There are all sorts of reasons to travel to Greece. There’s a rich history with loads of museums to visit and ruins to stumble upon. There are gorgeous beaches with see-through water and pink sands. There are hundreds of inhabited islands to easily hop to. But one of my main reasons for visiting Greece is the amazing food.
Before leaving for Greece, I dreamed about grilled octopus and hunks of feta cheese. I made lists in my head of everything I wanted to try. I made friends jealous just talking about all the food I would soon be devouring. Here are just five of the delicious must-try foods to savor while traveling throughout Greece.
1. Greek Salad
Or, do they just call it “salad” in Greece, like “bacon” in Canada? I don’t know because I only learned about 10 Greek words while there and salad wasn’t one of them. What I do know is that these salads are staples to nearly any Greek meal and I was happy to eat like a local.
Unlike most Greek salads you find in the States, a proper Greek salad does not have lettuce. Nope. Instead, it just has oodles and oodles of everything else yummy. Most of the Greek salads I tried had big chunks of tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, red onions, whole kalamata olives, and a huge chunk of feta cheese to top it off. Drizzle it all with some of the best extra virgin olive oil in the world and sprinkle it with fresh oregano, and you’ve got an amazing Greek salad. I literally ate one of these at least once a day.
A spin on this salad is the dakos salad, famous on the island of Crete. This has many of the same ingredients as a traditional Greek salad with two exceptions. Instead of feta cheese, the cheese used in a dakos salad is called mizithra. This is a soft, creamy cheese made from either goat or sheep milk. The addition of barley rusks — a dry, hard biscuit-type bread — makes this salad more of a meal than a starter.
This easy handheld sandwich is familiar in the United States due to its popularity and convenience. However, gyros in Greece usually have either beef, pork, chicken, or a combo of any of these for their meat. This is different from the States where the meat is often lamb.
Along with the shaved, paper-thin slices of roasted meat off a glistening spit, the pita is packed with tomatoes, onions, tzatziki, and fried potatoes. That last ingredient may well be a surprise to you. It was to me, but a welcome one.
Gyros can be found on nearly every street corner and cost about 2–3 euros, making them an easy, quick, and cheap meal. They are wrapped in foil and meant to be taken with you on the go as the corner vendors rarely have seats to sit and enjoy them.
The fries I mentioned inside the gyro are probably the best fries I’ve ever had. All over Greece, I was surprised by the number of restaurants that offered French fries as a side, though not upset. Why are they the best? Because instead of being fried in peanut oil like in the United States, these fries are fried in the aforementioned best extra virgin olive oil in the world.
That extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) can be purchased and shipped (because you can’t take liquid in your carry-on) from nearly any tourist shop you enter. I highly recommend bringing some home with you.
This might be one of my favorite Greek foods I’ve tried. Again, you’ve probably heard about tzatziki, but I guarantee you, similar to that out-of-this-world EVOO, this tzatziki is made from real Greek yogurt, the likes of which I’ve not found in the States.
With a base of creamy, savory Greek yogurt, tzatziki is a dip or sauce used on nearly everything. With loads of shredded cucumbers, lemon juice, garlic, and, you guessed it, EVOO, this dip adds flavor to anything. It is often served as a starter with chunks of pita bread.
I’ve searched and searched for octopus where I live. All I’ve ever found is fried calamari rings, where all you really taste is the fried breading and whatever dip the restaurant decides to serve with it. I scoured food pictures before I left for Greece, drooling over plates of full arms of broiled, poached, or boiled in red wine vinegar octopus. It was never fried.
I had octopus all those ways during my time in Greece. I enjoyed the octopus in red wine vinegar the most. A bit more on the expensive side, as is most seafood in Greece, octopus will run you anywhere from 13–20 euros. Octopus was a treat I enjoyed a handful of times.
I was surprised by the fact that most octopus, along with most seafood, is actually frozen. After asking about this in a few different restaurants, I learned that this is quite common with seafood around the world. I never found that it took away from the quality. If you want fresh seafood, it’s best to visit local markets and prepare it yourself.
One of the best meals I had in Greece consisted of a simple plate of tzatziki with tomato, cucumber slices, and dolmades at a tiny four-table restaurant in the Plaka neighborhood of Athens. Aspro Alogo is not easy to find on a narrow one-way street. I must have walked by it four times before I found it.
I ordered the classic dolmades made of meat, rice, dill, and mint stuffed into a vine leaf. I’ve always enjoyed these at home, but these were on a whole other level. Dolmades can be all sorts of stuffed vegetables as I learned along my journey.
Also called gemista or yemista, tomatoes, peppers, and zucchini are all stuffed with similar ingredients as the vine leaves. These are often an entrée-sized portion with two–three stuffed vegetables to enjoy. These can also be found with a vegetarian stuffing.
Pro Tip: Aspro Alogo is located at Apollonos, Athina 105 57, Greece. It is quite close to the Syntagma Square metro station. If you are having difficulty finding it (even my GPS wasn’t all that helpful), don’t hesitate to ask a friendly local for directions. The journey will be worth it.
These are just a handful of the delicious and healthy foods I tried while traveling in Greece. Many of these I’ve attempted to make at home to varying degrees of success. The tzatziki, for one, is now a staple in my home. I hope you get a chance to try all of these incredible dishes from Greece.