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The food in Greece is best described by the word, “simplicity” and along with that, fresh and local ingredients.
And, this simple approach to the cuisine and amazing fresh produce is exactly why we fell in love with Greece food.
Greek food is not smothered in sauces. Meat dishes are grilled or slowly stewed to perfection.
Fish is grilled whole and seafood lightly fried in olive oil. While seasonal and fresh vegetables accompany the meals.
Greece, a country with a rich and ancient culinary tradition offers numerous local food specialties.
There are beloved national dishes and popular regional Greek foods. This guide to the best food in Greece highlights some of the national treasures worth savoring.
As the Greeks say, Kali Orexi — enjoy your meal!
Greek Snacks, Appetizers and Salad
1. Taramasalata or Taramosalata – Greek Fish Roe Dip
In Greece, the culture of sharing small plates called meze is very strong. A meze platter includes a variety of flavors and textures like dips, olives, savory fish and meat bites and more.
The Greek meze or appetizer platter is incomplete without this traditional dip. You’ll find restaurants and home cooks serving their unique version of the creamy taramasalata dip.
Most often, taramosalata is eaten on the first day of Greek Orthodox Lent. It is paired with a special unleavened flatbread known as lagana that is made for Lent.
To see how this traditional bread is made, you can watch our short YouTube lagana bread video.
Our first experience with this traditional Greek food was over Lent, during our long stay on the island of Crete.
The tasty dip is made with cured roe or tiny fish eggs, olive oil, lemons, onions and breadcrumbs. The fish eggs can be from carp, cod, striped mullet or herring.
The color of the dip ranges from white to light pink depending on the tarama or eggs used.
Outside of the Lent period, this popular food in Greece is found on most restaurant menus. It is a popular dip on the meze platter.
We tried both the white and pink versions and liked them both. As you enjoy the meze tradition in Greece, be sure to have the taramasalata dip. Try both versions and find your favorite one.
Taramosalata is rooted in Greek tradition and history and it is one of the delicious Greek foods you’ll enjoy discovering.
2. Tzatziki – Cucumber Yogurt Sauce
Tzatziki, a popular food in Greece, is a favorite at Greek restaurants across the globe. You’re probably familiar with an adapted version of this yogurt, cucumber and garlic dip.
However, nothing compares to the authentic Tzatziki served in Greece. The magical flavors are found in the dense Greek yogurt made with sheep and goat milk.
Additionally, the use of high-quality Greek extra virgin olive oil adds to the elevated taste experience.
This tangy tzatziki sauce is made with cucumber, Greek yogurt, and olive oil is flavored with garlic and herbs.
This Greece food is popular throughout the country, at home and at restaurants. It is typically spread on souvlaki and gyros, two of the most popular favorite dishes.
Greeks also love dipping bread and homemade Greek fries into tzatziki sauce as well as grilled vegetables and meats.
Tzatziki sauce is incredibly popular and every Greek restaurant and home cook makes their own special version. The key to this simple dip is the use of high-quality Greek ingredients.
3. Spanakopita – Greek Spinach Pie
Spanakopita or Greek spinach pie was one of the traditional Greek foods we quickly fell in love with.
In Greece, spanakopita is one of the most famous pies or pita. It is a savory Greek pie made with layers of phyllo dough in between a mixture of spinach and Greek feta cheese.
Greeks have been eating pies since ancient times and the use of spinach and phyllo in this pie is said to have originated during the Byzantine Empire.
Today, spanakopita is one of the most emblematic foods in Greece. Bakeries, local eateries, and restaurants always have spanakopita available.
This filo (phyllo) pastry-wrapped pie is wonderful as a breakfast, side dish or anytime snack. Spanakopita was one of our favorite bakery purchases along with the Greek cheese pie.
In Greece, spanakopita are typically served as squares rather than triangles.
An important food in Greece, spanakopita pies are fresh and utterly delicious. They are perfect for those looking for vegetarian Greek traditional dishes.
4. Horiatiki Salad – Most Iconic Greek Salad
This fresh, simple salad is available all over Greece with some islands and regions having their unique versions. The Greek word, horiatiki, means a from the village and this dish is simply a village salad.
This simple salad is delicious and one of the cornerstones of the Greek cuisine.
In Greece, the horiatiki salad is unlike any Greek salads you’ll find in the US. Outside of Greece most restaurants mix in feta cheese and kalamata olives and call it a day.
However, there are notable differences to this traditional Greece food. First, there is no lettuce in a traditional Greek salad. And secondly, the dressing is simply extra virgin olive oil and not Greek dressing.
Horiatiki is one of the most popular Greek salads in the late Spring and Summer months when all the ingredients are fresh, ripe and in season.
During this period, no Greek meal is considered complete without horiatiki. The salad bowl is a crunchy amalgam of feta cheese, olives, tomatoes, cucumber, and fresh herbs.
In addition to using fresh and high-quality ingredients, the salad is brimming with nutrients.
In the Summer, horiatiki is eaten as a main dish with crusty bread for soaking up the flavorful salad juices. It also makes a good side to meat and seafood dishes.
Popular Greek Dishes
5. Souvlaki – Meat on Skewers – National Food in Greece
A staple food in Greece, souvlaki are essentially small pieces of meat, mostly pork, grilled on skewers.
The grilling is not restricted to pork and souvlaki can also contain lamb, fish, beef, chicken and even vegetables.
A popular street food in a country that loves its grilled meats. Greeks have a similar emotional attachment to souvlaki as Argentinians have for asado.
In Crete, the largest of the Greek islands, Oasis, in Chania is a local gem for souvlaki. In our short Youtube video of Oasis, watch the two brothers whip up their famous pork skewers.
When eaten as a street food or appetizer, souvlaki contains smaller pieces of meat. While as a main meal, the pieces of meat are larger and are accompanied with french fries, tzatziki and pita bread.
As one of the treasured and favorite Greek foods, you cannot resist the temptation of this popular and tasty food.
6. Dolmades or Dolmas – Stuffed Grape Leaves
This food in Greece gets its name from the Turkish word for fill or stuff – Dolma. Brought to Greece by the Ottomans, dolmades are now considered as one of the most traditional foods.
This tasty, stuffed dish is made with delicious filling encased in grape or vine leaves. The fillings are usually beef or lamb, rice, pine nuts, fresh dill and other herbs.
There are many variations to this classic Greek food. Meatless versions are often prepared as a side dish or part of a meze platter. They are also particularly popular during the Lent period.
When served as a main dish, meat dolmades are served warm usually with avgolemono, a sauce with egg, rice and lemon juice.
During our stay in the cooler winter months, we enjoyed minced meat dolmades stuffed with cabbage known as lahanodolmades.
Throughout Greece, you’ll find regional differences in the ingredients and leaves used to make these traditional stuffed dishes.
No matter which versions of dolmas you try in Greece, you are sure to love this Greek food as much as locals do.
The rice and herbs ones are the most popular and are easy to eat in just one or two bites.
Dolmades taste wonderful cold or warm and are not to be missed while visiting Greece.
7. Gigantes Plaki – Baked Giant White Beans
Greeks are known for their warm hospitality and gigantes is the one dish we most closely associated with this.
When we arrived at the Greek island of Crete, our Airbnb host welcomed us with a wonderful plate of gigantes.
Hungry and tired from our travels, this heartwarming and flavorful Greek dish was the perfect meal.
Gigantes or giant white beans are a specialty food in Greece. Gigantes is the Greek term for giant while Plaki refers to a vegetable dish that is baked in the oven.
In this classic Greek food, giant white beans are baked in homemade tomato sauce flavored with aromatic fresh herbs. Carrots and garlic are added making it an even more wholesome meal.
Gigantes are widely popular across the country both at home and at local Greek restaurants. The gigantes are native to Greece. The ones from the regions of Kastoria, Florina and Drama have Protected Geographical Indication designation from the European Union.
A trip to Greece would not be complete until you have savored this nutritious and satisfying traditional Greek food.
8. Greek Seafood – Octopus and Calamari
While most Greeks enjoy tasty grilled meat, their love for seafood runs deep and is as old as their culture.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise as Greece is practically surrounded by water and islands make up 20% of the country.
Greek seafood dishes are exceptional. They are made with high quality freshly caught seafood, topped with herbs and spices and doused in Greek olive oil. This simple preparation allows the true flavors to shine.
While seafood is plentiful in Greece, the Greek seas are threatened by overfishing. While in Chania, Crete, we had the opportunity to meet with the owner of To Maridaki, the most popular fish tavern. His advice was to choose the local and less common fish based on availability.
Traditional Greek seafood dishes include calamari (squid), lavraki (Mediterrenean sea bass), soupia (cuttlefish), sardeles (sardines), grilled octopus and much more.
Calamari or crispy fried squid are widely served as an appetizer. And we particularly enjoyed different preparations of cuttlefish and octopus.
One iconic image you’ll see in the summer are rows of octopus hung out to dry like clothes along the harbor.
With fish and seafood being an important component of Greek cuisine, you cannot miss the fresh flavors from the sea.
Do keep in mind the overfishing issue and instead try the local, less common sustainable fish varieties.
9. Moussaka – National Classic Greek Food
Moussaka is one dish that has single handedly helped familiarize people with Greek food. It’s no wonder this oven baked casserole is one of the classic national dishes.
Moussaka is made in a variety of styles. In Greece, you’ll find countless regional variations and family versions of this dish across the country.
Generally, sauteed eggplants are layered with either minced beef or lamb, potato filling and cooked in tomato sauce.
A final layer of Geek feta cheese and a creamy and rich béchamel sauce complete the dish.
Moussaka as a dish was created after the introduction of cream sauces in 20th century Greece.
Nikolaos Tselementes, considered the “father” of modern Greek gastronomy, was the first to pair béchamel sauce with moussaka.
This recipe with Greek origins is equally popular in the Middle East and Egypt.
An everyday food, you’ll find moussaka cut up in squares and served warm at traditional Greek restaurants.
The exquisite flavors of this iconic food in Greece must be savored on your travels.
10. Pastitsio – Greek Baked Pasta Dish
Another popular baked dish that can be eaten year-round, Pastitsio has ancient Italian culinary origins.
Greek Pastitsio is said to have been influenced by the Italian, Pasticcio di Maccheroni, a specialty dish of the Ferrara region.
This Greek food took a modern twist when Greek chef, Nikolaos Tselementes, added bechamel sauce to it.
Pastitsio is a layered casserole dish of pasta and ground meat. The bottom layer consists of some type of tubular pasta.
The middle layer is a mixture of flavorful ground meat, usually beef, cooked in a tomato sauce with cinnamon and cloves.
Creamy bechamel sauce tops the dish and it is baked in the oven until it achieves the perfect golden-brown crust.
A popular Greece food, you’ll find pastitsio served at homes and traditional Greek restaurants.
With every cook adding their own special touch, you’ll enjoy the variety of fresh flavors every time you bite into this iconic Greek food.
Greek Cuisine Favorite Sides
11. Greek Fava – Mashed Bean Puree
This delicious and traditional food in Greece comes from the breathtakingly beautiful island of Santorini.
It is made of yellow split peas or Santorini fava beans which are PDO or Protected Designation of Origin.
The rich volcanic soils of Santorini are said to give Greek fava its delicious flavors. Beyond Santorini, Greek fava is popular throughout the country.
A simple dish, Greek fava is essentially a yellow split pea puree. At first glance, the mashed puree looks similar to hummus. But fava has a finer taste and fuller texture than the chickpea dip.
This mouthwatering dish is made with fava or yellow split peas. It is topped with extra virgin olive oil, slices of onion, olives and freshly squeezed lemon juice.
One of our absolute favorite foods in Greece, we couldn’t get enough of fava. We typically had it as a side dish to fish dishes.
However, you will also find this yellow split pea puree served as a part of a meze platter or as a dip.
Try this Greek food once and you’ll be hooked to the taste for life.
12. Horta – Wild Greens
A staple ingredient in the traditional Greek diet are wild greens or horta. Horta is the term used to describe a variety of wild greens from wild spinach, mustard, nettles, chicory, and more.
The wild greens are typically foraged from the hills and mountain sides or anywhere outside one’s doorstep in Greece.
There are hundreds of wild green species that grow all over the country and they are eaten for their health benefits.
The tradition of eating wild greens is part of the ancient Greek diet.
The greens are usually foraged from the wild and cooked with olive oil with fresh squeezed lemon juice. The type of wild greens vary based on seasonality and time of year.
While we were in Crete during the winter months, stamnagathi, a variety of wild chicory, was in season.
Found in the mountainous areas in Crete, we enjoyed it as a side to Greek dishes or baked into tasty little pies.
While the wild greens are unusual, be sure to relish the tastes and health benefits of this unique food in Greece.
13. Yiaourti me Meli – Greek Yogurt with Honey
Greeks do love their sweets which are conventionally made with honey and olive oil. Honey in Greece is considered some of the best honey in the world.
The biodiversity of the flora and the unlimited sunshine yields honey that is tasty and rich in health benefits.
Thyme honey from the island of Crete is one of the most revered Greek honey’s. During our stay on the island, we visited a beekeeper and discovered the secrets of Cretan honey.
When Greek honey is combined with yogurt, it makes for Yiaourti me Meli, a traditional Greek dessert. Nuts are often added making a nutritious and delectable dessert of Greek yogurt, honey and nuts.
Yiaourti me Meli was our favorite snack. You simply take fresh Greek yogurt, douse it with honey and sprinkle walnuts on top.
The tangy flavor of yogurt combines with the sweet notes of thyme honey to create a dish that isn’t overwhelmingly sweet.
You’ll find restaurants in Greece often serving Yiaourti me Meli as a complimentary dish. Make it a part of your breakfast platter or eat it as a dessert to satisfy your sweet tooth.
14. Halva – Greek Semolina Halvah
Halva is one of the most fascinating Greek foods we discovered during the Lent period. This no-dairy, no-butter and egg-free dessert was especially delightful.
The word “halva” is an Arabic word and it means sweet. Also spelled Halvah, you’ll find this dessert in many Middle Eastern, North African and Eastern European countries.
In Greece, this dessert is made with sesame seed paste or tahini, olive oil, sugar, including nuts and dried fruits.
Being in Greece during the Lent period, we saw and sampled many different kinds of halva. The most common was the semolina halva with raisins, nuts and either honey or sugar.
There is the Farsalon Halva from Farsala, made with caramel syrup, corn flour, and toasted almonds.
And, a Macedonian Halva made with either tahini or ground nuts like almonds and pistachios, and blossom honey.
Dense and sweet, you cannot eat too much halva in one sitting. It’s best to enjoy it as a treat with Greek coffee or tea.
As you visit Greece, don’t hesitate to try the different versions of this much loved Greek food.
15. Loukoumades – Greek Donuts Balls
One of the oldest recipes recorded in Greek history and dating back to 776 B.C is Loukoumades.
A beloved Greek dessert, these are small fried dough balls drizzled with honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon and sometimes, powdered sugar.
Crispy on the outside and fluffy inside, they are airy, light and irresistibly delicious.
While traditional loukoumades have roots in antiquity, its name is borrowed from lokma, which means “mouthful”, in Turkish.
Loukoumades is one of the Greek foods you’ll find everywhere. It is a popular street food, eaten at celebratory events, and during the Lent period.
At the end of your meal, loukoumades goes particularly well with Greek coffee. The combination of the piping hot donut balls against the strong coffee is simply perfect.
The age-old recipes and influences from Ottoman, Italian and Middle Eastern cultures have all shaped the food in Greece.
These traditional Greek foods we’ve highlighted are made with the freshest ingredients and unique Greek products.
Exceptional honey, extra virgin olive oil, cheese and Greek yogurt all contribute to the simple and flavorful cuisine.
While this list of authentic Greek food is not exhaustive, it will tantalize your taste buds.
Consider this as your definitive Greek food guide to the best local specialties. Eat like a local while in Greece and relish the flavorful and simple Greek recipes.
In the comments below, please tell us your favorite Greek food.
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Curious by nature, Rosemary loves exploring new flavors and connecting with locals. She shares her insights and culinary finds from her travels to inspire people to connect local through food.