Traveling to Greece? We share the best Greek food to make you look like a pro when ordering meals at your hometown Greek taverna or when visiting this beautiful Mediterranean country. Get ready for mouthwatering goodness.
Traditional Greek cuisine is a feast for the senses, but ordering a proper meal can be a bit confusing. We paired with local Greek expert Dejan Kvrgic from the island of Zante, Greece to share his favorite traditional Greek dishes, plus we’ve added more of our picks by pulling from our four separate visits to Greece and many a trip to the Danforth in Toronto. So, let the mouth-watering begin!
Traditional Greek Foods
Eating out in Greece is an event. With multiple courses that start with an array of delicious dips followed by dishes of stuffed pastry with fresh seasonal vegetables cooked to perfection in olive oil and garlic, we looked forward to our meals each day in Greece. The food doesn’t stop there, it’s then onto the main course of seafood and kebabs before ending with sweet sticky treats like Baklava. When you eat in Greece, you’ll never go hungry.
Greek cuisine has barely changed in centuries. Original recipes have been passed down through families from generation to generation – starting with the base of extra virgin olive oil. Originating on the island of Crete, olive oil is a staple for all cooking in Greece. Add strong spices and herbs to the recipe and you have healthy and delicious meals. This Greek food guide will give you the confidence you need to order when eating at a Greek restaurant anywhere in the world.
Greek Appetizers – Dips and Salads
Greeks love appetizers. There is a solid risk of filling up with starters alone when dining out in Greece. Usual Greek appetizers include an array of Greek salads with many vegetables and minced meat dishes. There are also meatballs, fries, and the unavoidable dips including the famous Tzatziki. Read more about Greece: 25 Best Things to do in Santorini, Greece.
Many Greek dips are served as a Meze – a selection of small dishes for dipping and snacking – with pita or bread. So are you ready to have a mouth-watering delicious tour starting with these scrumptious appetizers? Let’s go!
1. Melitzanosalata – Greek Eggplant Dip
Melitzanosalata is an eggplant dip perfect to accompany meaty dishes. This traditional dish is similar to baba ganoush but not exactly, it’s a little less complicated with simple ingredients of eggplant, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Just a few ingredients pack a delicious punch. Just remember, the eggplant is roasted, pureed, and combined for the perfect addition to your order when deciding upon Greek dips for starters. You can eat it with bread or pita and it is also a great addition to a meze platter served with pita bread. Make your own Mlitzanosalata dip at home: Get the recipe here.
Taramosalata (or Taramasalata) is another delicious Greek dip made with taramas, (salted and cured fish roe) olive oil, lemon juice, and a base of bread and potatoes. This fish roe dip sounds worse than it is. First of all, its smoky fish flavoring adds a savory finish to any Mezze platter. (Mediterranean party plater). Mix it with – you guessed it olive oil, lemon, breadcrumbs, and milk and you have yourself Taramosalata. Give it a try, you’ll like it. You’ll really like it. Onions and garlic can be added to taste. Serve it with bread and you have a delicious appetizer. Make your own Tarama dip at home.
Who doesn’t love fried cheese? If you like cheese, you are going to love Saganaki. This classic Greek dish is fried cheese that is melted and gooey on the inside and crunchy and delicious on the outside. It’s a perfect start to any meal let alone a Greek meal. Make your own saganaki at home with this recipe.
4. Dolmadakia – Stuffed Grape Leaves
Dolmadakia is one of the most popular Greek dishes you’ll see on many Greek menus. These tasty rice and herb stuffed grape leaves can be filled with whatever you desire. They can be vegetarian with onions and parsley added or stuffed with lamb or beef. Learn to make this traditional Greek dish at home here.
Keftedes are Greek meatballs that make for a great appetizer for a crowd to share, they can be served at parties, and they can also be the main course. Seasoned with herbs and garlic and paired with tzatziki, you’ll love Keftedes. Garnish with fresh mint and you have a mouthwatering flavorful dish. Make your own meatless Greek meatballs at home this weekend!
6. Courgette balls
Courgette balls are a vegetarian starter made with cheese, flour, and breadcrumbs combined with egg, fresh mint, parsley, dill, garlic, spring onion. They are the veggie answer to Keftedes. Make sure the mixture is firm enough to form balls, bake and serve with a side dish of Tzaziki. Check out the menu here.
7. Tyropitakia (Tiropita)
Tyropitakia is a phyllo pastry pie stuffed with cheese. Lots of cheese. This delicious traditional Greek cheese pie is filled with feta cheese, ricotta, cream cheese, and melted butter make for a scrumptious appetizer. A personal favorite of mine is this small crunchy pastry filled with feta cheese. Fold the phyllo pastry into triangles for a canopé that will impress all your friends. Get the recipe here
8. Baked Zucchini with Potatoes
Oven-baked zucchini is a great addition to small plates. Tossed with butter and oregano this is a delicious and common starter when preparing Greek foods. Plus it is healthy too!
9. Fasolada (Traditional Greek Bean Soup)
Fasolada is a traditional white bean soup that is a staple meal in any Greek household. It is considered the national dish of Greece. It is simple to make with white beans, vegetables, and extra virgin olive oil. Greeks really don’t eat a lot of meat and instead substitute legumes and beans for their protein. This healthy food is considered the cornerstone of a Mediterranean diet. Make this at the beginning of your work week and you have a go to hearty meal that is filling and delicious. Get the recipe here.
Popular Greek Dips and Traditional Dishes
10. Tahini Sauce
Mmm, Tahini. It is a versatile Greek dip that can also be used as a sauce or dressing. This dense paste made from sesame seeds is used for many Greek dips. The nutty, creamy ground sesame mixture is often mixed with Yogurt and dill. Grab some bread and dip it into deliciousness or add it to salad dressings for some texture and pop. Dip your vegetables in it or even mix it in with your stir-fries. Try this tahini sauce at home.
Probably the most well-known traditional Greek dish is Tzatziki. I know it was the first thing I ever ordered on the Danforth in Toronto’s Greek Town. This classic Greek dish combines yogurt and cucumber and is so refreshing with pitas. Add garlic, extra virgin olive oil (a staple for any Greek recipe), herbs like mind and dill, lemon juice and a dash of salt and you have a creamy spread or dip that everyone will love. Make this simple recipe at home.
If you want to add some spice to your Greek dips, Tirokafteri is a great choice. This yummy Greek feta dip is rich and delicious. Combine a generous portion of feta cheese, roasted red peppers, garlic and crushed chili flakes for just the right amount of spice. Naturally, extra virgin olive oil is involved in this recipe. Make this easy-to-follow recipe at home.
I saved the best Greek dip for last. Tapenade is my favorite Greek dip that I always include in a platter. (It’s Dave and Debs too!) This greek olive dip is perfect as a spread or dip. It’s easy to make too. Just take fresh Greek Olives finely chopped and mixed with garlic and olive oil. My mouth is watering as I write this! Learn how to make Kalata Olive Tapenade here.
Main Courses – Greek Specialties
The main courses of any Greek dish are rich in flavor. Traditional dishes are accompanied by pita bread and Greek salad. When in Greece, don’t be surprised if there is some kind of performance when dining at a traditional Greek tavern. Greeks love performing. When you read the name “specialty meal” it usually means that it comes with fire, plate smashing, music, and attention-grabbing theatrics. To truly eat like a Greek, you should try these special traditional dishes.
This world-famous meal is made from eggplants, minced meat, and bechamel sauce. (white flour and milk sauce). Moussaka with béchamel sauce is certainly a classic Greek dish that most people have heard of. Traditional Moussaka uses lamb, but it can also be cooked with beef. When ordering a Greek dish at a restaurant this is a good traditional dish to get your feet wet.
- Try cooking Moussaka at home tonight by following these steps.
- Make your own béchamel sauce at home with this recipe
Kabobs are found everywhere in Greece and are popular street foods and go-to dish. They are a mixture of grilled meat and veggies on a skewer. From steak, chicken, and lamb to mushrooms peppers, and onions. This is a light and lean choice for Greek Cuisine.
A pastitsio is a baked pasta dish that is the ultimate Greek comfort food. It is Greece’s answer to lasagna. This dish involves layers of pasta with minced beef and tomato sauce and bechamel sauce – (butter and flour that have been cooked together) to create a milky texture making it the ultimate comfort food. What sets it apart from regular pasta is the herbs and spices and hollow bucatini pasta. Enjoy it with a fine glass of red wine and you have a delicious meal. Make Pastitsio with béchamel sauce at home with this recipe.
A yummy casserole-baked Greek stew made with meat (beef or lamb), tomato sauce, pearl onions, white wine, garlic, cinnamon, and oregano. In Greece, this dish is often served with pasta as a side dish. Jamie Oliver has a good stifado recipe to follow.
Lamb is a staple dish when dining out in Greece, and a Greek food centerpiece for grilling is lamb chops. Paidakia are well-seasoned lamb chops marinated in extra virgin olive oil. A great garnish with lamb is most certainly fresh mint.
19. Skordostoumbi Melitzana
This Zakynthos recipe is made with eggplants and one hundred cloves of garlic. Skordostoumbi is usually made with meat around the rest of Greece, it is the eggplant that makes it unique in Zante (aka Zakynthos). Mix together all of the cooked eggplant, garlic, vinegar, and tomatoes to create a fresh tomato sauce, and then bake them together to create a savory sauce that is eaten with bread and feta cheese. Get the recipe here.
20. Yemista (Gemista)
Bursting with juicy flavors, Yemista is a dish of baked tomatoes stuffed with minced meat, spices and herbs. Other vegetables can be used as well. We love stuffed peppers and zucchini. It doesn’t have to be minced meat either, vegetarian versions include rice with chopped vegetables and tomatoes sauce.
21. Stuffed Meats
Other Greek favorites are stuffed duck, chicken, turkey, rabbit, and fish. On Zante, the rabbit is especially popular. Pair meats with a side dish of Fasolakia (Greek green beans braised with tomato sauce, onion, olive oil, and garlic) and moussaka and you have a rich and delicious meal.
The most consumed desserts in Greece are fruit, yogurt, and some honey. Restaurants in Zakynthos have adapted to the tourists and added popular and familiar desserts from many cuisines. The fruit salads are the most common in Zakynthos, and all of Greece. These are the five most popular desserts in Greece – (With lots of variations)
Baklava is a very rich and sweet filo pastry (phyllo pastry) filled with syrup and honey, nuts, and cinnamon. A classic Greek dessert, Baklava is usually the first sweet people will order when visiting Greece. AllRecipes has an easy Baklava recipe to follow.
Kataifi is one of the most popular desserts next to Baklava. It’s made with layers of thin angel hair pastry dough filled with walnuts, almonds, cinnamon, and sugar drizzled with honey. Make this homemade recipe now.
24. Fruit salads with yogurt
Nothing compares to Greek yogurt. Mix it with fresh fruit and berries and layer it like a sundae topped with fresh honey and you have a perfect Greek dessert. While many people think Greek cuisine is always complicated. Some of the classic Greek dishes are made of simple and fresh ingredients. It doesn’t get more pure than this.
Bougatsa is a lovely puff pastry stuffed with cream and covered with icing sugar and cinnamon.
Galaktoboureko is a popular Greek dessert made of custard and phyllo pastry. It’s best served warm straight out of the oven and topped with sugary syrup and cinnamon.
Greek Snacks and Fast Food
Many Greek recipes are made to satisfy the hunger on the go. They are not only delicious, but they are also healthy too. I dare you not to get hooked on Gyros. You can choose from chicken, lamb, or pork gyros. Many Greek restaurants have a stall out front for passersbies to order on the go.
The world-famous Gryos originated in Greece. It is the most popular fast food in Greece and you’ll find that when visiting the country, you’ll be craving them yourself! This common sliced meat snake is prepared with lots of spices, wrapped up with pita (Greek tortilla) with fries, salads and topped with tzatziki sauce.
Souvlaki is the second most popular fast food in Greece. It is basically pieces of meat on a skillet, roasted alongside with some veggies (especially onions), and served in pitta, or sandwich. Additions like salads and sauces share the same practice as gyros.
29. Spanikopita – Puffed Pastry
Spanikopita is a Greek spinach pie stuffed with feta cheese and olive oil that is cooked to fluffy and buttery perfection. We made this from scratch in Costa Navarino and there is nothing better than taking a cooking class in Greece to see how meals are prepared. Impress your friends and make your own Greek spinach pie at home: Recipe here.
Eating out in Greece
Now that you have a better understanding of Greek cuisine let me take you to experience a Greek lunch. When ordering your meal in Greece, there’s always a lot of choices on the menu. Don’t worry though, it is usually sorted by categories, and written in multiple languages.
I suggest starting with Ouzo, a licorice flavor liqueur that goes perfectly with your appetizers. Strong coffee is also offered and often served during the starters. When the meal comes, be sure to order a fine glass of wine (or Greek beer, Mythos)
When ordering starters, begin with an array of dips, and salads that are usually designed to complement your meal. If you order a fish meal, make sure that seafood is a part of your starters.
For a truly authentic Greek experience be daring and try, Stifado, Moussaka, or a stuffed rabbit. Main courses come with vegetables, fried potatoes, and salads. On top of all that, you’ll have a basket of pitas on the table. I told you it’s a lot of food!
The servings in Greece are huge. Usual Greek dining will be heavy; expect at least 2000 Kcal in your belly. But it’s worth it. Dining in Greece isn’t just about the food, it’s an experience! On my island of Zante, your Stifado is brought in a flaming bowl covered with aluminum foil. Musicians play guitars, and the mood is festive.
We learned how to make Spanikopita in Greece. If we can make this spinach and cheese pie, anyone can! Check out the video below.
And that is your complete guide to Greek food. Have you eaten Greek before? What is your favorite dish? Let us know in the comments below what you would choose to eat in Greece.
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Dejan is the founder of Zante Holiday Insider, a blog about the Greek island Zakynthos – Zante where you will find great inside info about Zante, deals, travel advice and knowledge, and great help exploring Zante. You can also follow the Insider on Twitter, Facebook & Pinterest.