Ready to Get Your Feta on? How to Eat Like a Local in GreeceBy Rania Margari
Greek cuisine is all about top-quality local and seasonal ingredients that elevate simple recipes into heavenly meals. From the Greek salad and traditional pies to slow-cooked stews and vegetarian dishes, every region offers a unique gastronomic feast.
But for locals, what’s even more important than the food is sharing it with people they love. Below are nine must-try foods to tuck into with your friends or family.
Greek Yogurt Topped with Fruit Preserves or Honey
Yes, you can find Greek yogurt across the globe — but there’s truly something special about tucking into a bowl when it’s freshly sourced. In Greece, the yogurt often serves as the base for a simple dessert topped with honey or fruit preserves.
Honey is a typical ingredient in Greek cooking, and the quality of the local honey, exported in small quantities only, is excellent. Sweet preserves made from fruits are one of the most traditional types of homemade sweets in Greece, found in almost every household.
Stuffed tomatoes and peppers — known in Greece as “gemista” — are favorites in summer, the season when tomatoes and peppers are in season. Gemista belongs to a category of traditional Greek dishes called “Ladera,” which means that the food has been cooked with olive oil.
The stuffing for either one can include either rice or minced meat with rice, and often both are cooked with potatoes. Savor the dish either warm or cold, preferably with feta cheese.
Horiatiki (Greek Salad)
Horiatiki translates to “village salad” and is one of the Greek cuisine’s highlights, though an authentic Greek salad may be slightly different than the one many restaurants outside of Greece present.
The simple recipe includes tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, feta cheese and olives (no lettuce!), is dressed with extra-virgin olive oil and seasoned with salt and oregano. It’s the perfect accompanying salad to any dish or a great stand-alone meal, especially during summertime.
Essentially a slow-cooked stew made with tomato sauce and orzo pasta, beef youvetsi is best enjoyed immediately after cooking and often topped with grated graviera cheese. This is one of the locals’ favorites because, for many, it brings back memories of traditional Sunday lunch with family at grandma’s house.
There are few things more quintessentially Greek than enjoying a perfectly grilled octopus along with a glass of cold ouzo, the traditional Greek anise-flavored aperitif, at a taverna by the sea. This dish is usually served as an appetizer along with Greek olive oils and feta cheese, or tzatziki spread and bread.
Gigantes plaki — roasted beans in tomato sauce — is one of Greece’s traditional vegetarian dishes. Gigantes, a type of large white bean, are baked in a savory tomato sauce with garlic, onions and fresh herbs, served as a main dish or as an appetizer. When sprinkled with feta cheese, it tastes even better. In another variation, equally delicious, gigantes are cooked with wild greens.
Middle Eastern foods and flavors strongly influence many traditional Greek dishes, including soutzoukakia — meatballs in tomato sauce. In this instance, the meatballs are prepared with spices such as cumin, cinnamon and nutmeg and are best accompanied by rice or mashed potatoes.
Gyros and Souvlaki
All over Greece, you’ll have the chance to try one of the locals’ favorite fast foods, a gyro — pita bread stuffed with meat that’s been slowly cooked on an upright rotisserie (usually pork or chicken), tomato, onion, tzatziki or yogurt, and french fries. Another popular variation is souvlaki — pita bread with pork or chicken skewers.
Salty or sweet, pites, or “Greek pies,” come in countless variations, and every region of the country has its own specialty using basic ingredients such as flour, olive oil, cheese, spinach or foraged greens.
Regardless of the region, pites do share one main ingredient — phyllo, the dough that is used to make the pie. If the phyllo is homemade, then you’ve hit the gastronomic jackpot. Tyropita (cheese pie) and spanakopita (spinach pie) are two of the most famous pites and can be bought anywhere from bakeries to small, family-run restaurants across the country.