A foodies guide to Greece
For gourmets in the know, Greece is a mecca. Known for its excellent grilled meats as well as seafood and vegetarian dishes so good you could almost give up meat; that is until you try spit roasted lamb carved right of the grill. Even those who are not too familiar with Greek cuisine may well have tried dishes such as Mousaka or a sorry excuse for a “kebab” after a night out in the UK. But Greek for is so much more than that. Even the humble kebab is raised to new heights when you try the real Greek souvlakia, grilled to perfection and served with zingy fresh ingredients and for global street for nothing can beat the humble Gyros. Pitta bread filled with meat, salad, chips and sauce, perfect when strolling the caldera-side cliffs of Santorini.
So what are the foodie highlights of Greece that will keep you coming back for more?
5 must try dishes :
*Souvlakia: Perhaps the best place to start when getting in to Greek food is the Souvlakia. It will be familiar to most of us a kebab but don’t be deceived. On most menu’s the meat on offer will be pork but you can still find lamb in places. Excellently spiced, the meat should be tender and juicy and combined with grilled vegetables, usually peppers and onions. They can sometimes be served in pitta bread or wrapped in a paper parcel, either way they are a delicious and healthy lunch time meal, perfect for keeping you going as you visit Athens’s sights such as the view from Lycabettus hill.
*Gyros: I first tried these on Santorini, and I can say they instantly became a favourite, having made them at home since. They are similar to the Souvlakia and to those uninitiated to Greek food could seem quite similar. It might look like what you can get as a takeaway back in the UK but its simplicity and familiarity can be deceiving. The difference here is the meat is roasted on a vertical spit with slices taken from it. Typically it will be served wrapped in a pitta with fresh lettuce and tomato, French fries and a variety of sauces. Top tip: Try all the sauces and if there is a paprika spiced one go for that it works really well with the spiced meat.
*Aubergine (Eggplant) Rolls: This is wonderful dish and one you might not be familiar with. As with a few of these dishes I first tried them in several of the restaurants of Firostefani. This dish, which works well as a side to lamb or as a meal in its own right, is elegant in its simplicity. The aubergine is slices and grilled (to soften it) before being stuffed with a cheese based filling. The rolls are then baked with a rich tomato sauce. I found it to be a perfect lunch time meal as it is not too heavy as to slow you down in the afternoon. I found each restaurant had a unique recipe and way of serving it in large rolls you need to cut into or bite sized ones ready to devour.
*Breads: First thing in the morning in Athens I awoke to the smell of wonderful breads of all shapes, sizes and flavours. The intoxicating aromas are enough to draw you from your slumber early in the morning. I tried several different breads and the one which I think was best were the Koulouri rings, a thin bread ring topped with sesame seeds. These are considered a classic Greek street food which I often found perfect for breakfast. The best I tried were the absolutely enormous ones I got from a street vender first thing in the morning waiting for the ferry from Pireaus.
Top tip: Get to the bakeries early in the morning. I found that many of the best breads and pastries were sold out by mid-morning and the bakeries themselves closed before lunch.
*Seafood: Sitting in the beautiful Mediterranean and Aegean Sea’s Greece’s Islands are gifted with waters rich in wonderful fish and seafood. If you visit the islands then trying the freshly caught and prepared seafood is a must. I recommend trying dishes such as Octopus salad and the Calamari, battered or simply fried. Often the best seafood I tried came from very unprepossessing restaurants by the seafront where you could see the food being prepared and the daily catch brought in by the fishermen. Favourites included baked Sea bass, Calamari and Seafood pasta. The latter of which was so fresh and good I almost wanted to cry knowing I’d have to leave Greece!
Top tip: It has to be Seafood pasta. Each restaurant has its own unique recipe so it’s well worth trying a few to find the best in the area you stay in.
There is so much more to Greek cuisine than just these few dishes but they serve as a great place to start your journey. Beyond this you can’t miss classic dishes such as Cheese pie and Mousakka or be brave and go for an authentic Greek coffee. Much stronger and more complex than its western counterpart it might not be for everyone, but its rich rewarding taste and deep flavour is worth exploring.
Enjoy your journey through the cuisine of Greece!
By Russell Bowes