Greek food is one of the most popular cuisines in the world, and chances are that, no matter where you live, you are not too far from a Greek restaurant. But the food you get abroad in Greek restaurants doesn't compare to the authentic, fresh, seasonal foods of Greece itself.
The first cookbook in Western history was written in Greece in 320 BC, but it was simply documenting culinary traditions that were already centuries old at the time. While the staples of Greek cuisine are 4000 years old, relying heavily on wheat, olives and olive oil, wine, and fish, the classic dishes have regional and seasonal variations, offering new flavors and experiences all year long. The taverna is an integral part of Greek culture, central to social and community life, and visitors are treated to warm hospitality and invited to sample a variety of dishes. Let the locals guide you, in order to explore the best flavors of the region and the season, and have an unforgettable dining experience.
Classic, must-experience Greek dishes:
Moussaka: Moussaka has its origins in the Arab world, and variations are consumed throughout the Middle East, but the Greek version is the most famous for a reason. This casserole is made with layers of aubergine, potatoes, and spiced ground meat, topped with cheese or a rich Bechamel sauce. Proper preparation is time-consuming, because each layer is prepared individually, and yet the result is a deeply satisfying and delicious meal in itself.
Souvlaki: These simple skewers of grilled pork date all the way back to the 17th century BC, documented in ancient archaeological sites, and mentioned in classical antiquity by Homer and Aristotle. The marinated meat is tender and flavorful, and souvlaki are often served with pita, or with potatoes and vegetables for a complete meal.
Chtapodi: The traditional Greek method of preparing grilled octopus is a multi-step process that takes up to two days, and is particularly favored during Lent. Fresh octopus is cleaned and boiled, then peeled and marinated for a day or more, before being quickly grilled. The result is a tender and delicious dish, served as an appetizer by itself, or with potatoes, vegetables, or fava beans for a complete meal.
Gyros pita: The distinctive vertical broiling method of gyros has origins in the Ottoman Empire. The vertical broilers allow the marinated meat (usually pork or chicken) to be cooked perfectly and remain juicy. Usually served on warm bread with tomatoes and onions, topped with Tzatziki, it's become a signature of Greek food throughout the world.
Tzatziki: This traditional sauce, made of yogurt and cucumber cream with mint, dill, and garlic, is a delicious creamy accompaniment to a wide array of meats and vegetables. It's a perfect cooling condiment to spiced dishes on a warm day, and the Greeks use it in a variety of ways.
Horiatiki: This bright summer salad with feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumber, and onions is often topped with kalamata olives. The rustic ingredients are typical of those that would have been available to a Greek farmer or shepherd, and is a summer fixture for tables at home and at the taverna.
Fava: While this spicy bean dip is known as “fava”, it doesn't contain fava beans (known in English-speaking countries as “broad beans”) at all. Interestingly, many Greek people suffer from a genetic condition in which fava beans can trigger the breakdown of red blood cells, so actual fava beans aren't a traditional part of Greek food. Instead, this delicious dip is made from yellow split peas, pureed with onion, garlic, black pepper, and capers, and is traditionally served with warm bread and wine.
The Greek culinary traditions are simple, hearty, and local, and food culture takes place in social spaces. Many of the most classic Greek dishes are smaller portions, intended to be shared and experienced slowly, along with wine and conversation. Dining in Greece is an unforgettable experience for travelers, who are treated not just like guests, but like old friends.
Be sure to check out our top culinary experiences in Greece and other Mediterranean destinations right here!