Greek food and cuisine of Greece
The Greek food throughout its history and continuing
today is for the Greeks a philosophy, they know that what makes a
perfect feast is not just the food but also the good
company. Food is nearly always prepared with the tastes of the
guests in mind, should the dishes be roasted or fried, light or
heavy? and the wine carefully chosen. Much of the conversation at
the dinner table centres amicably around the food. The freshness of
the fish , having just leapt from the sea; the vegetables newly dug
from the ground or picked from the vines of the local farmers. The
host will want to proudly point out how they have attempted to
provide the best and freshest produce for you to enjoy.
The traditional day is still de rigueur on the islands. It begins early with a quick breakfast of coffee and cigarettes or dried Rusk soaked in warm milk, followed by a substantial lunch and a siesta. After a few hours more work, evening is the time to relax with family and/or friends whilst nibbling meze< (Greek appetizer). This is followed at 9 or 10pm by dinner with, perhaps, sweet pastries, cakes or ice-cream enjoyed later in the cafes. Strong distinctive tastes are the hallmark of this culinary rhythm. Herbs like rigani (oregano), thyme, rosemary, parsley, coriander, dill, fennel and sage; spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, vanilla and mastic are all crucial.
Greek olive oil enriches and flavours and the traditional cooking methods of grilling, long slow baking all enhance and mellow the food. Eating and drinking out in Greece is still wonderfully enjoyable and very democratic, young and old, wealthy and not so wealthy, the ordinary citizen and the celebrity, all enjoy the same favourite neighbourhood tavern, restaurant or cafe. Today, in many areas of Greece, celebratory meals, special occasions and family get-togethers are all more likely to occur in local taverns or restaurants than in peoples homes which means that you, the visitor, can vicariously enjoy the event which may also include live, traditional music and spontaneous dancing and perhaps fireworks! It seems academic to point out that thousands of years ago, the Greeks created one of the most important civilizations ever to be seen but part of this civilization was the idea of good living. Epicurus, for example, was one of the major philosophers in the Hellenistic period. One aspect of his teaching is that the point of all ones actions was to attain pleasure (conceived of as tranquillity) for oneself, and that this could be done by limiting ones desires and by banishing the fear of the gods and of death.
Pleasure, simplicity and good friends you can trust were
central to his theory of life. The Romans during the period of
the Roman Empire continued this tradition, but to enormous
excess. Evidence of this are seen in the many famous feasts held
during this time. This element of excess was and still is at
odds with the Greek temperament, and was eliminated by the later
Byzantines, thus preserving the authenticity of Greek cuisine
for over a thousand years. Basically the traditional diet and
method of cooking food in Greece has not changed since the
ancient times, the original flavours and ingredients are still
used along with the crucial basic ingredient of all - Greek
This is particularly so in somewhere like Crete, where the traditional diet is the same - simple and basic without the over spicing of much modern food. It is argued that the Cretan diet hasn't really changed since Minoan times - using olive oil, cereals, wine and fish. Such a diet has created the worlds most healthy and long-lived people and is the basis of the famous Mediterranean Diet. Indeed, research carried out in 1950 by the International Scientific Community discovered that the inhabitants of Crete were so healthy due to their diet. Still today, it is generally agreed that following the traditional Cretan way of eating leads to less chance of suffering from heart disease compared to other Mediterranean countries. The main reason seems to be due to the fact that Cretans eat twice as much fruit, a quarter less meat and more pulses than other Europeans. But one could also argue that this is the traditional diet of much of Greece. In the summer of 2005, the margarine producer Flora ran a campaign to raise awareness about heart disease and cholesterol in women.
Cholesterol is largely found in animal fats and people with high levels are more prone to suffer from heart disease than those with lower levels. Greek cuisine is largely free from animal fats which is why it is so good for us. This, together with fresh, organic foodstuff, large helpings of fish, fruit and vegetables with very little opportunity for fast food binges and no real tradition of making do with pre-cooked TV dinners leads us to conclude that it is not really surprising that as well as being the cradle of civilization it was also the birthplace of the Mediterranean Diet. Today, with the introduction of nouveau cuisine in much of Western Europe - with its strange mix of ingredients and flavours, or the cuisine of some European cities with its pretentiousness, complicated etiquette procedures and formalities it seems that all gastronomical pleasure has been lost. In Greek cuisine you can rediscover the original feeling of taste. The Greek food is beautiful! And when I say Greek food I don't mean souvlaki and moussaka, but the hundreds and hundreds of wonderful dishes that Greek women have invented through time.
If you want to try the typically Greek traditional
food, the first thing you have to do is to find a
traditional Greek tavern. The first sign you should look for is the
customers: if the majority is Greek then you are on the right track.
Also have a look at the tavern, if it doesn't have huge signs in 50
languages shouting out that they have the Greek dishes of Moussaka
for only 4-5 euro, then you have found something. If you are really
lucky, they dont even have menus, at least not in English.
Step two is to eat the way the Greeks do. You start by ordering in mezes, or mezedakia. These are the small dishes with various delicacies that you eat as appetizers or on the side. You can even remain there and not order a main course at all. Order whatever comes to mind, or ask the waiter to bring in whatever is good.
With this you should drink wine, but beer or a soft drink is OK too. Dig in, and enjoy. Take your time...the Greeks do not just eat out for the food, but for the company and the fun of it. Worth to try are the Greek desserts and the famous Greek salads like, Horiatiki the well known Greek salad ,Melitzanosalata, Angourontomata, Maroulosalata, Psarosalata and many others.
What to order in a Greek Restaurant:
Opening a menu in a Greek Restaurant or Tavern the first part are the appetizers, I am not going to list all the Greek appetizers here but the most common that the Greeks will order. One of the most popular starters is the tsatsiki the famous appetizer made out of Yogurt, garlic and cucumbers, Taramosalata, the Greek red caviar and then usually fried aubergines, zucchinis or fried green paprika followed by Tyropitakia (small cheese pies) and various croquettes from cheese (Tyrokroketes), zucchini balls flavoured with fresh mind (kolokythokeftedes), dolmadakia gialantzi (stuffed wine leaves) and of course Horta (Greek dandelions or radices boiled).
Among the main dishes you will find moussaka, stuffed tomatoes, aubergines or paprika, giouvarlakia ( meatballs with rice in white egg and lemon sauce), Dolmades (stuffed cabbage leaves), soutzoukakia (meatballs in red sauce), spaghetti Bolognese, and many meat dishes from chicken (kotopoulo) veal (moshari) and lamb (arni).
The grilled meats include Britzoles (chops) from pork (britzoles hoirines), lamb ((britzoles arnisies) or veal (britzoles mosharisies), Paidakia (ribs) from lamb and other specialities on spit or skewer like Souvlaki and Exohiko (lamb grilled in foil). In many grill taverns mostly in the mainland of Greece you will find many specialities on spit like Kokoretsi, Gardoumpa and Splinantero all having as base lamb liver and kidneys.
The fish dishes are the best ones as Greece is a country surrounded by the sea and fishing is a main factor of the Greek agriculture. But fish dishes are the tricky ones for the foreigners and tourist because in many Greek taverns the fishes are spelled wrongly and many west and north European tourists doesn't know so well the fishes of the Mediterranean. Of course the lobsters, shrimps and red mullets (Barbounia) are the most expensive and most popular, but there are many other kind of fishes that you have to should try like Tsipoura (sea bream), Lithrinia (red sea breams) Fagria, Melanouria, Sargoi and Synagrides all of those fishes belong to the breams and porgies family, very tasty grilled or fried. In the summer you will find in the Greek taverns many Mackerels (kolioi) But the special fish that the Greek love is marida or maridaki the Greek equivalent of the north Atlantic Whitebait, this is one of the most tasty fish dishes and the best companion for Retsina wine. Other common fish foods in Grece are the Kalamaris or Kalamarakia (squids) , Gopes (bogues) , Htapodi (octopus) grilled or boiled with vinegar, Gavros (a kind of anchovy) , Galeos (Smooth Hound) tasty fillets that served most with garlic salad (scordalia) and beetroots and finally Xifias (Sword fish) a very common fish in the Aegean. The Greek bouillabaisse (Psarosoupa) with first class fishes (usually Synagrida or Fagri ) most of the times especially in the summer has to be ordered a day before in many taverns and restaurants. The typical Greek fish soup contains except of the fish, onions, carrots, potatoes and celery, in an excellent combination with olive oil and lemon juice. Finally the desserts include Yogurt with honey, Crème caramel and Baklava.
Wine was for the Ancient Greek the drink of the Gods, still today the Greek wine is for the Greeks the most popular drink. Among the most popular wines in Greece is the Retsina a wine that for the foreigner is you love it or you hate it. Retsina is one of the most older wines in Greece and its name and taste comes from the resin that they put in. Its popularity comes from 2 reasons the good taste and the cheap price, Stil today in Athens you van find places and taverns that sale Greek wine from the Barrel. Other popular wines in Greece are Kokineli and Brusco, red dry house wines (the Greeks refer to brusco as dry red and not sparkling as the Italian Brusco) (sweet wines) Mavrodafni of Patras (the sweet Greek Dessert Port wine), Muscat of Samos or Samiotiko. There are many kinds and appellations of white and red wines in Greece among them are Agioritiko ,Macedonikos , Naoussa, Robola of Kefalonia, Zitsa ,Santorini , Rhodes Peza, Gumenissa and others.
Liquors and Aperitifs
Ouzo : Is the best Greek aperitif well known all over the world for its special flavor of anise, among the best ouzo are the ones from Samos and Lesvos island some of the ouzo you can ask in Greece is Mini, Giokarinis, Plomari and Ouzo 12. Ouzo its a drink that most Greeks will drink with meze ,if you are in an island try as meze grilled octopus or salted macerel, always something salty goes well with ouzo. You can drink Ouzo straight but the best way is to mix it with water. Metaxa is the world famous Greek Brandy, it has a rather sweet taste and you can find it as 3, 5 or 7 stars.
Even though recreating foreign dishes at home is difficult, you can give the recipes here a go. They are not too hard, and if made right, will take you back to that lovely place by the sea. Click to check our new pages about
recipe for traditional Greek fish soup Kakavia
Being from a Greek fishermen family I first taste kakavia fish soup while on a 3 days fishing on a remote island in the Dodecanese. We where 3 fishing boats all working together. After having put our nets we where returning on a small bay we used as anchorage. My Grand father used to make the Kakavia on the beach putting the pot on the fire we had made with small wood and dried bushes the so called in Greece “Frigana” .Here is the ingredients he use to put in to the soup and the way he was cooking it. All you need are many different kind of small fishes as more kind of fishes you have as much tasty is the soup. We had a lot of fish from the morning cutch so that was easy to collect the ones we needed. Now to make the soup you just need except the fishes a tomato a large onion water salt and pepper. He was putting the Onion and the tomato chopped in the pot with just a few drops of water, the juice of the tomato was doing its job so the onion becomes tender when that is done you add water and the fishes be sure the water is not a lot just covers the fishes add the oil and salt with pepper and close the pot. To check when the soup is ready just open the pot and put your hand over the steam, if your fingers fill gluey then Kakavia is ready, you can add lemon juice if you like as many Greek fishermen do. The fish soup Kakavia was invented mainly by the fishermen because its an easy to make food and because they have fresh the main ingredient, namely the fishes. Every Greek fishing boat on a journey always has with all the essential things for cooking, a huge cooking pot, some forks and knifes, olive oil, tomatoes lemons and onions, bread, olives Greek coffee and food in tins. Of course the women of the family will cook for them some portions of the food of the day to take with but after some days you have to cook by your self. Because Kakavia is made mainly from small fish and might have fish bones inside there is a trick you can do, if you can find a tiny net from string put all the fishes inside the net that will keep all the bones within, alternatively you can use boneless bigger fishes but try to use many different kinds of big fishes so the soup will be more tasty.
Greek Pickles (Toursi) from Aubergines
Melitzanakia toursi made from baby aubergines, is a very tasteful
pickle in Greece. The Greek pickle (called Toursi in Greece) are
usually eaten as appetizers but mostly during the days of feast like
the 40 days before Easter Sunday and especially at the Clear Monday
of Apokria. Melitzanes toursi or Melitzanakia is an excellent side
delicacy dish for bean soup or lentil soup.
Ingredients: In order to make a big jar or bowl of Melitzanakia toursi we will need about 20-30 baby eggplants, 1 garlic, 3-4 carrots, 2 bunches of celery, olive oil and vinegar.
Method:The upper side of the small aubergine has to be cut with a knife, make from the top to the bottom a cut almost to the half of the baby aubergine, clean the celery and the the carrots and put them all together to a pot to boil until they become almost tender. Take out all ingredients and drain them in a colander. Chop the carrots and garlic in tiny pieces and mix them in a plastic bowl. Start filing the mixture to the aubergine, after you fill the aubergine tight it with a small and thin branch of the tender celery. Place one after the other the baby aubergines in the jar or the bowl. After you finish add vinegar and oil (more vinegar than oil) up to the surface of the jar. Close the Jar or the bowl and live it for a week. After one week your pickle will be ready. Kali Orexi..!!