I grew up with a Greek grandmother (Yia Yia). Between my mum and my Yia Yia our house was full of amazing Greek food. It’s always been one of my favourite cuisines and I was beyond excited to try all of my favourites in the motherland.
Knowing lots about Greek food and having tried almost everything on this list made eating in Greece very easy. I didn’t have to look up local cuisine because I already knew what it was. That said, I still managed to discover new Greek dishes during my month in the country, especially dishes native to specific islands. I’ve already put requests in to my mum to learn how to cook them for when I get back to Melbourne!
Warning: This list is huge- I was in Greece for month and very rarely ate anything that wasn’t Greek. I’m still not sure if this was everything I ate, because there were definite times when I went out to eat and didn’t take photos!
What to Eat in Greece- Appetisers
These have always been my favourite Greek dish. My Yia Yia made them for me, my Mum makes them for me for my birthday every year (and other times when I beg her to) and even my friend’s Yia Yia makes them for me because she knows how much I love them.
They are a simple dish and usually a great option for vegetarians because in Greece they typically aren’t made with meat (although some versions do have meat). Dolmades are vine leaves (like from wine vines) that are stuffed with a mixture of rice, onions and herbs (usually parsley). They are then located with lots of lemon juice and olive oil and usually steamed in a covered frypan. If cooked right they are delicious and full of flavour.
I found these super hard to find in Athens because they weren’t exactly in season but luckily they were in almost every restaurant we visited on the Greek islands. Needless to say I ordered them as an appetiser almost everytime.
Chances are you know what tzatziki is, as this is sauce is one of Greece’s most famous imports. It’s basically a yoghurt dip made with tons of garlic, cucumbers and usually some oregano. I’ve been known to make a kilo of it and finish it in a weekend at home.
I love to eat it with pita, in gyros, with any type of meat and it seriously goes with pretty much every Greek dish, especially tomato keftedes!
This dish is slightly less known than tzatziki but equally as good. The one problem with taramas is it’s a bit harder to prepare than tzatziki so it can be hit and miss. Taramas is a dip made from fish roe (fish eggs)- I like mine to have heaps of lemon in it so I was a bit fussy with it in Greece. But we did manage to find some great taramas!
Fava Bean Dip
I’ve had fava beans before, but I’d never had them prepared in the way that seems to be popular in Santorini. The fava beans are ground into a dip and mixed with olive oil, lemon and garlic. It’s served with chopped red onions and capers. I loved it- it’s a bit like a Greek version of hummus.
This was the new favourite that I was talking about at the beginning of this post. Tomato keftedes are native to Santorini. The best restautrants make them with organic, home-grown tomatoes that are chopped and mixed with herbs and garlic before being shallow fried. They are delicious, especially when served with tzartkzi. They became my new obsession when I was in Santorini!
Saganaki can be served in a few ways but as its most basic level it is lightly fried cheese. Many of the versions I tasted in Greece involved crumbed saganaki but I prefer it when it is just dunked in a bit of flour to allow it to colour and then lightly fried. The best saganaki I had in Greece was on the island of Ios and it was toasted with sesames and honey. Delicious!
What to Eat in Greece- Seafood
Fish and Other Fresh Seafood
Seafood is a staple of the Greek islands, and outside of busy touristy places like Santorini or Mykonos, it is actually super affordable. In most restaurants you’ll find seafood platters for two which will give you a good mix of local seafood; usually a piece of fish, some prawns, some mussels and some squid. They are a great way to sample the local catch.
I became obsessed with anchovies while living in Italy, and the ones in Greece are just as good. When my friend and I were on a boat sailing around Milos, we literally stole the whole plate of anchovies and finished them off between ourselves because no one else wanted them. It was heaven!
The most popular way to eat squid on the Greek islands is stuffed squid. Basically the squid is served whole but it is first stuffed with cheese (and sometimes tomatoes as well) and then grilled so the cheese melts in the middle. If the squid is cooked properly, it’s basically heaven on a plate. The softness of the squid combined with the cheese is a winning combination.
This was my favourite seafood dish. It’s basically prawns that are cooked in a sauce of lots of feta cheese and tomatoes. The best ones I tried usually had a couple of whole prawns that you had to peel, but also lots of little shelled prawns within the sauce as well. Prawns, feta and tomatoes- it’s basically all of my favourite things on a plate.
This dish is exactly the same as the prawns saganaki except they exchange the prawns for mussels. I didn’t order this nearly as often as the prawns saganaki but it was also super a yummy dish. My sister preferred the mussels version.
On our boat in Milos, one of the girls asked what grilled Octopus tasted like. An American-Greek girl replied ‘it tastes like Greece’. And she couldn’t be closer to the truth. All over the Greek islands you’ll find Octopuses hanging outside of restaurants. The idea is to dry them out before cooking them, which brings out the best flavours. Whilst you might be enticed by the large octopus, the small octopus (under 1kg) taste the best, especially when simply grilled with a bit of vinegar.
The best I had was actually the octopus that our skipper grilled for us on our boat trip in Milos. We had it with ouzo (Greek liquor) and it was out of this world!
What to Eat in Greece- Meat and Mains
Yemista (Stuffed Tomatoes and Peppers)
Along with dolmades, this is the Greek dish that my mum gets the most requests to make for me. Unfortunately she only makes them when tomatoes are in season and cheap, otherwise it is an expensive endeavour. Stuffed tomatoes (and peppers) are self-describing; the tomatoes are stuffed with a mixture of rice, onions and herbs (sometimes also meat) and usually the insides of the tomatoes as well. They are then baked in the oven. I’ve never had a bad one- I just absolutely love them!
If you have ever grown up with Greek friends, you’ll probably have experienced the Greek spit roast. It seems on any special occasion (or really just whenever they have an excuse), Greeks love an excuse to have a spit roast. In Australia, it’s mostly lamb but you’ll find all sorts of things on the spit in Greece. The two most popular meats are usually chicken or pork. We had the best spit roast at a tiny little café in a small village on Naxos island.
This is probably Greece’s most famous dish. In fact I’ve got friends that have been to Greece and basically lived off this. Gyros is spit roast meat (usually pork or chicken) that is put in pita bread with tomatoes, onions, lettuce and tzatziki.They are super cheap (don’t ever pay more than €3, or really even €2.5!) and they are super delicious. These were great for a quick and light lunch, or after a drunk night out. My piece of advice is to always order them with extra tzatziki.
Lamb Shank and Lamb Chops
In Australia, lamb is meat that is typically associated with Greek people. Whilst you won’t find it in gyros like you would in Australia, you’ll still be able to satisfy your lamb cravings. Lamb chops are a popular favourite, but I prefer the lamb shank. I’ve had ups and downs with this dish in Greece. Hands down the worst dish I had in Greece was dry lamb chops from a restaurant in Athens, whilst I had a very delicious shank from a restaurant in Santorini.
Lamb kofta is made using lamb mince that is then made into a burger or sausage shape. In Melbourne and at home we always called them koftas although they might be called something different depending on what part of Greece you are in. It’s often translated to lamb burger or lamb kebab on an English menu. The most delicious way to serve it in my opinion was the way it was served at a restaurant in Santorini; on top of fresh pita bread with lots of mint yoghurt and fresh tomatoes and red onions. You’ll also find them stuffed with Philadelphia cheese which melts into the lamb and is equally delicious.
If you haven’t been to Greece you might find it odd that I’m classifying Greek salad as a ‘main’. If you have ever ordered a Greek salad from a restaurant in Greece you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Greek salads are huge and most of them involve a whole slab of feta cheese that is unceremiously plonked right on the top of a mixture of fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, olives and capers. On very hot days in Athens, my Nan and I basically lived off Greek salads. They are fresh and a welcome relief from heavy meat dishes.
This is a dish that my mum loves to cook so I grew up eating moussaka. The best way to describe this dish is sort of like a Greek lasagne. But instead of pasta sheets, moussaka is made with sliced eggplant (and often slices of potato). My mum uses lamb mince for the meat sauce in her moussaka, but I found different varieties in Greece. I love this dish so much- I’m not sure any country knows how to cook eggplant as well as Greece does.
This is another type of Greek lasagne. It’s made using long cylinders of pasta instead of lasagna sheets. I also find Pastitso creamier than Italian lasagne. The bechamel sauce makes up the majority of the dish, although there is either a vegetarian or meat tomato sauce in it as well.
Lahanodolmades (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls)
If you have travelled through Hungary or the Balkans than you probably recognise this dish. But in my opinion, the Greek version is slightly different.
Like every other stuffed dish on this list, cabbage rolls with rice, garlic and herbs but also minced meat (I think you can find vegetarian versions). I find the Greek version to be bigger (so less cabbage and more fillings than the Balkan versions) and consequently slightly firmer and crispier. My Yia Yia used to always make this dish and I have always loved it. But it wasn’t until my second last day in Greece that I actually found it on the menu of a restaurant!
It’s often topped with a delicious lemony butter sauce which is such a good addition. Next time I make these at home I’m definitely going to try and make the sauce to put on top.
These are Greece’s answer to meatballs. Other than her famous fish soup, this is one of the dishes that I most remember Yia Yia making for us, especially because as she got older it was easier to cook than yemista or dolmades. It’s dish that relies on the perfect balance of meat and herbs (especially cumin) and it needs to be perfectly cooked or it will dry and not very tasty.
I tried these a few times in Greece and only one place rivalled the ones made by my Yia Yia. We stopped at a restaurant in Kalampaka on our Meteora/Delphi tour and when I stepped into I knew the food was going to be good. It smelt exactly like my Yia Yia’s kitchen. Their soutzoukakia was perfect!
What to Eat in Greece- Desserts
Greek Yoghurt (and anything to do with it)
At home I only ever buy Greek yoghurt- it is my go to breakfast food. But nothing is better than Greek yoghurt in Greece (naturally). Greek yoghurt topped with honey and fresh fruits was one of my favourite things to have for dessert.
Frozen Greek yoghurt was also a delicious afternoon snack. I usually prefer to top mine with natural ingredients like fruit, although one time I was adventurous and topped it with lots of chocolate. So yummy!
Not to mention Greek yoghurt smoothies became a bit of an obsession of Kristine and I’s on the Greek islands. We always seemed to be popping into a frozen yoghurt place for a smoothie of greek yoghurt mixed with milk and strawberries.
Karpouzi is almost as Greek as octopus- it’s the go to dessert for Greek people. I remember one time being woken up in our guesthouse by a bunch of Greek men out the front comparing and talking about the ‘karpouzi’ they had just picked up.
I just love saying the word more than anything! But it also makes a nice and light dessert after a fresh seafood dinner.
These Greek donuts are traditionally topped with honey and cinnamon. I love the addition of vanilla ice-cream as well!
I’m really fussy when it comes to Baklava. It’s a sweet dish but I don’t like it to be overly sweet, and people can completely ruin it by making it too dry. Baklava consists of layers and layers of filo pastry with sweetened crushed nuts between it. It’s usually then coated in some syrup. It’s a sweet dish but can be delicious if done properly. Unfortunately I didn’t really find a good baklava in Greece.
Anything to add?
Do you have a favourite Greek dish that isn’t on this list? Comment below.