From dazzling beaches, to historic ruins, and a spirited cultural energy, there are many reasons to travel to Greece.
A passionate country, and a cultural treasure trove, Greece is an exciting destination that often feels otherworldy; standing in the shadow of landmarks that have been there for centuries, catching locals in heated political debates, or accidentally bumping into a festival … no, wait, that’s just a large family gathering!
The Greeks are passionate about a great many things, but one thing they’re most passionate about is their food. Traditional cooking is the way in Greece, with an emphasis on regional produce like mussels steamed in ouzo, herbs from the mountains, and fish straight out of the sea.
There are a great many Greek restaurants around the world, though you haven’t truly tasted Greek food until you’ve tasted it in Greece. The following are 10 Greek foods you have to try in Athens.
The only thing better than the following Greek food is sharing it with a local!
Authentic Greek Foods You HAVE to Try
Sharing Your Food With Locals
Socialising is more than a pastime in Greece – it’s a way of life. And socialising over food is a huge part of the cultural fabric in Greece.
So while the following 10 foods are all staples of the region, if you’re after a truly authentic experience, you should understand that the food culture in Greece goes beyond just the taste.
Joining locals in their homes for a meal, or having a local foodie take you on a private tour of the joints that tourists don’t know about is a great way to fully immerse yourself in the Athens food scene.
Sites like Withlocals are a great way to connect with locals (in any country) who are willing to take you off the beaten track for an authentic experience, and in Greece, you’ll find that most of the locals are die hard foodies!
Image: Andy Montgomery (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flickr
You haven’t eaten olives until you’ve eaten them in Greece. Olives and olive oil are a basic necessity to life for most Greeks, and it’s been this way since the beginning of civilization (3,500 years ago they called the oil ‘liquid gold’).
And you’ll have your pick; there are over 100 different types of olive trees throughout Greece, including the Kalamata olive that has a rich, fruity flavor, the Amfissas, which has a nutty flavor, and more unusual types like black Lianolia olives from Corfu.
The tastiest olives are said to be grown in the regions of Kalamata and Amphissa, though you really can’t go wrong with olives cultivated in Greece, no matter the region.
Greek food is anything but boring, so if you’re looking to try something truly unique, make sure you try Dolmadakia.
This is a wrap made of stuffed grape leaves; a traditional dish that packs a lot of nutritional value (low in calories but high in all the good stuff, like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber).
Ingredients like minced meat, parsley, rice, and different spices are made into a roll and then wrapped in grape or cabbage leaves before being cooked in a thick sauce of egg and lemon.
The dish is commonly made throughout Greek homes, so ingredients will often vary. Don’t be surprised to find versions stuffed with tomatoes, peppers and eggplants too.
You’ll traditionally eat Dolmadakia as an appetizer or light snack; they’re often the size of a small canape and served with a spoonful of yogurt (another things the Greek do best!).
Ask any Greek what they eat and the first thing they’ll say is Souvlaki. This is pitta bread tightly wrapped around grilled chicken or pork (souvlaki means ‘meat on a skewer’), stuffed with ingredients like fries, tomato, salad, and tzatziki.
It’s Greek fast food, and a very cheap way to eat too. You can expect to pay around €1 – €4 for a wrap with tasty Greek meat and all the fillings, and this is commonly purchased as street food.
For the vegetarians out there, you can order it without meat, and it becomes a vegetable sandwich with fries.
Greece is a country rich in tomatoes, and tomatoes grown in Greece are usually small, but full of flavor.
You’ll find many different kind of fritters in Athens (the zucchini ball is a favorite internationally), but one of the most popular among locals is Tomaotokeftedes.
These tomato fritters (or tomato balls) are sweet, soft, and often have bits of mint and onion chunks too. Most are made with tomatoes from Santorini, as the tomatoes grown here are thick skinned and not very juicy (too much juice means the fritters will be soggy).
Athens has an incredible coffee culture, though this isn’t like coffee you’ve tasted in your home country. Greek coffee, or Ellinikos, is served in the traditional long handled coffee copper pot known as briki.
Greek coffee is traditionally brewed to be sweet and strong, and comes with foam on the top, and grounds in the bottom of the cup. You’re not supposed to drink the grounds, though you may find locals using them to read their fortunes.
If you can’t handle your coffee strong, you can go for a cold version like the frappe, or try a freddo cappuccino, which is a cold expresso served over ice.
People in Greece sit for hours over coffee, so don’t think you’re going to jet into a cafe and order one to takeaway. To truly immerse yourself in the coffee culture, give yourself enough time to sit down and watch the world pass by.
Image: Joe Szilagyi (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flickr
Let’s be honest, a lot of the food we eat in our everyday, the Greeks to it better! One of those is cheese.
Greece still embraces century old cheese making traditions, and while feta is most famous (and granted, used in Greece for everything), there are many other delicious Greek cheeses. One of those is Kefalotyri.
This is a traditional hard cheese made from unpasteurized goat’s or sheep’s milk (sometimes both). The taste is sharp and salty, with an aroma of nutty, and it has a very dry texture.
This is one of the oldest cheeses in Greece; with proof that it dates back to 330 AD, it’s believed to be the original hard cheese. This is the go-to cheese for Saganaki, which is fried cheese cut into cubes or strips, and is often used on top of pasta, pizza and stews.
It’s also fantastic for snacking, and makes for a pretty mean cheeseboard; the tangy taste pairing perfectly with seasonal fruit like figs, pears and grapes, as well as red wine.
Other Traditional Greek Foods to Try in Athens
➤ Horiatiki: A signature Greek salad with bright red tomatoes, cucumbers, shallots, red onions, green peppers, and of course, Greek olive oil. There’s usually a large piece of feta cheese on top.
➤ Moussaka: A layered casserole dish that consists of fried potato, fried eggplant slices, and minced meat, topped off with a thick layer of béchamel sauce, and baked in the oven.
➤ Spanakopita: A spinach pie baked with fresh spinach and herbs, between two layers of filo pastry. There’s a flaky crust so it’s messy, but is absolutely worth the crumbs!
➤ Greek Yogurt: A thicker and creamier version of the yogurt you’re used to. Expect this to be drizzled in honey.
➤ Ouzo: A desert wine that tastes like licorice vodka. This is quite potent and firey, and is often flavored with spices.
GUIDES WE RECOMMEND FOR GREECE: CLICK PHOTO TO LOOK INSIDE ↓