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 in Greece begins early with a quick breakfast of coffee, milk or tea with dried rusks or toast, followed by a substantial lunch around 14.00-15.00 pm. Dinner served around 8-10 pm with mainly Greek dishes. During the evenings, not only in weekends but also during week days the Greeks love to eat out mainly in a small local tavern or a grill house, with the family or with friends. 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

greek olive oilGreek 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-together 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 civilisations ever to be seen but part of this civilisation 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.

Greece has the ideal landscape and climate for growing olives, and olives make up more than just part of the Greek diet. They have been integrated for thousands of years in the fabric of Greek society. Olive oil plays an important role in anything from cosmetics to religious and folk rituals, medicine, celebrating christenings and commemorating the dead. Most Greeks consumer 40 pounds of olive oil per person per year, and the country produces more than 430,000 tons annually. The famous Kalamata olive is native to Greece.

Traditional food in Greece

Traditional Greek food disches are still made from recipes handed down from generation to generation. One of the best known is moussaka, the classic dish of spiced lamb mine with layers of eggplant, potato and béchamel sauce. Souvlaki is the ubiquitous Greek fast food, with lamb or chicken cooked on a rotisserie, sliced and served in pita bread with salad and tzaziki (yogurt and cucumber dip). Spanokopita are available everywhere, and the filo pastry parcels filled with spinach and feta are a very tasty treat. The famous Greek version of chicken soup for the weary is avgolemono, made from chicken, rice and lemon. Greece’s favourite alcoholic drink is ouzo, a spirit not for the faint hearted. It’s made from a combination of pressed grape skins, herbs and berries. Usually served as an aperitif, it can also be the basis of a mixed drink or cocktail. It’s ideally drunk straight and sipped slowly, with friends, over plates of meze.

Mediterranean health food

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 olive oil.
greek foodThis 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.

greek fish foodIf you want to try the typically traditional food of Greece, 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 Greece food dishes of Moussaka for only 4-5 euro, then you have found something. If you are really lucky, they don’t 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 appetisers 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, taramosalata and many others.

What to order in a Greek Restaurant

greek apetizersOpening a menu in a Greek Restaurant or Tavern the first part are the appetisers, I am not going to list all the Greek appetisers here but the most common that the Greeks will order. One of the most popular starters is the Tsatsiki the famous appetiser 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 Chorta ( boiled Greek dandelions or radishes).

Lobster with SpaghettiAmong the main dishes you will find the usual MoussakaStuffed 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)..etc. But in the last 20 yeats the Greek cuisine has evolved with a new look of “Haut Cuisine” spelialities like Lobster with Spaghetti is one of the most beloved dishes in almost every island restaurant as well as a mixture of French and Italian recipies with a Greek tuch. 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.

Meat Dishes

pork chopsThe 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.

Greek wines

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 a 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.