Travelling on a special diet can be difficult, especially if you don’t want to miss out any local flavours. Being vegan in Athens you have nothing to worry about! Greece is the epicentre of Mediterranean cuisine and offers an abundance of fresh, wholesome local produce to tantalise your taste buds!
Plant-based diet in Greece
Vegan restaurants in Athens spring up like mushrooms lately, advancing our capital to the top 10 of the “Cities with the most vegan options worldwide” – according to Forbes.
There’s a common misconception that Greeks are big meat eaters, due to the fact that what is promoted as Greek food abroad are gyros, souvlaki and roasted lamb. Actually, in the last decades, Greeks increased their meat consumption and scorned the Mediterranean diet they became known for. Our dietary preferences used to be defined by both poverty – people preferred to keep their animals for their milk, instead of killing them for their meat – and religion. Greeks followed devoutly meat and dairy abstention during fasting periods that lasted more than 180 days (!) in a year. As vegan, you are very lucky to visit Greece during Lent, as there’s a lot of meat and dairy-free options to choose from. For example, at the bakeries they offer a spanakopita= spinach pie, without feta cheese.
The truth is that Greeks – especially older generations – do not fully understand the idea of vegan- and vegetarianism. Who can forget the famous quote from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”: – What you mean he don’t eat no meat. – Oh, that’s okay. I make lamb. But Greece is a paradise for vegans and vegetarians alike, and only if you travel here, you will realise how many Greek vegan-friendly dishes are on offer.
Greek vegan and vegetarian food to order in Athens
Here’s a whole list of classic recipes to order at a Greek restaurant, offering great taste and diversity at the same time:
Ladera. A whole category of vegetables and pulses dishes cooked in tons of extra virgin olive oil.
Fasolakia. Green beans with potatoes in rich tomato sauce.
Fasolada. Bean soup with carrots and celery. Οur national dish and comfort food in wintertime.
Gigantes. White beans, gigantic in size – thus their name 🙂 – baked in the oven.
Gemista. Stuffed tomatoes and peppers in the oven. Make sure you ask for “orfana”= orphans, which means without meat.
Dolmadakia. Stuffed grape leaves with rice. Make sure they are “yalantzi” – which means liar, therefore with no meat. Eaten hot or cold, with a sprinkle of lemon juice, one piece is never enough.
Fava. Not to be confused with fava beans. It’s yellow split peas puree that looks like a yellower version of hummus on your plate. When it’s served with sth else on top, eg caper, caramelised onions, etc we call it “married”. Santorini is known for a special fava variety, growing on its arid, volcanic soil.
Horta. Wild and cultivated greens are a big chapter in Greek and Cretan cuisine. Still people in the countryside love foraging them. Super nutritious and healthy, served boiled in their simple version, drizzled with lemon and olive oil.
Revythia. Chickpeas made in the oven with onions and rosemary or in a pot thickened with a delicious flour-lemon sauce. Best place to find them is on the island of Sifnos, slow cooked in a ceramic pot till mellow.
Greeks, like all people in the Mediterranean and Middle East, absolutely adore eggplants. They long for them every summer time when they are in season and have invented various ways to enjoy them.
Melitzanosalata. An eggplant-garlic-pepper dip, best served on crisp pita bread or sourdough bread.
Imam baildi. Actually meaning the imam fainted – while enjoying this sweet and mellow dish. Eggplants stuffed with tomatoes, onions, herbs and cooked -needless to say again- in OLIVE OIL!
Tourlou/Briam. Mixed, as the word in Greek implies. Pieces of summer vegetables, like eggplants, zucchini, tomatoes, and potatoes in the oven. Greeks in their summer houses prepare it in the morning and enjoy it after coming back hungry from the beach.
Spanakorizo. Spinach and rice stew. A nightmare if you are a kid, it takes some time to appreciate its simplicity and humble flavour.
Tomatokeftedes. Tomato fritters. Actually, Greeks turn any beloved vegetable or pulse into meat-free keftedes in Greece. Add some flour, onions, herbs and fry them – in olive oil of course. Vegetarians can opt for a wider variety, as some, like kolokythokeftedes=zucchini fritters, can be made with cheese and eggs.
Black eyed peas and lentils. Prepared as casserole but also enjoyed as fresh, cold salads. A light dish, shining in.. (you guessed right) olive oil, that can help you deal with the Greek summer heat.
A note for vegetarians: Ladera dishes are eaten traditionally with a big block of feta on one side of the plate and a piece of bread of the same size on the other 🙂
Cravings for Greek vegan desserts? Try halva, tahinopita (tahini pastry), olive oil baklava or loukoumades with dusted sugar or choco praline.
Greek classics with a vegan/vegetarian twist and where to find them in Athens
Greek vegans fall for these plant-based versions of traditional Greek food, as they are light, wholesome, and don’t compromise in texture and taste. We tried them all and suggest for you a few places to find them (the list is constantly updated and can be sent as a free map, if you ask us politely 🙂
Moussaka. Probably the most well-known Greek dish. Originally a no-no for vegans, just like pastitsio, as it contains minced meat and bechamel sauce with eggs and butter. Now you can find the vegan alternative of our Greek classics in Athens – we tried them in Veganaki.
Want to make moussaka at home? Check out our delightful vegetarian recipe.
Soutzoukakia. Comfort Greek food at its best! A typical Sunday’s lunch, meatballs with lots of spices in rich, tomato sauce served with rice or pasta. In Mama Tierra we found their incredibly delicious vegan spin.
Greek salad. Although you can order a “horiatiki”, as we call it in Greece, without feta, The Plant Kingdom offers Greek salad on the menu with vegan feta. A beautiful alternative is Dakos salad with barley rusk, tomatoes, olives and vegan feta found at the Vegan Beat.
Souvlaki and Gyro. More and more conventional street food joints adjust to the new norm, as an increasingly amount of locals and tourists look for meat-free alternatives. Some vegan restaurants in Athens make seitan or tempeh gyro. But our favourite Greek vegan delicacy is the mushroom gyro found @The Vegan Vandal, with herb-marinated vegetables wrapped in soft pita bread. Vegan tzatziki is also a thing in Greece, so make sure you look for it while here.