}); What to Eat in Greece: A Big Fat Greek Food Guide from a Local

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

What to Eat in Greece

If you’ve ever been on vacation to Greece, foods 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

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.

What to Eat in Greece:
Light Snacks and Pastries

What to Eat in Greece
What to Eat in Greece

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

Koulouri is the Greek 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 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.

What to Eat in Greece:
Light Bites & Kebabs

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.

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. The 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.

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.

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 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

Pastisio 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. It is comprised of ground meat (beef or lamb), lines of penne pasta and just like moussaka, it is topped with that delicious bechamel sauce.

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

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.

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

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. It makes for 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

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.

What to Eat in Greece:
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

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. It’s 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

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 – 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.
    • 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.
      • 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.
    • 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 or Greece travel in general? Feel free to reach out and let me know. I live here!

Disclaimer: This guide on What to Eat in Greece may contain affiliate links. That means that if you click through to the websites on here, I will receive a small amount of commission at no extra cost to you. This helps me to keep providing free travel content on High Heels & a Backpack. Thanks for your understanding.

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