Fish is very popular in Greece and is usually simply cooked and always served with a wedge of fresh lemon. Popular fish dishes to try including sea bass, red mullet, tuna, and swordfish – considered the most prized fish of all.
Calamari (squid) is another popular Greek dish and can be served either battered and deep-fried or cooked in red wine. Fresh calamari fried to perfection is soft to eat and very tasty. To enhance the flavor, drizzle the calamari with plenty of fresh lemon juice.
During the summer months, everyone enjoys a barbecue, and you will find that most meat is cooked over charcoal and served sizzling on your plate. Pork and chicken are the most popular meats, and you will be surprised and delighted by the menu prices.
Many of the traditional meat dishes are ones that are slowly casseroled in the oven for hours and really are delicious. Stifado is a beef casserole with a rich tomato sauce and lots of onions, whilst Afelia is pork cooked in red wine with crushed coriander seeds. The best-known oven dish is Moussaka which has layers of minced meat with aubergines and potatoes, topped with a creamy sauce.
If you are vegetarian this is not a problem as there are many excellent dishes made with pulses and seasonal vegetables. Louvi is a tasty dish that is regularly made by Greek housewives and is black-eyed beans, with cooked slices of celery and carrots, mixed with olive oil. Fakes is made with lentils, whilst Yemista is oven-baked vegetables that are stuffed with onion, rice, and tomato. The jewel-coloured array of vegetables include aubergines(eggplant), peppers and giant mushrooms, and tomatoes.
When you are out and about exploring, you may not want to stop for a proper meal and the perfect answer is to buy a souvlaki. These kebabs are the perfect takeaway food and consist of freshly barbecued cubes of chicken or pork with salad served in warm pitta bread. Gyro is very similar, but the meat is thinly carved from a large piece cooked on a vertical rotisserie.
A great alternative if you are feeling hungry at any time of the day, is to pop into the bakery. You will find a great selection of savory pies filled with tahini, cheese, olives, or Lounza (smoked ham). Freshly baked kourlouri are bread rings, coated in roasted sesame seeds which taste really good. You will also be tempted by irresistible cakes and biscuits including kourambiedes which are shortbread biscuits with chopped almonds and dusted in icing sugar or melomakarona which are delicious honey cakes. Most items in the bakery are bought by weight, so pick up one of the cupboard trays and select what you like – use different trays for each price.
If you feel that you would rather eat fruit, a browse around the market stalls or a fruit shop will reveal a great seasonal selection to enjoy including various melons, grapes, and juicy peaches. Early in the summer, there are apricots and cherries and by September, large purple and green figs.
Wherever you choose to relax and enjoy a meal in Greece, as the meal is served, you will be warmly wished kali orexi – bon appétit!