I am a huge foodie and Greek food is one of my favourite cuisines. From exotic Khmer food, spicy Malay dishes, fiery Isaan cuisine from Thailand to some hearty German dishes, I love food from all over the world. Needless to say, my Greece trip was also full of culinary delights. I ate my way through mainland Greece all the way to the Greek islands and it had been an orgasmic feast of some very fine cheeses, salads, meats, and seafood. While my Athens days revolved around posh restaurants, Crete featured some really authentic tavernas. I loved everything I ate on this legendary Greek island and being a pregnant solo traveler, was spoiled rotten by the very kind and hospitable locals. My list of favourite Greek dishes is endless and in this post, I am presenting Greek food, as it turned up on my plate.
Table of Contents
Moussaka, the king of Greek food
Athens was my jumping off base for the Greek trip and I stayed at the super touristy Plaka area of the city. My hotel was located at the foot of the Acropolis and every night the grand old monument glowered into my window from the hilltop. It was a perfect Athens view and of course, cost a bomb. In fact, everything catering to tourists around the Acropolis was expensive and my days in the city burned holes into my pocket. However, it was a very pleasant place to walk around and at the time of my visit, sour oranges trees were loaded with fruits. They hung heavily ing like a thousand suns, and under one such tree, I ate my first moussaka. A layered baked dish comprising potatoes, aubergine, minced meat, and white sauce, Moussaka was my favourite Greek dish. Usually served warm, not hot, a perfect moussaka square has a golden crust with creamy sauce, potatoes, aubergine, and minced meat spilling out with every bite.
The Greek take on the regional specialty, dolmadaki
Succulently wrapped in vine leaves and stuffed with rice, dolmadakis are awesome. They are served on a plate in neat little rows and are the perfect finger food for any occasion. While I usually enjoyed them as starters, at a small Meteora taverna, they were my entire dinner. There the dolmadakis came along with a platter of grilled peppers, Greek beetroot leaf salad, and Gigandes Plaki. Usually a vegetarian mezze dish, Gigandes Plaki is very uniquely Greek. Made from giant white beans, and cooked in a tomato-based sauce, they are a deliciously hearty option for vegetarians. I have had dolmadaki in many Mediterranean countries and the Greek version hands down take the cake.
The strange delicious Dakos
The first time I heard of Dakos, the Mexican dish of tacos came to my mind. I expected a warm tortilla-like crepe to be served with stuffing and the reality could not have been farthest from my imagination. A typical Cretan dish, Dakos is actually a kind of salad consisting of a slice of soaked dried bread topped with chopped tomatoes and crumbled feta cheese. I was introduced to Dakos at a small taverna in the seaside village of Paleohora in Crete and mine came drizzled with olive oil. Although I did not have a second go at it, dakos remains the strangest Greek food that I tasted.
The healthy Greek starter of beans and greens
Fava is a strange-looking dish. A yellow split peas puree, fava is usually cooked with olive oil and flavoured with raw onions. While it does not have the reputation of being delectable looking, this old Greek dish is super healthy and delicious. Often doused with generous amounts of lime before eating, fava has a velvety melt-in-the-mouth quality. The best fava hails from the paradise island of Santorini and is pretty expensive too. Horta is another strange-tasting dish and though it puckered my mouth every time I tasted it, I could never refuse this delightful Greek food. Made with wild or cultivated greens, Horta is a healthy steamed or blanched salad that is simply dressed with olive oil and lemon juice. I enjoyed them as a starter with my pleasant beetroot leaf salad and the combination was very interesting.
Okra and bell peppers, vegetarian Greek food
Greece delighted me with its huge range of vegetarian options and despite being a meat lover, I stuck to a more or less vegan diet during my entire Greek trip. Pregnancy too made me crave veggies like never before and I ate okra for every meal. Popularly known as bamies in Greek, braised okra is a wonderful summer dish and it is made by braising the veggies in an olive oil-based sauce using a technique called “Ladera”. The result is a slightly crunchy, sweet, and salty okra dish. Grilled peppers were another Greek delight and everything about this dish was perfect. Sweet, succulent char-grilled to taste fresh and smoky at the same time, I loved the way colours would pop out of this dish.
Delicious Dips, Cheese, and Olives
The mainstay of any Greek meal is its classic dips such as tzatziki, fava, cheese platters, and bowls of olives. The Greeks have been growing olives for thousands of years and they are the uncrowned rulers of everything olive. All Greek meals are accompanied by locally grown olives and their fresh produce markets are a cornucopia of shiny, briny olives of different colours, flavours, and sizes. Needless to say, Greeks are generous with their olive oil and it is liberally used in cooking, and salads, and drizzled over most dips and dishes. Greece produces a vast array of fresh cheeses and although I am not a huge cheese fan, Greek fetas, and graviera are hard to refuse. I ate huge amounts of cheese in Crete, the Greek island where I spent the maximum part of my trip. It is said that almost every village on the fertile island of Crete has its own signature cheese and they are usually made from sheep or goat’s milk or a combination of both. Cretan graviera is an excellent hard cheese that is sweeter when new and develops a nutty flavour with age. Crete also produces soft, creamy cheeses like pichtogalo Chanion, which has AOC protection, or myzithra, a young whey cheese with a lovely mild taste.
Chochlioi Boubouristi, a star Cretan dish
This Cretan specialty is as delectable as it sounds and it is actually fried snails. In Crete chochlios means snail, and in this dish, they are fried with flour or cracked wheat and hot olive oil in a pan. Then once it is generously doused with wine or vinegar, a dash of wild rosemary is added to impart a beautiful fragrance and this dish is served with a prong to extricate the meat. A hugely popular dish, which is famous for its health benefits local women collect the snails by hand, and the slimy creatures are cooked alive. While it was the exotic ingredient of the dish that drew me towards it, Chochlioi Boubouristi’s flavour kept me hooked to it during my entire Cretan visit.
Fresh Seafood, the unmistakable star of Greek food
Greece is synonymous with beautiful blue seas and an incredible array of seafood preparations. Summer brings throngs of tourists and at that time, every seaside taverna tosses out vast amounts of fish and calamari fresh from the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas. I sampled some of Greece’s seafood dishes in early spring when fishing boats made lesser trips. This did not prevent the dishes from being incredibly tasty and pocket-friendly at the same time. I liked the way the Greeks prepared their seafood. Options for big catches were usually limited to grilled or steamed and drizzled with ladholemono (a lemon and oil dressing) while flavoursome smaller fishes such as barbounia (red mullet) and maridha (whitebait) were lightly batter fried. Octopuses hung out to dry in the sun like washing is a quintessentially Greek sight and these grilled or marinated babies make fine meze (appetizer), as well as a main course when stewed in wine sauce and served with pasta.
Greek Yogurt and other breakfasts
Greek yogurt is worth its weight in gold. Decadently rich and creamy, I ate huge bowls of it with every meal, and the local Cretan variety is made with sheep’s milk instead of cow’s milk. When topped with another one of Greece’s incredible food products i.e honey, it becomes one of the most beautiful and healthiest breakfasts in the world. On some lazy days, I indulged in fried eggs, bacon, bread, orange juice, and yogurt, and under the fragrant orange trees of sunny Crete, those breakfasts lasted for hours. Often the local market cafes, complete with handwritten blackboard menus, checkered tablecloths, and grumpy owners, beckoned me for meals and those brunches consisted purely of local dishes. Local Cretan breakfasts are made for hardworking village folks or people with hangovers and usually consist of gamey soup and bread. Lunches are usually barbecued or grilled meat of various cuts and meatballs and during one of my lunches at the cafe, the owner repaid my loyalty by proudly plonking a grilled whole sheep head on my plate.
Wine, Raki, and some sweetness
In Crete, drinking raki is a serious business. Consumed a couple of times a day, the locals insist that it is a power-inducing “vitamin” and certainly not alcohol which is frowned upon. Raki is made from the distillation of the remains of grapes (pits/skins) and is a clear smooth drink. Served complimentary in shot glasses with bowls of raisins and sesame sugar balls, there is little escape from Raki in Crete. Greece is synonymous with fine wines and the country has been in wine-making for 6,500 years. Although I am not a discerning wine aficionado, some of my lunches came with excellently refreshing Greek wines, and in Athens, I sampled the (in)famous anise seed flavoured ouzo. Greek deserts took a backseat during my trip and I sampled them only twice. Once I tried a traditional citrus-scented halva and the other time, it was the crunchy fried local donuts called Loukoumades. Made by frying balls of dough and then drenching them in honey, Loukoumades come sprinkled with cinnamon and are typically served with sesame seed.
Follow the rest of the Greece series
- GRACEFUL AND GRUNGY ATHENS
- ACROPOLIS TRAVEL GUIDE
- TIMELESS HYDRA ISLAND
- SARONIC ISLANDS TOUR
- THE CENTER OF THE EARTH AT DELPHI
- METEORA IMPRESSIONS
- WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT CRETE?
- THE COLOURFUL TOWN OF CHANIA
- AGORA MARKET IN CRETE
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE