Breakfast is not a big meal in Greece and some Greeks even joke that “it’s just coffee and cigarettes”. In the past, it used to be more filling as most of the people lived a farmer’s life. Now, most of the people live in the city, so they just have a small snack. Keep in mind also, that locals are used to having big, late dinners at Greek restaurants with friends and family. When they have to wake up early in the morning, they are usually still full and in a hurry to go to work.
Greece boasts a rich and healthy regional cuisine with many excellent breakfast options for Greek food lovers. But for now, we will introduce you to some of our favourites, that you can find as a traveller all around Greece.
Coffee in Greece
Greeks are heavy coffee drinkers and the coffee economy is thriving, even in hard times. You usually notice it by the minute you step foot on the country, as you see many locals holding a cup of coffee in their hand.
Greek coffee is the coffee of pleasure and relaxation. It is mostly consumed by older generations sitting in traditional cafes, called “kafenia”. These “institutions” are mostly frequented by men sipping their coffee slowly and chatting about any topic possible, even politics and social issues, which earned them the nickname, “little parliaments”. Greek coffee has moderate caffeine. Usually, one cup is drunk in the morning and the second one after the midday “siesta” – (both coffee and siesta are recognised as the Mediterranean secrets to longevity – so we have a win-win situation here 🙂
Greek coffee is made in a small pot called “briki”. The beans are finely ground and served in a small cup. Sugar is added beforehand as it brews together with the coffee and the grounds stay at the bottom – so, mixing sugar with your spoon afterwards in your cup will make coffee taste like mud – (a common mistake for tourists trying this kind of coffee before joining our Taste Athens Food Walk).
If you live in Greece you surely enjoy a long time of hot weather and sunshine. So definitely you need some revitalising coffee to keep you up all day. Our first Greek cold coffee invention – a gift to humanity 🙂 – was frappe, basically instant coffee mixed with ice cubes (sugar and evaporated milk to your taste) and shaken till thick foam fills up your glass. There’s a funny story behind it as it was invented by accident by a guy in desperate need for coffee (wait for it in another coffee-oriented blogpost or join our morning food walk that includes a coffee pit stop).
Freddos slowly stole the thunder from frappe as they offered a cold coffee of better quality and elegance. There are two types of Freddos: Freddo Espresso and Freddo Cappuccino. Despite their Italian names, these 100% Greek masterpieces give some Italians the chills when they find out we are messing with their sacred traditions. Unlike their Italian sip-and-go espresso cousins, freddos keep company to Greeks for more than two hours, as their favourite hobby is to drink their coffee enjoying the sunshine, socialising, chatting, gossiping etc.
Freddo Espresso = Double shot of espresso mixed with ice cubes, shaken till frothy.
Freddo Cappuccino = With milk foam on top of your cold espresso, you stir it with the straw and the milk blends deliciously with your coffee.
TIP: Both coffees are highly recommended as a reward after a long day of sightseeing.
Let’s move on to the snack section (+ a quick Greek lesson). One word you should learn in Greece is “pita”. It has two meanings – 1. is the soft, puffy bread hugging lovingly your Greek gyro – for more, check out our Greek street food post, and 2. It means pie, so the word that comes before signifies the filling of the pie eg. spanakopita (spinach pie), tiropita (cheese pie).
A food item and favourite snack to be found all around Greece, pies come in every shape and filling, savoury but also sweet. Filo is the star of the story, as a crisp, nicely made fillo defines the quality of a pie and in the past, the competence of a good housewife.
The filling can be really anything! From cheese, to wild greens and herbs, meat and cold cuts, even fish and seafood, depending on the region and the landscape. Pie-making used to be a no food waste practice for poor households and an easy to carry snack for pastoral life.
A very special pie you will find in Greece is called bougatsa. It is made with filo pastry tossed in the air like pizza, but made even thinner, like a newspaper, – a fascinating process for our culinary travellers to watch during our morning food tour. The filo is then cut into pieces, one layer is put on top of the other, delicious cheese or cream filling is added and then folded like an envelope.
The local version of the bagel, a soft or crunchy bread ring sprinkled with sesame seeds, evolved from an ancient street food recipe into what is known as koulouri in Greece and simit in Turkey. In the past, the most skilful bakers were considered the ones coming from Ipeiros region. There, a mother’s common wish was for her son to become a koulouri vendor in then Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul).
Koulouri can be found everywhere, at bakeries and street corners, but better go there early in the morning to get it fresh. When you come to Athens, we will take you to a place that bakes koulouri 24/7, so you can taste it warm and fresh even at midnight – a popular joint for night owls craving for a snack after partying in the area.
What is there more to say about Greek yogurt? The whole world knows it, after it gained popularity as the healthiest breakfast of all, right? Well… Actually, most guests on our food tours haven’t really had the authentic “Greek yogurt experience”. When they do, it’s by far their favourite part of the food tour, if not of their Greek holidays. So, why is that? Well, real yogurt in Greece is made of sheep’s milk following the traditional, artisanal way. The animals live in a semi-wild condition, which means they have access to the aromatic herbs and greens of the Greek countryside and not just animal food. Yogurt is served in clay pots and its healthy fat forms a thick layer on top of it – which means it is not homogenised like the industrialised yogurts you will find in the supermarkets. Neither it is flavoured. Greeks love adding honey or fruit preserves on top of their yogurt to sweeten its natural tangy flavour, and have it as dessert as well. Yogurt in its purest form, hard to find outside the country, so make sure you eat as much yogurt (of this kind) as possible. Greek yogurt will give you enough reason to come back and, as our second-time guests say, it’s the first thing they crave for when they come for holidays in Greece.
How about a live introduction to traditional Greek breakfast?