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Explore Greek cuisine: Diverse flavors, rich history, and fresh ingredients

There are a number of reasons that draw travelers to Greece, from the sun-soaked islands to the historically rich mainland. However, one of the best reasons is having the opportunity to savor the extraordinary cuisine that the nation proudly offers. 

Even if a trip to Greece isn’t in the cards, you can recreate the experience at home or explore your local Greek restaurant. Here are various delectable Greek dishes worth savoring at least once in your lifetime:

  1. The Mediterranean diet
  2. Mezes
  3. The souvlaki and gyro
  4. Seafood
  5. Regional specialties
  6. Sweets
  7. Wine and spirits

EUROPE TRAVEL TIPS

On the list of the most popular international destinations for summer 2023 is Athens, Greece. (iStock)

The Mediterranean diet in Greece reflects a cultural connection to their food. Meals are viewed as a communal experience, bringing people together to share stories and create lasting memories. Local markets are crowded with produce, and the aroma of freshly baked bread emphasizes the importance of seasonal, locally sourced ingredients.

Characterized by olive oil, fresh vegetables, whole grains and an intake of fish and wine, this diet is not just a way of eating but a way of life in Greece. 

“The Greek Mediterranean diet is not merely a diet, but rather a way of life: it constitutes a set of skills, knowledge and practices, promoting social interaction, since communal meals are the cornerstone of social customs and festive events,” reads the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. 

Greek dolmades

To prepare dolmades, grape leaves are typically blanched to soften them before being carefully filled with the rice and herb mixture. (Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

No Greek dining experience is complete without indulging in mezes, a selection of small dishes meant for sharing. Tzatziki, a yogurt and cucumber dip, and Taramasalata, a creamy fish roe spread, are just the beginning. 

  1. Spanakopita: A savory pastry filled with spinach and feta that offers a delightful blend of flaky crust and rich, herby filling.
  2. Dolmades: Grape leaves stuffed with seasoned rice and pine nuts that provide a burst of Mediterranean flavors in each bite.
  3. Keftedes: Seasoned meatballs often served with a zesty yogurt-based sauce, showcasing the skillful balance of spices in Greek cuisine.

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The variety within mezes reflects the country’s regional diversity, with each region contributing its own unique twists to these shared dishes. Whether enjoyed in a seaside taverna with the sound of waves as a backdrop or in a cozy family-owned restaurant tucked away in a charming alley, the experience of mezes goes beyond the culinary – it’s a celebration of togetherness. 

Greek gyro with pork

A gyro with pork (called the Herc) at Saloniki, a fast-food Greek restaurant, in Boston. (Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The iconic souvlaki and gyro, cherished as typical Greek street foods, are the very essence of Greek comfort food. Whether wrapped in warm pita bread or skewered and grilled to perfection, these dishes will hit the spot every time. 

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The interplay of meats, typically lamb, chicken or pork, with a medley of fresh tomatoes, crisp onions and a generous dollop of velvety tzatziki, creates delicious Mediterranean flavors in every bite.

Visitors can enjoy this Greek food on the streets of Athens or in a quaint village square. These beloved street foods are a testament to the Greeks’ mastery of simple yet exquisite cuisine. 

Octopus drying in the sun in Greece

Sun drying octopus at Limenaria village in Thassos, Greece. Greeks have been eating octopus since ancient times, and it is still on the menu of the country in many fish taverns. (Athanasios Gioumpasis/Getty Images)

With its extensive coastline, Greece offers a number of seafood delights:

  1. Grilled octopus
  2. Sea bass
  3. Red snapper
  4. Crispy fried calamari
  5. Kakavia, the stereotypical Greek fisherman’s soup.

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Kakavia is typically made with a variety of fish, shellfish and other seafood, combined with vegetables such as tomatoes, onions and potatoes. The soup is seasoned with herbs and spices, creating a savory and aromatic dish.

Visitors can travel to coastal tavernas for a seafood feast that reflects the freshness and simplicity of Greek coastal life. 

Bougatsa pie

A bougatsa pie, a delicious sweet treat made of white cheese and thin pastry baked in the oven is served in Heraklion, Greece. (Bastian Parschau/Getty Images)

1. Crete

Crete is known for its high-quality, tender lamb, and it’s prepared in various ways to showcase its natural taste. Grilled lamb chops, slow-cooked stews and roasted lamb with aromatic herbs are some of the popular lamb dishes you might encounter on the island.

2. Thessaloniki

Bougatsa is a traditional Greek pastry that originated in the city of Thessaloniki. It is a type of phyllo dough pastry that can be either sweet or savory. The most common types are sweet bougatsa with custard filling or sweet cream, and savory bougatsa with cheese or minced meat filling.

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3. Santorini

Domatokeftedes are a Greek dish hailing from the beautiful island of Santorini. These are tomato fritters that showcase the island’s rich agricultural produce, particularly its vibrant and flavorful tomatoes. The dish perfectly captures the essence of the Aegean sun-soaked harvest, offering a burst of Mediterranean flavors.

Baklava pastries

Baklava pastries are seen at a pastry shop in Istanbul. Baklava is a pastry made of layers of filo pastry filled with semolina cream and Antep pistachio. (OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images)

Greek desserts are a sweet celebration of tradition and local ingredients. Sink your teeth into the luscious layers of baklava, a decadent pastry crafted from delicate phyllo dough and an irresistible medley of nuts. For a taste of golden perfection, savor loukoumades, delectable fried dough orbs generously drizzled with golden honey. 

Conclude your culinary journey with Greek spoon sweets, featuring fruits preserved in rich, syrupy perfection — a sweet note to end your Greek dining experience.

A waiter serves a glass of Assyrtiko wine on Santorini island in Greece

A waiter pours a glass of Assyrtiko wine on Santorini Island, Greece. Assyrtiko is a white grape variety native to the Greek island of Santorini, although it is also cultivated in other parts of Greece. (Xinhua/ via Getty Images)

Sip the rich narratives of Greece’s selection of wines, from the robust reds hailing from Nemea to the crisp Assyrtiko whites dancing on the vineyards of Santorini.

Each glass captures the essence of Greek winemaking. Elevate your toast with the anise-flavored allure of ouzo or the robust character of tsipouro, traditional spirits that embody the conviviality woven into the fabric of Greek dining.

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From Greek mezes to seafood, regional specialties to sweet endings, every bite is a celebration of tradition and a testament to the Greek passion for life, food, and shared moments around the table.

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