Greek food is known as one of the most delicious, fresh and healthy cuisines on an international level. Greece’s privileged position in the Mediterranean makes it a renowned food lovers destination. Cherished for its diversity, classic Greek dishes are influenced by many cultures. From simple to elaborate, classic Greek dishes attract food travellers who fall in love with Greek food and discover there is even more to Greek cuisine than a few already known dishes.
Greeks love their food and take pleasure in showcasing their favourite dishes to travellers, feeding them with generous portions and treating them as friends with their warm Greek hospitable way. When you come to Greece don’t be surprised that people will genuinely ask you if you liked your food, or why you haven’t finished your -enough to serve an army- meal.
In Greece, a new generation of chefs is now reintroducing classic Greek dishes to locals and travellers alike, giving it a breath of fresh air but staying true to its pure simplicity. Enter our world of fascinating Greek flavours and their varied combinations, and don’t leave our country without ordering some of the must-try Greek dishes below:
Stuffed zucchini blossoms
Greek farmers’ markets are packed with zucchini flowers every summer – spring. Their bright yellow petals attract us like bees, signaling our favourite time of the year. While in Italian recipes you will find zucchini blossoms prepared fried or stuffed with ricotta cheese, in classic Greek dishes, we mostly stuffed them with rice, herbs and a generous amount of Greek extra virgin olive oil.
They should be treated with care when stuffed and cooked, as they are very delicate, but they make a great vegan meal with a drizzle of lemon, or a dollop of Greek yogurt for vegetarians.
Where to find them: Laini is a fav, no-frills Cretan kafenio-eatery in Gazi, and if Crete is not part of your plans -though it should be-, stick to this place and drink some Cretan raki for us as well.
Talking about stuffing vegetables, we couldn’t leave out of the list dolmades, a dish coming in different variations all around Greece. The most common are tender, spring vine leaves stuffed with rice, but you can also find them with minced meat and topped with creamy egg-lemon sauce. Winter time calls for cabbage leaves in season-, the embodiment of warm and homey Greek comfort food.
Where to find them: Time-tested classic Greek dishes like dolmades lure young chefs of the so-called nouvelle Greek cuisine to experiment with different ingredients and leave their own mark on the dish. The latest dolma “invention” we tried was made with beetroot leaves and chards stuffed with crayfish and fish, in the new bistro-like Greek restaurant Fita in Neos Kosmos.
Closing our trilogy of Greek stuffed vegetable dishes, we have to mention gemista. Ripe, beef tomatoes and green bell peppers filled with a mix of rice, onions, aromatic herbs, olive oil and tomato juice to create one of the ultimate classic Greek dishes of summer. Served straight out of the oven or cold the day after, -they taste good either way. Perfect for vegans, but if you are not, serve them with a big piece of feta and bread on the side to scoop up their excessive deliciousness.
Where to find them: In mom-and-pop restaurant To Koudounaki, red, horn-shaped Florina peppers, selected one by one from the market, are filled with bulgur (cracked wheat), for a deeper, earthier flavour, and raisins that give a sweet kick.
Coming to Greece and not tasting fresh fish from the Med, is like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower. Blessed with crystal blue waters and mild weather almost all year round, Greece is the perfect setting for long dinners by the seaside based on the exquisite flavours of its seabed.
Good fish is “respected” in Greece, meaning it is not flooded with heavy sauces and marinades. Grilled, baked or fried it is only dressed with salt, oregano and drops of lemon, just enough to bring out the exquisite flavour of the raw material.
Where to find them: Argoura is a fish restaurant in the southern suburbs of Athens, that its fame spread rapidly by word of mouth. You are welcomed with a heartwarming cup of fish soup that gives you enough time to decide what to order. First time visitors always get extra help from the owner.
Creatures from the Greek seas taste different from those found in countries bathed by oceans. Grab your chair by a seaside fish taverna and pour some chilled ouzo or white wine in your glasses with classic Greek dishes. Let the local experts guide you through their list of seafood meze, while you enjoy the sea breeze and play with the adorable cats lurking by your feet.
Where to find them: A hidden seafood gem in the “urban sea” of Athens is To Ouzeri tou Laki, tucked away in central Athens’ Victoria square. In this long cherished Athenian “steki”, the owner guides you through his two passions: the glass case of freshly caught fish and seafood and his premium selection of ouzo and tsipouro (local grappa) bottles for tasting the classic Greek dishes.
A separate section is devoted to our eight tentacled friend living in the Greek seas. Octopuses are the eye-catchers of island fish tavernas, as they are hung outside to dry in the sun (the first step to perfect octopus grilling). Isn’t it one of the most iconic postcard images of Greece?
Grilled or vinegar-marinated, juicy octopus makes up the perfect Greek summer meze and of the classic Greek dishes, but can be served also stewed in wine as a main dish, especially during the days of Lent when meat is a no-no.
Where to find them: Ouzeri Lesvos in Exarcheia exudes a charming neighbourhood feel that has locals coming back again and again. Μanaging to maintain its good quality of food, together with a ‘60s retro vibe, don’t be surprised if you eat your perfectly charcoaled octopus next to an -oldies but goodies-juke box.
Staples of our Greek diet, legumes are loved by locals for their nutritional value and versatility – needless to say for their affordable prices as well.
Greeks became experts in cooking beans, peas and lentils during hard times, while many of the recipes we enjoy now are based on their inventiveness and imagination back then.
So, as you can imagine, legumes are an essential part of our everyday cooking, some of the most popular being:
Gigantes, or giant beans as translated. They look like butter beans, having an extraordinary meaty flavour and super filling powers. Greeks make them usually baked in the oven with tomato, carrots, celery and lots of olive oil.
Fava, or else yellow split peas. The most well known is the one growing on the arid, volcanic soil of Santorini, giving its characteristic earthy and compact flavour. Slow cooked till mashed, fava looks like a bright yellow hummus and is served with lemon, olive oil, onions and parsley. With any fava left, Greeks make delicious vegan keftedes, fried fava patties, called favokeftedes.
Fresh beans: Every season, farmers’ markets overflow with a bounty of cranberry beans, string beans, broad beans and so on. For Greek households, one pot stews with fresh beans are a daily meal and are cooked with tomato, potatoes and a generous amount of Greek extra virgin olive oil.
Black eyed peas and chickpeas often make up delicious vegan casseroles, with the most famous being the “revythada” (slow-baked chickpeas) of Sifnos. During the hot summer months, they are also eaten as light but satisfying salad meals combined with tomatoes, peppers, dill and even smoked ham or fish.
Where to find them: We love that more and more local restaurants tend to experiment with the, once scorned but now cherished, pulses in classic Greek dishes. Seychelles is one of them, located in Metaxourgeio area. This new style bistrot creates wonderful classic Greek dishes behind its open kitchen, based on locally sourced legumes – like the black eyed peas with calamari.
Souvlaki and gyros are among the most well known Greek street food choices you will find in Athens as well. Greeks are big meat lovers now. You quickly realise it once you sit together at a meat restaurant, where they order huge amounts of pork chops and lamb on the spit, like it’s their last meal on earth.
Keftedes are the Greek fried meat balls, another classic Greek dish. Usually they are prepared by mixing minced pork, veal or lamb meat, grated tomato and onion, stale bread, parsley, spearmint and bound with egg yolk – some Greek recipes use ouzo as their secret ingredient. Biftekia are their grilled cousins, bigger and flat, kind like small Greek burgers.
Where to find them: One of the weirdest places to have your biftekia in Athens, is a canteen, well hidden on the top floor of a central office building in Syntagma square. Started as an eatery only for workers, soon its fame spread across the city and there was no turning back. So, if you are looking for a quirky little place to taste simple and delicious Greek food, this no name cantina is your go-to place, offering a secret Acropolis view.
Feta & Greek cheeses
When in Greece, do it like the Greeks. Dig in the creamy deliciousness of feta, our national cheese aged in brine, one of the most classic Greek dishes. In Greece, there are numerous ways of using it in Greek cooking. As a big piece on top of a Greek salad or served as baked feta with olive oil and chilli flakes.
For more uses, check out our super easy recipes to prepare with feta. For sure in Greece, you’ll find the tastiest feta in the world, but this doesn’t mean you should overlook our other local cheeses. Especially those of small artisans, that never make it outside of Greece. For an introduction to the delightful world of Greek cheeses, you should try golden-hued graviera cheese, sharp kefalotyri or dried myzithra grated on top of your pasta, soft and buttery manouri and fresh, mild-flavoured anthotyro cheese – none of them will leave you disappointed.
Where to find them: Zarkadian is located just a stone’s throw from Athens’ central market (Varvakios), this deli is ideal for Greek products tasting and edible souvenirs shopping. The friendly staff will take you on a food tour around the gastronomic map of Greece, where you will get to sample exquisite PDO and PGI products.
Pastitsio and Moussaka
Our ultimate classic Greek dish served at Greek homes traditionally on a Sunday lunch, when the whole family is gathered around the table. Pastitsio (or pastichio) could be described as the Greek lasagna. A baked macaroni dish, topped with minced meat, bechamel sauce and cheese, pastitsio is everybody’s favourite, from 5 to 95 years old!
Moussaka on the other hand, is a classic Greek dish made with eggplants instead of pasta, and then again delicious layers of minced meat and bechamel sauce.
Where to find them: Olympion is our favourite eatery for authentic Greek cuisine in Athens, close to the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Let the owners give you a “tour” of the day’s specials behind the glass case, or go straight for their delicious pastitsio or “papoutsakia” (meaning little shoes in Greek) – halved eggplants filled with meat and bechamel – like mini versions of moussaka. In the mood for some home cooking? Try a different version of the traditional moussaka with this vegetarian moussaka recipe from our partner In Sofia’s Kitchen – Mediterranean Flavours https://insofiaskitchen.com.au/ .