Greece is a paradise for foodies, with a rich and diverse cuisine that reflects its long history, culture and geography. The Greek islands offer a variety of dishes and drinks that showcase the best of the Mediterranean diet, from fresh seafood and grilled meats to fragrant herbs and olive oil. Whether you’re looking for a quick bite, a hearty meal or a sweet treat, you’ll find something to satisfy your taste buds on the Greek islands. Here are some tips on how to taste the best dishes and drinks on the Greek islands and what are the local specialties and delicacies.
One of the most popular and ubiquitous street foods in Greece is souvlaki, which consists of skewered meat (usually pork or chicken) wrapped in soft pita bread with tomato, onion, tzatziki (yogurt, garlic and cucumber dip) and sometimes fries. Souvlaki is cheap, delicious and filling, and you can find it in almost every town in Greece. It’s a great introduction to Greek food and a perfect snack for when you’re on the go.
Fish and seafood
Greece has a long coastline and hundreds of islands, so it’s no surprise that fish and seafood are an essential part of its cuisine. You can enjoy grilled whole fish drizzled with lemon and oil dressing, fried small fish such as red mullet or whitebait, or octopus cooked in various ways: grilled, marinated or stewed in wine sauce. You can also try stuffed calamari with cheese and herbs, cuttlefish in ink sauce or fish soup with vegetables. The best way to enjoy fish and seafood in Greece is to eat it fresh from the sea, at a waterfront taverna where you can pick out your fish and ask for its weight and price. Some of the best islands for fish and seafood are Hydra, Santorini, Antiparos and Crete.
Greeks are also experts in grilled and spit-roasted meats, especially lamb, pork and chicken. You can savor lamb cutlets, pork chops or chicken souvlaki with salad, fries or rice. You can also try kokoretsi, a dish made of lamb intestines wrapped around seasoned offal and spit-roasted over charcoal. Another traditional dish is kontosouvli, which is chunks of marinated pork skewered on a large spit and cooked slowly over a fire. Grilled meat is often served with ladolemono (lemon and oil dressing) or skordalia (garlic dip). Some of the best islands for grilled meat are Mykonos, Naxos, Paros and Rhodes.
Mezedhes are small dishes that are served as appetizers or snacks, usually accompanied by ouzo (anise-flavored liquor) or wine. They are meant to be shared with friends or family, as part of a social and relaxed dining experience. Mezedhes can be cold or hot, vegetarian or meat-based, simple or elaborate. Some of the most common mezedhes are tzatziki, melitzanosalata (eggplant dip), fried zucchini or eggplant slices, white beans in tomato sauce, cheese or spinach pies, chickpea patties, octopus salad and black-eyed peas. You can find mezedhes in most tavernas and ouzerias (bars that serve ouzo) on the Greek islands.
Pies are another staple of Greek cuisine, made of thin layers of phyllo pastry filled with various ingredients such as cheese, spinach, meat, vegetables or fruits. Pies can be sweet or savory, large or small, round or rectangular. They can be eaten as a main course, a snack or a dessert. Some of the most famous pies in Greece are spanakopita (spinach pie), tyropita (cheese pie), kreatopita (meat pie), kolokithopita (zucchini pie) and bougatsa (custard pie). Each island has its own variations and specialties of pies. For example, on Crete you can try kaltsounia, which are small pies filled with cheese or greens; on Milos you can try pitarakia, which are triangular pies filled with cheese; on Syros you can try loukoumades me meli kai kanela (honey-and-cinnamon doughnuts).
Ouzo and other spirits
Ouzo is the national drink of Greece, a clear, strong and aromatic liquor that is flavored with anise. It is usually diluted with water and ice, and turns milky white when mixed. Ouzo is traditionally served with mezedhes, as a way of stimulating the appetite and enhancing the flavors of the food. Ouzo is produced in various regions of Greece, but some of the most famous ouzo brands come from the islands of Lesvos, Chios and Samos. Other spirits that are popular in Greece are raki or tsikoudia, which is a grape-based spirit similar to grappa; mastiha, which is a liqueur flavored with mastic resin from Chios; and tentura, which is a liqueur flavored with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg from Patra.
Greece has a long and rich tradition of winemaking, dating back to ancient times. The country produces a wide range of wines, from dry whites and reds to sweet dessert wines. Some of the most famous wine regions in Greece are Nemea, Naoussa, Santorini and Samos. Each island has its own grape varieties and styles of wine. For example, on Santorini you can taste the distinctive white wine made from assyrtiko grapes, which have a high acidity and a mineral character due to the volcanic soil; on Samos you can taste the sweet muscat wine, which has a floral and fruity aroma and a golden color; on Paros you can taste the red wine made from mandilaria grapes, which have a deep color and a spicy flavor.
Pizza may not be a traditional Greek dish, but it has become very popular and widely available on the Greek islands. You can find pizza places that offer various toppings and styles, from thin crust to deep dish, from cheese and tomato to ham and pineapple. Pizza is a convenient and satisfying option for when you want something quick and familiar. Some of the best pizza places on the Greek islands are Pizza Subito on Naxos, Pizza Fan on Mykonos, Pizza Hut on Rhodes and Pizza Express on Corfu.
Salads are an essential part of any Greek meal, as they provide freshness, crunch and color to the table. The most famous salad in Greece is the horiatiki (village salad), which consists of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, olives, feta cheese and oregano, dressed with olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice. Other salads that you can try on the Greek islands are dakos, which is a Cretan salad made of barley rusks topped with tomato, cheese and herbs; roka (arugula) salad with parmesan cheese and balsamic dressing; maroulosalata (lettuce salad) with dill and scallions; or lahanosalata (cabbage salad) with carrots and lemon dressing.
Local Greek dishes
Each island has its own local dishes that reflect its history, culture and terroir. These dishes are often made with seasonal ingredients that are grown or produced on the island, such as cheese, honey, herbs, nuts or fruits. Some examples of local dishes that you can taste on the Greek islands are: matsata, which is fresh pasta with rabbit and goat cheese from Folegandros; kritamo, which is a type of samphire that grows on rocks by the sea from Mykonos; loukoumi, which are sweet blocks of various flavors showered with icing sugar from Syros; kleftiko, which is lamb cooked in a sealed clay pot with cheese and herbs from Milos; sfougato, which is an omelet with zucchini, cheese and mint from Sifnos; pastitsio nisiotiko, which is baked pasta with meat sauce and bechamel from Nisyros; ladopita, which is an olive oil cake with honey and walnuts from Kythira.
Greece is a gastronomic paradise for anyone who loves fresh, flavorful and diverse food. The Greek islands offer a unique opportunity to taste the best dishes and drinks that showcase the Mediterranean diet at its finest. Whether you’re looking for street food or fine dining, seafood or meat, sweet or savory, you’ll find something to delight your palate on the Greek islands. Bon appetit!