What to Eat in Greece: A Big Fat Greek Food Guide

Greek Food
Greek Food

Greek food like souvlaki, gyros, and kebabs are probably the first things that pop into your mind when you think about what to eat in Greece. There may be the occasional plate of moussaka envisaged in there also – likely served up in a traditional taverna with lots of plate smashing, Zorbas dancing and shouting “Oppa!” going on.

The reality is that Greek food is so much more than souvlaki, moussaka, and most of the dishes that you see served up in touristic places. After living in Athens for over a year, gobbling up virtually everything in sight and complaining about my Big Fat Greek food baby as a result, I feel well poised to share this list of what to eat in Greece.

What to Eat in Greece: Understanding Greek Food

Greek Food at Vosporos Grill, Athens
Greek Food at Vosporos Grill, Athens

A result of the country’s previous ruling by the Ottoman Empire, Greek food shares a lot of similarities with Turkish cuisine. There are a lot of dishes which the Turks claim to be their creation, yet the Greeks claim to be theirs, and vice versa. Though there is definitely a distinct difference in the cooking styles, it is interesting if you have travelled to Turkey.  

A typical Greek diet contains a lot of red meat. An awful lot of red meat. So much red meat that it makes you wonder if cows, pigs and whatever else are on the brink of extinction in Greece. So much red meat that you wonder how these people are actually functioning and not keeling over and having a heart attack in broad daylight.

I jest… kind of. There is a lot of meat commonly eaten as part of the Greek diet but fresh, locally sourced vegetables, delicious salads, and organic fruits offset the impact (maybe).

Seasoned, marinated meats are often the main focal point of a meal – whether it be lunch or dinner, though other side dishes are served in conjunction. Vegetarians and Vegans can feel rest assured that there are also many veggie dishes for them to choose from, so they will never be left wondering what to eat in Greece.

The Best Greek Food to Try During Your First Trip to Greece

Greek Food: Margaro Restaurant in Piraeus
Greek Food: Margaro Restaurant in Piraeus

Below, I have broken down the most popular Greek food by category and provided a pretty extensive list. As delicious as all of these delicacies are, chances are that you might not have time to sample them all if you are only travelling to Greece for a week or two. With that considered, the absolute must try Greek foods are summarised below.

  • Gyro
  • Souvlaki
  • Pastitsio
  • Moussaka
  • Baked feta or Sagnaki (fried cheese)
  • Fava beans puree
  • Tzatziki
  • Lamb kleftiko
  • Loukoumades
  • Greek coffees (Ellinikos and freddo coffee)

What to Eat in Greece:
Light Snacks and Pastries

While the US and the UK may have dozens of Starbucks Coffee branches scattered down every single street, in Greece we have bakeries. Bakeries in Greece are open from super early in the morning to late at night and the smell of freshly prepared cakes and savory treats wafting outside is a treat every time you pass.

Spanakopita

Spanakopita is a delicious Greek pie that is a popular savory breakfast or lunchtime snack. The delicious pastry consists of flaky, crispy phyllo dough that is stuffed with fresh spinach, feta cheese, onions, and herbs.

You will find spanakopita on sale at every bakery, virtually every hour of the day. Portions are usually generous, and a huge slab the size of your head costs no more than 2 euros. Spanakopita is a nice lunch alternative on the go (just don’t read the calorie count!)

Koulouri

What to Eat in Greece
What to Eat in Greece: Koulouri is a popular breakfast Greek food

Koulouri is the Greek food answer to the New York pretzel. Originating from Thessaloniki in northern Greece, traditional koulouri is essentially just a circle of lovely warm sesame seeded bread.

A lot of Greek bakeries sell koulouri, as do vendors that set up shop in the streets of Athens and other urban areas. Some places, like the “Mon Kolor” koulouri chain, sell all manner of weird and wonderful variations of koulouri.

Some kolouri are stuffed with cheese and ham, others with chocolate, etc. Koulouri is something you should definitely try when wondering what to eat in Greece.

Tiropita (Feta Cheese Pie)

Essentially spanakopita but without the addition of spinach, tiropita is an overload of cheese stuffed within the same crispy phyllo pastry. One pie is largely filling with enough feta stuffed inside to feed all of Greece. A more modern and lightweight alternative option to this is to take one of the sesame Philadelphia filled roll pies.  

Bougatsa  

The breakfast pastry of bougatsa could be considered as being the signature pastry of Greece. Once again made from phyllo pastry, the layers of pastry are typically prepared with semolina custard for bougatsa.

If you are lucky enough to see the pastry chefs in various Athenian bakeries preparing bougatsa, you might see them spinning the pastry around over their heads to “air it out”. Bougatsa can be served sweet or savory – with either semolina custard, cheese or minced meat.

My personal favourite is sweet with apple pieces. During your Athens itinerary, you can find excellent bougatsa at Bougatsa Thessaloniki – a slightly touristic but charming spot in Plaka.  Enjoy sweet bougatsa with a sprinkling of cinnamon on top and a nice smooth coffee for the perfect start to the day.

Greek Food:
Light Bites & Appetizers

Saganaki

A quintessentially Greek appetizer that your tastebuds will thank you for but your waistline will not, Saganaki is simply pan-fried cheese cooked in olive oil and then drizzled with infused balsamic (often pomegranate or fig flavours).

Saganaki varies from place to place depending on the type of cheese used. Commonly this is kefalotiri cheese, or manouri cheese – a version of feta. Most Greek tavernas and restaurants will feature saganaki on their menus as an appetizer.

Tirokroketes

Tirokrkoetes (stuffed cheese balls) are a very popular appetizer in Greek tavernas. You can find these almost everywhere. The dish costs just a few euros and is a nice meze item to share with friends.

Fava Beans Puree

What to Eat in Greece - fava beans puree
Photo Credit: Dimitrios/Shutterstock.com

Fava beans puree is one of my favourite Greek foods. In a way, the puree can be compared to hummus for its use and texture. The puree is comprised of pureed yellow split peas/fava beans that are served with red onions, parsley, and lemon. This appetizer is so simple yet so delicious! 

This fava bean dish makes an appearance on most taverna menus and I would strongly recommend that you try it. It can be used as a dip for fresh breads and potatoes, or you can go all-out troll like I do and simply eat it like a soup (much to my Greek boyfriend’s horror!)

Kolokithokeftedes

Kolokithokeftedes are a nice vegetarian Greek food option. You can order these as a starter or a meze when you dine out at restaurants and tavernas. This is quite simply fried zucchini fritters that are prepared with feta cheese. Yum!

Fasolakia (Greek Braised Green Beans)

Greek Food: Delicious Fasolakia
Greek Food: Delicious Fasolakia
Credit: Dimitris_K/ Shutterstock.com

Fasolakia is a Greek food dish that is prepared using delicious Greek green beans that are braised in a tomato sauce that is filled with garlic, onions, and herbs. After being cooked in this way, the beans have a delightfully soft texture that is comparable to tagliatelle pasta.

Fasolakia is commonly served with potatoes and used as an appetizer. Honestly though, I love this dish so much that I will often just eat entire bowls of fasolakia for dinner.

The first time that I tried fasolakia, my Greek partner’s father cooked it for us. When I first saw it, I kind of wrote it off as a “boring vegetable dish” at the side of the table. After tasting it though, I was like a drug addict that couldn’t get enough! I ate everyone’s share of delicious, tomatoey fasolakia!

Yemista

Yemista are tomatoes and peppers that are stuffed with rice and herbs and seasoned with different spices. This is another nice option for vegetarians. Be sure to double check the specific contents of the yemista before you order though, as some do contain minced meat.

Greek Salads

Hey vegetarian readers! I know you are feeling left out so I have included one small dish here that you can actually eat in Greece! (Ha, sorry!) There is a reason that Greek salads are so well loved around the world, and that is because they are so wonderfully prepared with fresh ingredients.

The salad contents vary, but greek salads are usually served with feta cheese and drizzles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. What surprises most people is that there is absolutely no lettuce used in Greek salads – mind blown, eh?

Feta Cheese

Did you know that feta cheese is such a popular Greek food, that it is estimated that Greeks eat 80,000 tons of it every year? Soft, creamy, delicious feta is a staple at any Greek dinner table – be it at home or in a taverna. 

The cheese is often served with a sprinkling of herbs (commonly oregano) on the top. Sometimes the feta is also baked for a little something different. 

Tzatziki

Tzatziki is a staple Greek condiment. Go over to any Greek friend’s house and you will likely find huge tubs of homemade tzatziki in their fridge. Tzatziki is Greek yoghurt that is flavoured by adding chopped cucumbers, olive oil, salt, and garlic. Depending on the specific recipe, the condiment is also sometimes seasoned with vinegar or herbs. 

If you order a kebab or a gyro in Greece, your pitta will commonly be filled to the brim with tzatziki. You can also request a serving of it at restaurants and tavernas for just a few euros. From there, you can use tzatziki for dipping your fries or bread.

Melitzanes Papoutsakia

Juicy, filled with flavour, and somewhat healthier than ordering up a big pot of moussaka, Greek papoutsakia is made of eggplants that are stuffed with meat and bechamel sauce. Once stuffed, the eggplants are baked in the oven until crunchy and golden. 

Ordering up a plate of papoutsakia as part of a meze lunch is a nice shout. This is like having little bite-sized portions of moussaka.

Taramasalata

Taramasalata could be considered as the marmite of the Greek food world. This condiment is made from the cured roe of a cod and has quite a strong smell. It is one of those things that people either love or hate. 

Whether taramasalata is your cup of tea or not, everything is worth a try once, right? This is commonly served as a meze at tavernas. It is eaten in accompaniment of warm bread, fresh Greek olives, or croutons.

Greek Food:
Kebabs, Gyros, and Take Outs

Souvlaki

Souvlaki may come to become something that you see a little too much of during your time in Greece, but it is these marinated meats that make up what makes Greek cuisine so unique. Souvlaki sticks are the local “go to” thing to eat at the end of the night and a few glasses of ouzo.

Traditionally, souvlaki is deliciously marinated beef, pork or chicken on a stick served with a slice of lime to squeeze over it, and a piece of crusty bread or pita on the side.

Yogurtlu Kebab

Many tavernas and kebab houses are scattered through the streets of Athens and other Greek cities. The dishes that they serve have both Greek and Turkish roots. Yogurtlu kebab (Yoğurtlu Köfte Kebabi) is a dish with Turkish origins that makes a frequent appearance on Greek menus.

This Greek food dish consists of a mixed lamb and beef kofte kebab served with an abundance of delicious Greek yogurt, fresh tomato sauce with herbs, and pieces of pita bread.

Cheese Stuffed Keftedes

Just when you thought that you couldn’t feel any more guilty eating big mounds of marinated meats and kebabs, the Greeks find a way – by cutting the kebabs open and stuffing the insides with melted cheese.

As you cut inside the meat, the melted cheese pours out forming a sumptuous melty, cheesy, meaty mess. The stuffed keftedes are filled with different cheeses depending on the taverna and the place in Greece – often their beloved feta, gouda or Roquefort.

Gyro

A Greek gyro is made using beef, pork or chicken. The meat is prepared on a rotisserie before being served with fries, chopped onions, and salad and then wrapped in pita bread. For the dressing, gyros are usually accompanied by a dollop of either tzatziki or a unique local sauce made up of mustard mixed with mayonnaise (much tastier than it sounds!).

For the best gyros in Athens, head to one of the branches of Babadan kebab house in Pagrati or Ilioupoli.   

What to Eat in Greece:
Homemade Classics

The dishes contained here are the homemade classics that Greeks will often enjoy at home with their families. They are great choices when wondering what to eat in Greece though, and can be found at many tavernas and authentic Greek restaurants.

Supermarkets and some buffet style eateries also serve a lot of these dishes in single portions to take home for just a few euros.

Moussaka

Moussaka has to be one of the most iconic dishes in Greece. When wondering what to eat in Greece, trying moussaka at least once is an absolute must. Greek moussaka feels something like lasagne but without the pasta. It consists of minced meat (typically lamb), aubergines, onions and vegetables and of course, a creamy bechamel sauce.

Pastitsio

Greek Food: Pastitsio
Greek Food: Pastitsio
Image Credits: ConstantinosZ/Shutterstock.com

Pastitsio possesses a lot of similarities to moussaka yet with the addition of pasta. Moussaka on crack if you will. Pastitsio is a favorite that Greek mothers will cook in large serving dishes and the family will eat through for several days.

Patitsio is comprised of ground meat (beef or lamb), lines of penne pasta and just like moussaka, it is topped with that delicious bechamel sauce. If you order this dish at a restaurant, it is typically served piping hot in an adorable single portion ceramic dish.

Dolmas

Dolmas are stuffed grapevine leaves. To be honest, most of the Greeks I know do not commonly eat dolmas. It’s more of a “once in a while mum makes it and I suppose I’ll eat it” type of dish rather than a common meal, though it is considered a Greek classic.

Dolmas are served hot and often stuffed with pine nuts, herbs and cooked rice. Varieties of Dolmas are also served around the Middle East and Soviet Countries, but they all have their unique blends and tastes.  

Lamb Kleftiko

Greek food: lamb kleftiko
Greek food: lamb kleftiko
Photo Credits: Konstantin Kopachinsky/ Shutterstock.com

Food and family are two of the most important things in Greek culture. The Greeks will sit down and enjoy meals together as the rule, not the exception.

There will be no microwaveable chicken tikka masala eaten by the TV in Greece. Sunday is a special day and a common dish that is enjoyed is lamb kleftiko – slow cooked roasted lamb prepared with garlic, lemon, and herbs, and served with seasoned potatoes. The lamb is so tender that it seemingly falls away from the bone.

Lavraki (Sea Bass)

Grilled fish is very popular in Greek cuisine, especially on the islands. Afterall, the close proximity to the Aegean and Mediterranean seas means that there is no shortage of fresh catches. 

Lavraki is a particularly beloved Greek food dish, as this Mediterranean sea bass is indigenous to Greek waters. Historically, this fish was notoriously difficult to catch, and has even been written about in Greek legends! 

Lavraki can be ordered at seafood restaurants on the islands, and coastal areas of mainland Greece. The fish is grilled and marinated, creating a tender, buttery texture.

Calamari

Just about every ouzeria and fish taverna in Greece sells calamari. Again, the country’s proximity to the Mediterranean guarantees fresh catches of the highest quality. Fried and seasoned with olive oil, lemon, salt, and parsley, Greek fried calamari is simple yet tasty.

Stifado

Stifado (Greek beef stew) can be ordered in a lot of traditional restaurants and tavernas. This Greek food dish provides a glimpse into wonderful home cooking prepared by a Greek yiayia (grandmother).

Thanks to the way that it is marinated and cooked in a hearty tomato broth, the beef that you find in stifado is tender, juicy, and simply melts in your mouth. Onions, vinegar, wine, and spices are added to stifado to create a dish that is bursting with flavour.

Kritharaki

Kritharaki, also known as “orzo” is a type of short pasta that resembles rice. 

Iti is a popular dish that people enjoy at home in both Crete and Greece. There are different variations of this, and it can be enjoyed alone as a main meal, or as a smaller portion as a side dish as part of a wider meze. 

One popular way to enjoy kritharaki is in Giouvetsi – a popular Greek food dish that sees the orzo served with oven-baked chicken and a delicious tomato sauce. 

What to Eat in Greece:
Sweet Treats

No meal is complete without a dessert and fortunately, there are plenty of sweet treats to be found and enjoyed in the islands and the mainland of Greece. Travelling here you never have to wonder about what to eat in Greece dessert-wise.

Loukoumades

Greek Food: Sweet, Sinful Loukoumades
Greek Food: Sweet, Sinful Loukoumades
Image Credit: Irina Chevzhik/Shutterstock.com

Loukoumades are the Greek answer to the doughnut. Instead of being circle shaped with holes in the middle though, loukoumades have a kind of dumpling style appearance.

Better still, loukoumades are often stuffed and topped with sweet fillings. Individual portions of loukoumades come in boxes of between 12-16 pieces. Typically you will choose a filling sauce for the inside, and a topping sauce to cover.

Expect a list as long as your leg for your options of sauces! Loukoumades can be topped and filled with everything imaginable – from Bavarian cream to Nutella.

Halva

Halva is something I tried for the first time when I was travelling in Israel. Like many of the dishes and foods on this “what to eat in Greece” list, it is a dessert that has roots in Middle Eastern cooking. Halva has a unique texture and can be made either with sesame or with semolina flour.

Halva is a Greek food with a sort of chalky, nougat-like consistency. If you are travelling to Athens, you can find excellent halva at the Arabic style market stalls on Evripidou street. Halva can be found in different variations – sometimes with chocolate, other times with cinnamon, etc.

Melomakarona

Melomakarona - what to eat in Greece
Melomakarona are a popular Christmas treat
Photo Credit: mpessaris/Shutterstock.com

When the Christmas period starts approaching in Greece, the bakeries here start making and selling melomakarona biscuits. Melomakarona are soft handmade biscuits that are dipped in syrup and honey before being covered in grounded walnuts. Sometimes you can also find them covered in chocolate.

Baklava

Syrupy, sweet and sticky, you can find tray after tray of different varieties of baklava piled high in Greek bakeries. The sticky sweet pastry is prepared by using layers of sweet filo pastry that are filled with chopped nuts pistachios before being held in place using honey or syrup.

Baklava is a popular dessert in Greece, Turkey, and the Middle East, with each country and bakery placing their own personal spin on the treat.

Portokalopita (Greek Orange Cake)

Filo pastry is everywhere in Greek food pastries. It’s used in savoury pies like tiropita and spanakopita, and it is known for giving desserts like bougatsa their je ne sais quoi. That said, not everyone is a fan of the texture of filo pastry. If you fall into that category, give portokalopita a chance – it may well just change your mind. 

Portokalopita is a delightfully sweet, sticky, and sinful Greek cake comprised of handmade filo pastry that has been shredded and then stuck together again with an orange and cinnamon syrup.

Greek Food:
Coffee Conundrums

What to Eat in Greece
What to Eat in Greece

The coffee culture is huge in Greece with half a dozen coffee shops scattered on every street. My friends and I often joke that you could walk past an Athenian coffee shop in the morning on your way to work, and then again on your way home and still see the same people sat inside!

Essentially, coffee drinking is the national sport of Greece. The Greeks drink their coffees in different ways to most of Europe though. Sure, you can still get your flat whites, your Americanos and your cappuccinos in Athens and beyond but you should also try something new and distinctly Greek.

Freddo Cappuccinos and Espressos

The modern Greek way to drink your coffee is to take it “freddo” or iced. Since the temperatures in Greece are often well over 25-30 degrees, it’s nice to have a cold refreshing coffee to cool you down.

Espresso is blended with ice and served over ice cubes to form a freddo espresso. For a freddo cappuccino, cold foamed milk is added to the top. It is also possible to order your freddo cappuccino with cream for ultimate deliciousness (albeit maximum calorificness).

Traditional Greek “Hot” Coffee (Ellinikos)

Traditional Greek coffee or “ellinikós kafés” as it is known is a small, strong bitter cup of hot coffee. It is actually the same as Turkish coffee. This beverage was the form of coffee that the Greeks drank when they were under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.

Most young people in Greece tend to prefer freddo coffee these days, however, you can still find a lot of traditional coffee stores serving ellinikós kafés that are tucked away down Athenian alleyways. It is mostly the older Greeks that sip this coffee while sitting outside al fresco and playing backgammon. It is served in a little copper pot or ‘biriki’, often with some loukoum – Greek Turkish delight, on the side.

What to Drink in Greece:
Unique Alcoholic Beverages

Ouzo, Tsipouro, and Raki – Oh My!

Ouzo is essentially the national drink of Greece. Served in tavernas and bars in little glass vials and bottles to be shared, it is rare to walk past a group of Greeks enjoying meal time and not see a bottle of ouzo or two among the plates. Originating from Lesvos island, ouzo has a strong aniseed flavor and is typically drunk neat over ice.

Raki is the Cretan alternative to Ouzo and possesses some similarities in terms of flavour, where Tsipouro is a distilled Greek pomace brandy. All of these drinks are synonymous with the sharing food culture and the idea of having good times and good conversations among friends.

Rakomelo

Rakomelo is created by mixing raki with honey and an array of spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and other sweet flavourings. Many tavernas and restaurants in Greece make their own Rakomelo and this is served warm after a meal as a kind of digestif.

Rakomelo is also considered to be a home remedy when you get sick – kind of the alcoholic Greek alternative to hot honey and lemon if you will.

What to Eat in Greece:
Practical Tips
for Finding Greek Food

As with travelling anywhere, when wondering what to eat in Greece, consider where to eat in Greece also. Touristic restaurants close to major attractions like the Acropolis charge four times the prices of local tavernas and the quality often leaves a lot to be desired. A few tips on eating in Greece are included below:

Take Local Recommendations on Where to Eat in Greece

Take local recommendations on where to eat in Greece – either from your Airbnb host, hotel owner, friends or online resources. Don’t be the guy spending $15 for a sloppy crappy moussaka next to Acropolis hill when you could be the guy enjoying one for $6 in an authentic taverna.

Try Out the Greek Food Convenience Culture

Greece is pretty good in terms of convenience and you will never be stuck on what to eat in Greece. Regardless of where you travel or stay in Greece, be sure to check out Efood. This is a platform that lets you order deliveries from local restaurants, souvlaki spots, and bakeries. Minimums are often as low as 2 euros and it’s not just junk food.

Shop at Local Markets for Greek Food (Laiki)

Try and check out a laiki agora while in Greece – a local farmer’s market. Most neighbourhoods in Greek cities and towns have their own weekly laiki. This is a great place to people watch as well as to pick up some great, affordable organic fruit and veg if stayin in self-catered accommodation.

Embark on a Food Tour

A Greek food tour such as the one I did in Athens with Alternative Athens is a great way to see the city and experience its food.

I’m hoping that after reading this guide you won’t feel stuck when wondering what to eat in Greece! Have any more questions on what to eat in Greece, Greek food or Greece travel in general? Feel free to reach out and let me know. I live here!

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