Fresh fish, one of the favourite dishes of the Greeks; platter with red figures, c. 350–325 BC, Louvre
Greek cuisine has a culinary tradition of some 4,000 years and is a part of the history and the culture of Greece. Its flavors change with the season and its geography. Greek cookery, historically a forerunner of Western cuisine, spread its culinary influence, via ancient Rome, throughout Europe and beyond. It has influences from the different people's cuisine the Greeks have interacted with over the centuries, as evidenced by several types of sweets and cooked foods.
Ancient Greek cuisine was characterized by its frugality and was founded on the "Mediterranean triad": wheat, olive oil, and wine, with meat being rarely eaten and fish being more common. This trend in Greek diet continued in Roman and Ottoman times and changed only fairly recently when technological progress has made meat more available. Wine and olive oil have always been a central part of it and the spread of grapes and olive trees in the Mediterranean and further afield is correlated with Greek colonization.
Byzantine cuisine was similar to the classical cuisine, with the addition of new ingredients, such as caviar, nutmeg and basil. Lemons, prominent in Greek cuisine and introduced in the second century, were used medicinally before being incorporated into the diet. Fish continued to be an integral part of the diet for coastal dwellers. Culinary advice was influenced by the theory of humors, first put forth by the ancient Greek doctor Claudius Aelius Galenus. Byzantine cuisine benefited from Constantinople’s position as a global hub of the spice trade. Djrhdjfj
The most characteristic and ancient element of Greek cuisine is olive oil, which is used in most dishes. It is produced from the olive trees prominent throughout the region, and adds to the distinctive taste of Greek food. The olives themselves are also widely eaten. The basic grain in Greece is wheat, though barley is also grown. Important vegetables include tomato, aubergine (eggplant), potato, green beans, okra, green peppers, and onions. Honey in Greece is mainly honey from the nectar of fruit trees and citrus trees: lemon, orange, bigarade (bitter orange) trees, thyme honey, and pine honey. Mastic (aromatic, ivory-coloured resin) is grown on the Aegean island of Chios.
Too much refinement is generally considered to be against the hearty spirit of the Greek cuisine, though recent trends among Greek culinary circles tend to favour a somewhat more refined approach.
Dining out is common in Greece, and has been for quite some time. The Taverna and Estiatorio are widespread, serving home cooking at affordable prices to both locals and tourists. Recently, fast food has become more widespread, with local chains such as Goody's springing up, though most McDonald's have closed. Locals still largely eat Greek cuisine. In addition, some traditional Greek foods, especially souvlaki, gyros, pita such as tyropita and spanakopita (respectively, cheese and spinach pie) are often served in fast food style.
Thyme, one of the most traditional Greek herbs, was mentioned in the Odyssey.
Greece has an ancient culinary tradition dating back several millennia, and over the centuries Greek cuisine has evolved and absorbed numerous influences and influenced many cuisines itself.
Some dishes can be traced back to ancient Greece: lentilsoup, fasolada, retsina (white or rosé wine flavored with pine resin) and pasteli (candy bar with sesame seeds baked with honey); some to the Hellenistic and Roman periods: loukaniko (dried pork sausage); and Byzantium: feta cheese, avgotaraho (cured fish roe) and paximadi (traditional hard bread baked from wheat, barley and rye). There are also many ancient and Byzantine dishes which are no longer consumed: porridge as the main staple, fish sauce, and salt water mixed into wine.
The Ottoman Empire having its origins from pastoral nomads in the Eurasian and middle eastern steppe, were largely consigned to diets of minced meats and cheeses with little to no grain as evident with Adana style kofta and other traditionally Turkish staples from the Eurasian steppe.
Examples of regional cuisine: "Dakos", traditional Cretan salad (left) and "Tsigaridia", traditional Cephalonian dish (right)
Distinct from the mainstream regional cuisines are:
Cuisine of the Aegean islands (including Kykladítiki from Kyklades, Rhodítiki from Rhodes and other Dodecanese islands, and the cuisine of Lesbos island)
Cuisine of Argolis, cuisine of Patras, Arcadian and Maniot cuisines, parts of the Peloponnesean cuisine
Mikrasiatikí, from the Greeks of Asia Minor descent, including Polítiki, from the tradition of the Greeks from Constantinople, a cuisine with a lot of Anatolian/Ottoman influence
Pontiakí, found anywhere there are Pontic Greeks (Greeks from the Black Sea region)
Greek cuisine is very diverse and although there are many common characteristics amongst the culinary traditions of different regions within the country, there are also many differences, making it difficult to present a full list of representative dishes. For example, the vegetarian dish "Chaniotiko Boureki" (oven baked slices of potatoes with zucchini, myzithra cheese and mint) is a typical dish in western Crete, in the region of Chania. A family in Chania may consume this dish 1-2 times per week in the summer season. However, it is not cooked in any other region of Greece.
Many food items are wrapped in Filo pastry, either in bite-size triangles or in large sheets: kotopita (chicken pie), spanakotyropita (spinach and cheese pie), chortopita (greens pie), kreatopita (meat pie, using minced meat), kolokythopita (zucchini pie) etc. The Greeks do with filo what the Italians do with pizza; They have countless variations of pitas (savory pies). Even the word pita was originally spelled πίττα (pitta), which shows a similarity to pizza.
The areas with the largest tradition of making Greek pitas are the North-Western (Epirus) and Central Greece (also called Roumeli).
Also, a big part of the Greek Cuisine are seeds and nuts. Seeds and nuts are included in everything from pastry to main dishes.
The list will present some of the most representative Greek dishes that can be found throughout the country and the most famous of the local ones:
Meze or orektikó (appetizer; plural mezedes/orektika) is served in restaurants called mezedopoleía, served to complement drinks, and in similar establishments known as tsipourádika or ouzerí (a type of café that serves drinks such as ouzo or tsipouro). A tavérna (tavern) or estiatório (restaurant) also offers a meze as an orektikó (appetiser). Many restaurants offer their house pikilía (variety) a platter with various mezedes that can be served immediately to customers looking for a quick or light meal. Hosts commonly serve mezedes to their guests at informal or impromptu get-togethers as they are easy to prepare on short notice. Krasomezédhes (literally "wine-meze") are mezedes that go well with wine; ouzomezédhes are mezedes that go with ouzo.
Greek salad: the so-called Greek salad is known in Greece as village/country salad (choriatiki) and is essentially a tomato salad with cucumber, red onion, feta cheese, and black kalamata olives or green olives, dressed with olive oil. In Cyprus it contains also cracked wheat (bulgur), spring onions instead of red onions, and lemon juice.
Horta: wild or cultivated greens (usually Dandelion Greens), steamed or blanched and made into salad, simply dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. They can be eaten as a light meal with potatoes (especially during Lent, in lieu of fish or meat).
Kalamarakia: deep-fried squid sliced in rings. Also known as "calamari"
Fakés, lentil soup, usually served with vinegar and olive oil.
Fasolada, a white-bean soup defined in many cookery books as the traditional Greek dish, sometimes even called "the national food of the Greeks". It is made of beans, tomatoes, carrot and a generous amount of celery usually served with a variety of salty side dishes(like olives or anchovies).
Psarosoupa 'fish soup' can be made with a variety of fish (usually kokkinopsaro) and several kinds of vegetables (carrots, parsley, celery, potatoes, onion), several varieties include the classic kakavia which is drizzled with olive oil.
Gyros: meat (usually lamb, pork, beef, or a combination thereof) roasted on a vertically turning spit and served with sauce (often tzatziki) and garnishes (tomato, onions) on pita bread, or served as a sandwich wrapped in pita bread together with tomatoes, onions, tzatziki, and french fries; a popular fast food.
Kleftiko: literally meaning "in the style of the Klephts", this is lamb slow-baked on the bone, first marinated in garlic and lemon juice, originally cooked in a pit oven. It is said that the klephts, bandits of the countryside who did not have flocks of their own, would steal lambs or goats and cook the meat in a sealed pit to avoid the smoke being seen.
Moussaka (from Arabic مسقعة musaqqa'): an oven-baked layer dish: ground meat and eggplant casserole, topped with a savory custard which is then browned in the oven. There are other variations besides eggplant, such as zucchini or rice, but the eggplant version, melitzánes moussaká is by far the most popular. The papoutsákia ("little shoes") variant is essentially the same dish, with the meat and custard layered inside hollowed, sauteéd eggplants.
Mydia Saganaki or with Saffron: dish with mussels.
Oven-baked lamb with potatoes (Αρνί στο φούρνο με πατάτες, Arní sto foúrno me patátes). One of the most common "Sunday" dishes. There are many variations with additional ingredients.
Oven-baked chicken with potatoes (Κοτόπουλο στο φούρνο με πατάτες ''Kotópoulo sto foúrno me patátes). Another common "Sunday" dish.
Paidákia: grilled lambchops with lemon, oregano, salt and pepper.
Pastitsada: a casserole dish with spicy veal, beef or poultry and macaroni.
Pastitsio: an oven-baked layer dish: Béchamel sauce on top, then pasta in the middle and ground meat cooked with tomato sauce at the bottom.
Pork with celery (hirino me selino/hirino selinato).
Soutzoukakia Smyrneika (Smyrna meatballs): long shaped meatballs with cumin, cinnamon and garlic and boiled in tomato sauce with whole olives. Often served with rice or mashed potatoes.
Souvlaki: (lit: "skewer") grilled small pieces of meat (usually pork but also chicken or lamb) served on the skewer for eating out of hand, or served as a sandwich wrapped in pita bread together with tomatoes, onions, tzatziki and tomato sauce; a popular fast food, also called kalamaki (small reed) mainly in Athens.
Spetzofai: a stew of country sausage, green mild peppers, onions and wine. Originates from Pelion.
Stifádo: rabbit or hare stew with pearl onions, vinegar, red wine and cinnamon. Beef can be substituted.
Amygdalotá or pastéli exist in many varieties throughout Greece and Cyprus, and are especially popular in the islands. They consist of powdered blanched almonds, confectioner's sugar and rose water, molded in various shapes and sizes. They are snow-white and are considered wedding and baptismal desserts.
Baklava, phyllo pastry layers filled with nuts and drenched in honey.
Diples, a Christmas and wedding delicacy, made of paper-thin, sheet-like dough which is cut in large squares and dipped in a swirling fashion in a pot of hot olive oil for a few seconds. As the dough fries, it stiffens into a helical tube; it is then removed immediately and sprinkled with honey and crushed walnuts.
Galaktoboureko, custard baked between layers of phyllo, and then soaked with lemon-scented honey syrup. The name derives from the Greek gala (γάλα), meaning milk, and boureki (μπουρέκι), meaning filled, thus meaning "filled with milk".
Spoon sweets (γλυκά του κουταλιού) of various fruits, ripe or unripe, or green unripe nuts. Spoon sweets are essentially marmalade except that the fruit are boiled whole or in large chunks covered in the fruit's made syrup.
Tsoureki, a traditional Christmas and Easter sweet bread often flavored with "mahlep, mastic resin and orange zest
Vasilopita, Saint Basil's cake or King's cake, traditional only for New Year's Day. Vasilopites are baked with a coin inside, and whoever gets the coin in their slice are considered blessed with good luck for the whole year.
There is a wide variety of cheeses made in various regions across Greece. The vast majority of them remain unknown outside the Greek borders due to the lack of knowledge and the highly localized distinctive features. Many artisanal, hand made cheeses, both common varieties and local specialties, are produced by small family farms throughout Greece and offer distinct flavors atypical of the mass-produced varieties found commercially in Greece and abroad. A good list of some of the varieties of cheese produced and consumed in Greece can be found here. These are some of the more popular throughout Greece:
There is a variety of non alcoholic beverages that are drunk in Greece even to this day.
Portokalada (orangeade) and Lemonada (lemonade), since 1971, these beverages were served everywhere, in homes, cafes, tavernas and restaurants. They were made with fresh strained orange juice or lemon juice either mixed with carbonated water or flat mineral water and you added sugar to taste. There were also bottled local versions. In 1989 on the island of Rhodes there were two companies that made and bottled their own portokalada and lemonada using local oranges, lemons and water. These beverages are still standards today, as of 2014, the difference being that most of the small local companies sold their businesses to the big companies like Fanta etc., thus, greatly changing the quality.
Visinada (cherryade) is made from dark cherry syrup (which was originally homemade) mixed with cold water.
The traditional coffeehouses in Greece are called kafenia, and they offer coffee, refreshments, alcoholic beverages and snacks or meze. In recent years, especially in the large urban centres, kafenia are gradually being replaced by modern "cafeterias". Preferred types of coffee are, among others, Turkish coffee, frappé (a foam-covered iced coffee drink), and iced cappuccino and espresso, named Freddo Cappuccino and Freddo Espresso, respectively. Iced coffee-based drinks, such as freddoccino or freddito, are also popular in the summer.
Greece has the eighth highest per capita coffee consumption worldwide.
The origins of wine-making in Greece go back 6,500 years and evidence suggesting wine production confirm that Greece is home to the oldest known grape wine remnants discovered in the world and the world’s earliest evidence of crushed grapes. The spread of Greekcivilization and their worship of Dionysus, the god of wine, spread Dionysian cults throughout the Mediterranean areas during the period of 1600 BC to the year 1 AD. Greece's viticultural history goes back to prehistoric times,[i] and wine production was thriving until the 11th century. After World War II, Greek winemakers imported and cultivated foreign grape varieties, especially French ones, in order to support local production. In 1960s, retsina, a dry white wine with lumps of resin, was probably the most well-known Greek wine abroad. In recent years, local varieties are rediscovered and often blended with foreign ones. In early 1980s, a system of appellations, modelled on the respective French one, was implemented to assure consumers the origins of their wine purchases. Today, there are 28 appellations (Appellations of Origin of Superior Quality and Controlled Appellation of Origin) throughout the country, from Macedonia to Crete.
Archaeological and archaeochemical finds suggest that the Minoans fermented barley and other substances, and consumed some form of beer. The beer tradition of the Minoans was discontinued by the Mycenaeans; beverages from fermented cereals may have remained only in Crete during their rule. In Archaic and Classical Greece, beer is mentioned as a foreign beverage, while, when Alexander the Great conquered in 332 BC Egypt, a civilization with a long brewing tradition, the Greeks continued to disdain beer seeing it as the drink of their rivals. In Modern Greece, a limited number of brands—owned by breweries from northern Europe in most cases (e.g. Heineken or Amstel)—dominated for many years the local market, while a stringent Bavarian-influenced beer purity law was in force. Gradually, the provisions of this law loosened, and, since the late 1990s, new local brands emerged (in 1997 Mythos made a breakthrough) or re-emerged (e.g. Fix Hellas), reviving competition. In recent years, in parallel with the large breweries, local microbreweries operate throughout Greece.
Other traditional Greek alcoholic beverages include the anise-flavored ouzo, tsipouro (whose Cretan variation is called tsikoudia), rakomelo and local liquors, such as kumquat from Corfu, mastika (not to be confused with the homonymous anise-flavored Bulgarian drink), kitron, a citrus flavoured liquor from Naxos, souma from Chios, and tentura, a cinnamon flavored liquor from Patras.
^Discoveries, such as a wine press at Palekastro in Crete, dated to the Mycenaean period, and references related to wine in Linear B tablets indicate that, at this period, wine was widely produced and consumed both on the Greek mainland and in the islands.
^Spices and Seasonings:A Food Technology Handbook - Donna R. Tainter, Anthony T. Grenis, p. 223
^Armstrong, Kate; Hellander, Paul (2006). Lonely Planet Greece. Hawthorn, Vic., Australia: Lonely Planet Publications. p. 76. ISBN1-74059-750-8.
^Mallos, Tess (1979). Greek Cookbook. Dee Why West, NSW., Australia: Summit Books. p. inside cover. ISBN0-7271-0287-7.
^Renfrew, Colin (1972). The Emergence of Civilization; The Cyclades and the Aegean in the Third Millennium B.C. Taylor & Francis. p. 280.
^Katz, Solomon H.; McGovern, Patrick; Fleming, Stuart James (2000). Origins and Ancient History of Wine (Food and Nutrition in History and Anthropology). New York: Routledge. p. x. ISBN90-5699-552-9.
^Wilson, Nigel Guy (2006). Encyclopedia of ancient Greece. New York: Routledge. p. 27. ISBN0-415-97334-1.
^Civitello, Linda (2007). Cuisine and Culture: A History of Food and People. New York: Wiley. p. 67. ISBN0-471-74172-8.
^Vasilopoulou, E., Dilis, V., & Trichopoulou, A. (2013). Nutrition claims: A potentially important tool for the endorsement of greek mediterranean traditional foods. Mediterranean Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, 6(2), 105-111. doi:10.1007/s12349-013-0123-5