Typical dishes of Greek cuisine
Greek cuisine is very diverse and although there are many common characteristics amongst the culinary traditions of different regions within the country, there are also many differences, making it difficult to present a full list of representative dishes.
For example, the vegetarian dish “Chaniotiko Boureki” (oven baked slices of potatoes with zucchini, myzithra cheese and mint) is a typical dish in western Crete, in the region of Chania. A family in Chania may consume this dish 1-2 times per week in the summer season. However, it is not cooked in any other region of Greece. Many food items are wrapped in Filo pastry, either in bite-size triangles or in large sheets: kotopita (chicken), chortopita (greens), spanakotyropita (spinach and cheese), kreatopita (meat pie, using minced meat) etc. The list will present some of the most representative Greek dishes that can be found throughout the country and the most famous of the local ones:
Meze (Appetizer) is served in restaurants called mezedopoleíon, served to complement beverage, and in similar establishments known as tsipourádiko or ouzerí (a type of café that serves beverage, like ouzo or tsipouro). A tavérna (tavern) or estiatório (restaurant) also offer a mezé as an orektikó (appetiser). Many restaurants offer their house pikilía (“variety”), a platter with a smorgasbord of various mezedhes that can be served immediately to customers looking for a quick and/or light meal. Hosts commonly serve mezédhes to their guests at informal or impromptu get-togethers, as they are easy to prepare on short notice. Krasomezédhes (literally “wine-meze”) is a meze that goes well with wine; ouzomezédhes are meze that goes with ouzo.
• Deep Fried vegetables “tiganita” (courgettes, aubergines, peppers, zucchini, or mushrooms).
• Dolmathes: grapevine leaves stuffed with rice and vegetables, meat is also often included.
• Fava: Yellow split pea puree or other bean purees; sometimes made of fava beans.
• Greek Salad: The so-called Greek Salad is known in Greece as Village/Country Salad (Horiatiki), essentially a tomato salad with cucumber, red onion, feta cheese and kalamata olives, dressed with olive oil [in Cyprus it contains also cracked wheat (bulgur), spring onions instead of red and lemon juice].
• Horta: wild or cultivated greens, steamed or blanched and made into salad, simply dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. They can be eaten as a light meal with potatoes (especially during Lent, in lieu of fish or meat).
• Kolokythoanthoi: zucchini flowers stuffed with rice or cheese and herbs.
• Koukkia: fava beans.
• Lachanosalata: Cabbage Salad. Very finely shredded cabbage with salt, olive oil, lemon juice/vinegar dressing.
• Marides tiganites: Deep-fried whitebait, usually served with lemon wedges.
• Melitzanes, eggplants.
• Melitzanosalata: aubergine (eggplant) salad, looks like Potato salad.
• Pantzarosalata: beetroot salad with olive oil and vinegar.
• Patatosalata: Potato salad with olive oil, finely sliced onions, mayonnaise, lemon juice or vinegar.
• Saganaki: fried yellow cheese usually graviera cheese; the word “saganaki” means a small cooking pan, is used to say “fried” and can be applied to many other foods.
• Skordalia: thick garlic and potato puree, usually accompanies deep fried fish/cod [bakaliaro me skordo, i.e. fried battered cod with garlic dip, being a very popular dish].
• Spanakopita: spinach, feta cheese (sometimes in combination with ricotta cheese), onions or spring onions, egg and seasoning wrapped in phyllo pastry in a form of a pie.
• Taramosalata (from Turkish tarama, roe): fish roe mixed with boiled potatoes or moistened breadcrumbs, olive oil and lemon juice.
• Tzatziki (from Turkish cacık): yoghurt with cucumber and garlic puree, used as a dip.
• Tyropita: cheese (usually mizithra) a white-cream cheese pie with phyllo pastry.
• Bourou-Bourou, a vegetable & pasta soup from the island of Corfu.
• Fakes, is a lentil soup and one of the famous everyday Greek soups, usually served with vinegar and olives.
• Fasolada, a bean soup defined in many cookery books as the traditional Greek dish, sometimes even called “the “national food of the Greeks”. It is made of beans, tomatoes, carrot, celery and a generous amount of olive oil usually served witha variety of salty side dishes.
• Kotosoupa, a lemon chicken soup.
• Magiritsa, is the traditional Easter soup made with lamb offal and thickened with avgolemono.
• Patsas, a tripe soup, surprisingly considered a good breakfast.
• Psarosoupa or ‘fish soup’ can be cooked with a variety of fish types, and several kinds of vegetables (carrots, parsley, celery, potatoes, onion), several varieties include the classic kakavia which is drizzled with olive oil.
• Revithia, a chickpea soup.
• Trahana soup, a mixture of fermented grain.
Vegetarian main dishes
• Aginares a la Polita: artichokes with olive oil.
• Arakas me aginares: fresh peas with artichokes in the oven.
• Bamies: okra with tomato sauce (sometimes with potatoes and/or chicken/lamb).
• Briam: an oven-baked ratatouille of summer vegetables based on sliced potatoes and zucchini in olive oil. Usually includes eggplant, tomatoes, onions, and ample aromatic herbs and seasonings.
• Domatokeftedes: tomato fritters with mint, fried in olive oil and typically served with fava (split pea paste). Mainly a Cycladic island dish.
• Fasolakia freska: fresh green beans stewed with potatoes, zucchini and tomato sauce.
• Gigantes: baked beans with tomato sauce and various herbs. Often made spicy with various peppers.
• Horta (greens),already mentioned in the appetizers section, are quite often consumed as a light main meal, with boiled potatoes and bread.
• Kinteata, dish from boiled young nettles.
• Lachanodolmades: Cabbage rolls, stuffed with rice and sometimes meat, spiced with various herbs and served with avgolemono sauce or simmered in a light tomato broth.
• Lachanorizo (Λαχανόριζο) (Cabbage with rice)
• Prassorizo (Πρασόριζο) (Leeks with rice)
• Spanakorizo: Spinach and rice stew cooked in lemon and olive oil sauce.
• Yemista: Baked stuffed vegetables. Usually tomatoes, peppers, or other vegetables hollowed out and baked with a rice and herb filling or minced meat.
Meat and seafood dishes
• Apaki: a famous Cretan specialty; lean pork marinated in vinegar, then smoked with aromatic herbs and shrubs, and packed in salt.
• Chtapodi sti schara: Grilled octopus in vinegar, oil and oregano. Accompanied by Ouzo.
• Giouvetsi: lamb or veal baked in a clay pot with Kritharaki (orzo) and tomatoes.
• Gyros: meat roasted on a vertically turning spit and served with sauce (often tzatziki) and garnishes (tomato, onions) on pita bread; a popular fast food.
• Kleftiko: literally meaning “in the style of the Klephts”, this is lamb slow-baked on the bone, first marinated in garlic and lemon juice, originally cooked in a pit oven. It is said that the Klephts, bandits of the countryside who did not have flocks of their own, would steal lambs or goats and cook the meat in a sealed pit to avoid the smoke being seen.
• Keftethes, fried meatballs with oregano and mint.
• Moussakas: an oven-baked layer dish: ground meat and eggplant casserole, topped with a savory custard which is then browned in the oven. There are other variations besides eggplant, such as zucchini or rice, but the eggplant version, melitzanes moussaká is by far the most popular. The papoutsákia (“little shoes”) variant is essentially the same dish, with the meat and custard layered inside hollowed, sauteéd eggplants.
• Oven-baked lamb with potatoes (Αρνί στο φούρνο με πατάτες). One of the most common “Sunday” dishes. There are many variations with additional ingredients.
• Païdakia: grilled lamb chops with lemon, oregano, salt and pepper.
• Pastitsio: an oven-baked layer dish: Bechamel sauce top, then pasta in the middle and ground meat cooked with tomato sauce at the bottom.
• Pork with celery (hirino me selino/hirino selinato).
• Soutzoukakia Smyrneika (Smyrna meatballs): long shaped meatballs with cumin, cinnamon and garlic and boiled in tomato sauce with whole olives. Often served with rice or mashed potatoes.
• Souvlaki: (lit: ‘skewer’) grilled pork small pieces or gyros, tomatoes, onions and tzatziki as sauce all wrapped with pita considered as fast food.
• Spetsofai: a stew of country sausage, green mild peppers, onions and wine. Originates from Pelion.
• Stifado: rabbit or hare stew with pearl onions, vinegar, red wine and cinnamon. Beef can be substituted for game.
• Yiouvarlakia: meatballs soup with egg-lemon sauce.
Desserts and sweets
• Amygdalota or pasteli exist in many varieties throughout Greece and Cyprus, and are especially popular in the islands. They consist of powdered blanched almonds, confectioner’s sugar and rose water, molded in various shapes and sizes. They are snow-white and are considered wedding and baptismal desserts.
• Finikia, cookie topped with chopped nuts
• Baklava, phyllo pastry layers filled with nuts and drenched in honey.
• Diples, a Christmas and wedding delicacy, made of paper-thin, sheet-like dough which is cut in large squares and dipped in a swirling fashion in a pot of hot olive oil for a few seconds. As the dough fries, it stiffens into a helical tube; it is then removed immediately and sprinkled with honey and crushed walnuts.
• Galaktoboureko, custard baked between layers of phyllo, and then soaked with lemon-scented honey syrup. The name derives from the Greek “gala”(γάλα), meaning milk, and from the Turkish börek, meaning filled, thus meaning “filled with milk.”
• Halva, a nougat of sesame with almonds or cacao.
• Karidopita, a cake of crushed walnuts, soaked or not in syrup.
• Koulourakia, butter or olive-oil cookies.
• Kourabiethes, Christmas cookies made by kneading flour, butter and crushed roasted almonds, then generously dusted with powdered sugar.
• Loukoumades, similar to small crusty donuts, loukoumades are essentially fried balls of dough drenched in honey and sprinkled with cinnamon.
• Loukoumi is a confection made from starch and sugar, essentially similar to the Turkish delight. A variation from Serres is called Akanés. Loukoúmia are flavored with various fruit flavors, with rose water considered the most prized.
• Melomakarona, “honey macaroons”, Christmas cookies soaked with a syrup of diluted honey (méli in Greek) and then sprinkled with crushed walnuts.
• Milopita me Pandespani, apple pie with cinnamon and powdered sugar.
• Moustalevria, a flour and grape must flan.
• Moustokouloura, cookies of flour kneaded with fresh grape juice (must) instead of water.
• Rizogalo (“rice-milk”) is rice pudding.
• Spoon sweets of various fruits, ripe or unripe or green unripe nuts. Spoon sweets are essentially marmalade except that the fruit are boiled whole or in large chunks covered in the fruit’s made syrup.
• Tsoureki, a traditional Christmas and Easter sweet bread also known as “Lambropsomo” (Easter bread), flavored with “mahlepi”, the intensely aromatic extract of the stone of the St. Lucie Cherry.
• Vasilopita, Saint Basil’s cake or King’s cake, traditional only for New Year’s Day. Vasilopites are baked with a coin inside, and whoever gets the coin in their slice are considered blessed with good luck for the whole year.
• Yogurt with honey or spoon sweet syrup.
There is a wide variety of cheeses made in various regions across Greece. The vast majority of them remain unknown outside the Greek borders due to the lack of knowledge and the highly localized distinctive features. Many artisanal, hand made cheeses, both common varieties and local specialties, are produced by small family farms throughout Greece and offer distinct flavors atypical of the mass produced varieties found commercially in Greece and abroad. These are some of the more popular throughout Greece: Feta, Kasseri, Halloumi, Kefalotyri, Kefalograviera, Graviera, Myzithra, Anthotyro, Formaela, Manouri, Metsovone.