Situated among three continents, Europe, Asia and Africa, Greece is a melting pot of different culinary cultures. A Mediterranean country blessed by nature with diverse landscape despite its small size, Greece is home to an amalgam of different regional cuisines.
Join us on a culinary trip around Greece, while we go through every region bite by bite, introducing some of the best Greek recipes and products.
The Peloponnese Peninsula in the Greek South is a place of astonishing beauty, ideal for food, culture, and nature lovers. A land of contrasts, the Peloponnese extends from rugged mountains, to fruitful plains and steep shores. Millions of olive and citrus trees cover the land, finding their way to the local table, -like the orange-flavoured sausages-, and even gaining worldwide recognition, like Kalamata olives. Olive oil is the quintessence of Peloponnesian cuisine. Used generously not only in cooking but frying as well, locals make the famous “lalaggia”, thin dough fritters, and “diples”, the traditional festive dough desserts given in every wedding, sprinkled with honey and walnuts. Olive oil is also used to preserve the local cured pork, “syglino”, eaten as a meze, like the local feta-style cheese, “sfela” or added to dishes, such as the local omelette “kagianas”. Along with goat and rooster, pork is a staple in the area, and no one can leave the region without tasting the famous suckling pig on the spit – aka “gourounopoula”.
This fertile land produces lovely vegetables and herbs like oregano, artichokes and eggplants. The latter, a sweet variety called “tsakoniki”, a light purple with white stripes, is even celebrated at its own festival taking place every summer in Leonidio town.
Peloponnese is home to some of the most famous Greek wines and grapes. Agiorgitiko is a Greek red wine from Nemea and according to the myth it was created by Hercules’ blood spilled on grapes during his fight with the Nemean lion. Monemvasia is an old Medieval fortress town, known since the Middle Ages for its sweet Malvasia wine, revived again recently. Last but not least, a unique Greek product, the dried black currant, took its name from Corinth, and is used in savoury dishes, like “savoro” fish or to make the famous fortified wine of Patras, the sweet Mavrodaphne.
Sterea Ellada (Roumeli)
Sterea Ellada is endowed with stunning landscapes: luscious forests, high mountains, beautiful lakes and rivers. Roumeliotes always lived a nomadic life in harmony with the seasons and their land’s natural surroundings. The whole region is a must for meat-lovers and apparently THE place to be for Greek Easter celebrations. Roumeliotes are the kings of “souvla”= spit, with lamb or goat turning slowly around fire, and kokoretsi roasting on the side (lamb offal wrapped with intestines). Kontosouvli is the same idea but instead of the whole animal, pieces of it are cooked on a short metal skewer.
People still live a pastoral life, herding sheep and goats for dairy and meat. Milk, yogurt, and cheese take place on their everyday table and butter is used instead of olive oil. Landmark cheeses include soft and creamy katiki or tsalafouti, both ideal for spreads or dips, and formaella, a semi-hard cylinder usually eaten pan fried as saganaki. Culinary traditions, like sweet and savory pies, pasta and soups are enriched with dairy. Trahana is a kind of wheat “village” pasta, that boils down with milk to create a paste which is then dried in the sun and grated into coarse couscous-like pieces. Pligouri or bulgur as widely known is pre-cooked whole wheat used in their kitchens instead of rice. Gemista – the Greek stuffed vegetables were filled with it instead of rice, as it was considered a luxury item in the past.
Roumeli in the west is covered by sea and lagoons, where you will find the Greek caviar: avgotaraho, or else grey mullet bottarga. This valuable fish roe is cured and dried for preservation. Even a thin piece of it is enough to turn a simple Greek recipe into a gourmet experience, therefore praized by chefs worlwide and even gained PDO status for its unique quality.
As one of Greece’s largest plains, Thessaly feeds the country with a cornucopia of vegetables, fruits and grains. Its natural beauty stretches from the highest mountain of Olympos down to the coasts of Mount Pilio and the Sporades islands.
Up on the mountain villages the food is more rustic. Spetzofai is definitely the most well known dish of the area made with sausages, peppers and tomatoes. Women’s cooperations take advantage of the fertile land and make fruit preserves with the famous Zagora apples and grape syrup. Cheeses are a trademark: apart from the excellent Greek feta of Elassona, you find creamy galotyri, buttery manouri and semi-hard kaseri cheese.
Another region famed for Greek pies, in Thessaly, women are experts in making them with numerous fillo layers, but along with them we find simpler and easier no-phyllo pies, like cornmeal pie plastos and pumpkin pie mpatzina. Skopelos island is known for its cheese pies formed like snails and fried in a pan.
The ultimate Greek food experience is found in one of the countless tsipouradika of the coastal city of Volos. The exquisite tsipouro, the Greek local drink made from grapes, is made in Tyrnavos. It accompanies meze food, offered for free with every little bottle of tsipouro. Greek fish and seafood like sardines, marinated anchovies, grilled octopus, raw shellfish, shrimp, steamed mussels “parade” on your table, till you say no more.
Greek Macedonian cuisine is a colourful bounty of culinary traditions brought by all the peoples who found home in this vast area of Greece’s north. Balkan neighbours, like Slavs and Bulgarians, nomadic tribes like the Vlachs, Jews, who once formed the largest population in Thessaloniki and Greek Asia Minor and Black Sea refugees, all left their mark in the kitchen. Tradition and history together with marvellous local products created a wonderful amalgam of diverse and authentic Macedonian recipes.
Red Florina peppers, Naoussa peaches, Edessa cherries, Krokos (saffron) from Kozani, wild mushrooms from Grevena, giant beans from Prespes, mussels from Halkidiki, all work their way into the artful Macedonian cookery.
Peppers, fresh or dried, are used in every way possible. Sweet or spicy, pickled or smoked -like the famous Aridea variety – they appear in multiple local dishes.
Many recipes use pork in combination with vegetables and fruits: leeks, cabbage, apples, quinces, grapes and cherry plums. One of them is the famous yiaprakia of Northern Greece, cabbage rolls with minced pork (or mixed) eaten as a Christmas dish. From various kinds of meats, Macedonians make kavourma, a slow-simmered product in its fat like confit. Water buffalo meat is used as well, a local delicacy traced back in ancient times, known for its exquisite taste and low fat. Drama is considered now the capital of cold cuts, producing superb pastourma, cured and air dried meat like prosciutto, and soutzouki, a Greek beef sausage flavoured with cumin.
For fish and seafood lovers, the coastal areas of Halkidiki and Kavala, are a revelation. Sit by a waterfront fish restaurant and enjoy mussels made as mydopilafo (mussel risotto) or saganaki with feta cheese, otherwise, go for the cuttlefish with spinach, sundried octopus or the fishermen’s catch of the day.
If you have a sweet tooth, Macedonia will not disappoint. Bougatsa (phyllo pastry with custard cream) is omnipresent in Thessaloniki, while syrupy desserts like trigona (pastries filled with custard cream), ravani (semolina cake), kourkoubinia (sweet phyllo rolls) and roxakia (cocoa and cinnamon cookies) will easilywin your heart.
This northeastern part of our country is where Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey meet. Thracian cuisine was created through the cultural coexistence of peoples from diverse ethnic descents.
Due to the cold climate of the North, Thracian recipes are quite filling with meat, winter vegetables and spices playing a significant role in the kitchen. Here’s a few of them for a short introduction to Thracian cookery:
Tzigerosarmas. Usually served at Easter, these are meatballs with lamb, rice, pine nuts and raisins, wrapped in lamb membrane.
Bambo. A typical food for the Christmas table, where pork intestines are filled with its meat, liver, bulgur, leeks and spices. It was cooked in clay pots or wide casseroles.
Lachania. Lamb or veal cooked with lettuce, tomatoes and red hot chilli pepper.
Tas kebab. Veal stew in rich tomato sauce flavoured with spices served on top of rice.
Thrace is known for its excellent quality sesame seeds. Toasted and ground, you have tahini, a flavourful rich sesame paste that can be eaten for breakfast or used as a sauce or dressing. From tahini and sugar Thracians make halva, a popular “souvenir” to bring back home when you visit Greece. In the main cities of Thrace, Xanthi and Komotini, you find numerous pastry shops selling delightful desserts, like soutzouk-loukoum (a sausage-like confection with walnuts), cariocas (chocolate bites filled with nuts), kazan dipi (a delicious oven-baked, caramelised cream) and seker pare (round semolina biscuits, soaked in syrup).
Epirus is undoubtedly one of Greece’s hidden gems for nature lovers, combining breathtaking mountain views and crystal clear sea waters, while at the same time a dream for Greek food and culture lovers. This rugged natural landscape shaped Epirote cuisine and made Epirotes get creative with the limited resources available. Savoury and sweet pies are the most famous meal to show how they managed to make good use of the scarce ingredients they have at hand. Epirotes can turn anything into a pie: home raised lamb, handpicked wild greens, mushrooms from Pindos mountains, leeks and cabbage from their orchards, leftover milk and yogurt. Don’t leave without trying kothropita (an delicious lamb and rice pie served also instead of the typical Greek New Year’s cake), kasiopita (a quick and easy flour-butter-cheese pie), blatsaria (corn flour pie with feta and wild greens), kolokythopita (sweet pumpkin pie with cinnamon and nuts).
Epirus is the place where the most exquisite Greek cheeses are made. Feta in Epirus is legendary and it’s no wonder the area produces and exports the largest amount of our Greek national cheese. Additionally you find thick and tangy sheep’s yogurt, hard and salty sheep’s and goat’s milk kefalotyri and metsovone, a praised smoked cheese made from a mix of cow’s and sheep’s milk, inspired by the cheesemaking technique of Italian provolone.
Although Epirus’s cuisine in the mountain villages is mainly a shepherd’s cuisine, near its coasts, lakes and rivers, you will taste some of Greece’s best fish and seafood. Acclaimed trout, native shrimp from Ambracian Gulf, fine eel and even frog’s legs, a local delicacy in Epirus capital, Ioannina.
The Ionian Islands is a different story than the rest of Greece. They experienced almost no Ottoman domination, with their conquerors being mostly Venetians, British and Russians.
On the islands of Corfu, Kefalonia, Lefkada, Zakynthos and the rest of the Seven Islands – else called-, the cuisine is a blend of local recipes influenced by Western tradition. Some of them even bear Italian-inspired names like:
Sofrito. Beef in white wine vinegar sauce, seasoned with garlic and parsley.
Bourdeto. A classic dish made with all sorts of fish cooked with onions and spicy tomato sauce.
Pastitsada. A famous pasta dish topped with beef or rooster braised in a tomato-based sauce that seasoned with a blend of spices called spetsieriko.
Aliada. Garlic dip made with potatoes and fish broth, served as accompaniment to fried cod.
Mandolato. A type of soft nougat made with almonds, meringue and local honey.
Mandoles. Roasted almonds covered in red hard-crack caramel.
Pastafrolles. Βiscuits made with fragrant local butter filled with jam (peach, fig or plum).
Tzitzimpira. The British influence in local flavours can be found on Corfu’s refreshing ginger beer with lemon served on the rocks.
When it comes to local products the Ionian boast a variety of them, like excellent barrel feta-style cheese from Kefalonia, ladotyri from Zakynthos (matured brine cheese preserved in olive oil), noumboulo from Corfu (smoked pork tenderloin cured with salt and spices, marinated in wine), air-dried salami of Lefkada, extra virgin olive oil from the native lianolia cultivar and sublime thyme honey from the island of Kythera.
In the south-eastern part of the Aegean sea lies a complex of more than twelve islands-as their name in Greek implies, together with a few hundred smaller ones. Placed on the crossroads between East and West, their rich and diverse history is reflected on the flavourful mosaic of the Dodecanese cuisine.
The fishermen and sponge divers of Kalymnos and Symi are renowned for making good use of the Aegean’s bounty and prepare numerous fresh fish and seafood dishes, such as cured parrotfish, sun dried lobster tail, sun-dried octopus and octopus roe, fried octopus ink, spinialo (brined sea urchins or sea violets, a full taste of the sea), dried bonito, stuffed squid, karkani (a dish with skate and mayo), octopus fritters, sand smelt pies and of course the divine small shrimp of Symi, eaten fried and crisp.
Islanders throughout the Dodecanese celebrate Easter traditions like their fellow Greeks, but instead of roasting lamb, they actually stuff goat or lamb with rice, herbs, spices and offal and cook it slowly in wood-burning ovens. Mououri is the name in Kalymnos, vyzanti in Karpathos, lambriano in Astypalaia.
Homecooks around the Dodecanese prepare handmade pasta and bread. In Karpathos you will find hand rolled makarounes, usually served with caramelised onions and hard myzithra cheese, zimbilia (sweet pies with spices and raisins), in Astypalaia kitrinokouloura, bright yellow biscuits flavoured with indigenous saffron and in Rhodes moschopouggia, filled with almonds and breadrusks, seasoned with clove, cinnamon and rosewater.
A culinary trip to the North Aegean is like a journey to different worlds. Each island – Ikaria, Samos, Chios, Lesvos, and Limnos, the large islands of the group, has a unique personality to be explored.
This Greek island is famed around the world for being a “blue zone” region. In Ikaria, locals are known to live a healthy life beyond the age of 100. This comes as no surprise to us. Ikarians are known for their excellent Mediterranean diet and laid back lifestyle. In this remote place, there are not so many influences as we mentioned in other parts of Greece. People grow their own fruits, vegetables and legumes, they raise their own goats and pigs, fish from the sea and pick wild greens and herbs from the mountains. Although Ikarians do not eat meat very often, during their local feasts, “panigyria”, they cook great amounts of goat and serve strong Ikarian wine to keep them dancing all night long.
Samos is famous for its sweet Muscat wines exported massively around the world.
The most well known recipes of the island are the stuffed goat’s back served during festivities, weddings and Easter time. Keskeki, a slow cooked dish made with kid goat, wheat grain, and onions, served at local summer fairs. Katimeria are the local pancakes served sweet or savoury with grated cheese or grape molasses with nuts. Starozoumo, a sweet soup, made from wheat, tahini, raisins, cloves, cinnamon, cumin and pomegranate, is served on memorial services and Good Friday.
Chios has always been a wealthy island, coveted for its unique treasure produced only on the island, called masticha. Masticha is the precious resin of mastic tree, grown for its distinct flavour and healing properties. It is used in myriad ways; as a liquor, dessert, flavouring, chewing gum, cosmetics, and so on.
Chios is called the “Fragrant”, because of its numerous orchards with citrus fruit and blossoms. Chios’ mandarins are among the best in the world and even gained PDO status. Also roses, figs, cherries… Women’s cooperations make exquisite juices, essential oils, jams and fruit preserves with all of them.
Lesvos in one of the best Greek food destinations in the country. Enjoy Greek island cuisine in one of Lesvos’ numerous “ouzeris”. Lesvos is the “birthplace” of ouzo. You’ ll find a great amount of ouzo brands to taste this Greek anise-flavoured drink that is the best companion of fish and seafood meze. Lesvos’ sardine is a reason on its own to visit the island. This small kind called papalina is the local “sushi”, eaten the freshest you can from the day’s latest catch.
Lemnos is a far away island, still a secret Greek travel destination. Due to its isolation, locals managed to maintain their culinary traditions using Lemnos’ local produce.
The island produces excellent grains and legumes, like wheat, barley, fava, black- eyed peas and sesame seeds.
The fresh pasta of Lemnos is a must. Still many households make the local flomaria, tagliatelle-like egg noodles, served with rooster or eggplants in red tomato sauce, aftoudia or valanes, served with local melichloro cheese and grape molasses for a quick breakfast or light dinner.
Given the arid landscape, Cycladic cuisine has always been simple and resourceful. Local gastronomy on the Cycladic islands has been similar and diverse at the same time from one island to the other.
Cheesemaking is essential in the Cycladic food culture. Some cheeses are made from sheep’s and goat’s milk and other from cow’s milk, a tradition introduced by the Franks and Venetians that once ruled the Cycladic islands. The most commercially known is graviera of Naxos which has a nutty, buttery flavour. Tinos is a paradise for hard core cheeses lovers. Among others you will find: kariki, a roquefort like cheese, aged inside a squash and petroma, a cow’s milk cheese taking its name from the stones used to press out the excessive moisture, used in many sweet and savoury cheese pastries of Tinos. Mileiko is Milos’ oil cheese, which matures in natural caves for at least 6 months. Ios, further down the road, is famed for skotyri cheese, flavoured with savory herb, that used to be aged in goats’ skins. In Syros, the capital of the Cyclades, they make San Michali, a parmesan-like cow’s milk cheese full of local flavours. Lastly, don’t leave Mykonos and the other Cyclades without trying kopanisti, a tangy spread cheese from goat’s and sheep’s milk or louza, the local “prosciutto” made of cured pork loin scented with sweet spices.
Here’s a few renowned Cycladic dishes to know when on a culinary trip around these beautiful Greek islands:
Froutalia. This is a thick omelette eaten in Tinos and Andros. One of our favourites is the one with the local wild artichokes and fennel-seasoned sausages.
Revithada. If you are not a fan of chickpeas, Sifnos will prove you wrong. Revithada is a rich, chickpeas stew, cooked inside a sealed ceramic pot in wood fired ovens.
Tomatokeftedes. Tomato fritters made with the unique small, arid tomato of Santorini, a delicacy enclosing all the powerful flavours of this Greek volcanic land.
Fava. Yellow split peas puree from Santorini’s cucina povera “menu”. Called “married” when combined, eg with sun dried tomatoes, caramelised onions, or pungent local capers.
Ladenia. Kimolos makes the Greek pizza, with thick-crust dough, summer tomatoes, onions and of course extra virgin olive oil.
Last but not least, don’t forget to pair your meal, with the famous Greek wine coming from the Cyclades, the rich and bold Assyrtiko grape.
Crete is one of the biggest islands of the Mediterranean. This blessed land -almost a country on its own- is the place where the term “Mediterranean diet” started its career. The healthy and self-sufficient Cretan diet is based, since Minoan times, on vegetarian dishes of vegetables, legumes and herbs cooked with a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil. The main Cretan meat is goat, grazing wildly on the island, flavoured by wild greens and seawater. The island produces more one of the best Greek extra virgin olive oils, coming mostly from the local Koroneiki variety.
In the Cretan cuisine you will find an amazing variety of breads, pies and pastries. Small, fried pies like hortopitakia, filled with locally foraged wild greens like fennel. Myzithra is a Cretan cheese, fresh like ricotta, found in many Cretan foods like kalitsounia, a star shaped sweet pastry with cinnamon and pita sfakiani, a round fried pie drizzled with thyme honey.
A staple in Cretan diet is paximadi. This is the word used for dry, double baked bread, mostly made of barley or chickpeas flour. Dakos is a delightful Cretan salad made of hard barley rusk, softened with grated tomato and tons of olive oil, from Crete of course. Eptazymo is the “magic” chickpeas flour bread made without yeast. Because of it’s difficulty in the making, it is surrounded with folk superstition.
Antikristo is one of the most ancient techniques of preparing meat in Crete. Big pieces of goat are salted and placed on wooden skewers around fire. In ancient times, this was the food of shepherds and warriors who used their spears to cook the meat. Another Cretan recipe to enjoy goat is tsigariasto, where the meat is slow cooked in a pot in its own juices. Or paired with thousands of bittersweet greens and herbs found on Crete. Among others, wild chicories, stamnagathi (spiny chicory), dandelions, sage and rosemary.
Wash down a magnificent Cretan dinner with raki or tsikoudia – the local grappa that you cannot escape from on the island, or try one of the 15 Cretan wines made with indigenous grapes, found on Crete only.