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34 Traditional Greek foods to try in Greece

  • Greece

Last updated: 25 April, 2024

From souvlaki to saganaki, moussaka to melomakarouna, we asked our Greece specialist John Malathronas to select the best traditional Greek foods and flavours you must try while you’re in Greece.

Table of Contents

Amygdalota

  • Greece

close up of a plate of Amygdalota - sugary almond cookies

Experience

These sugary almond cookies are associated with weddings and baptisms as they symbolise new beginnings. The main ingredients are chopped almonds, sugar and eggs, but there are regional variations especially as regards their shape, mostly from Tinos, Mykonos, the Saronic Islands and Monemvasia in the Peloponnese.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Avgolemono

  • Greece

close up of a bowl of Kotosoupa Avgolemono - chicken pieces and lemon

Experience

Avgolemono (lemon and egg sauce) requires the cook to pour lemon juice on yolks and then use it to bind broth – a recipe for curdling without the right technique. It accompanies Dolmadakia and is the main ingredient of traditional Kotosoupa (chicken broth) – try them in the Athens Central Market restaurants.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Bougatsa

  • Greece

close up of Bougatsa pastry - filo pastry with a sweet semolina custard filling

Experience

A sweet from Thessaloniki that consists of filo pastry with a sweet semolina custard filling. It’s baked in a shallow tray and is typically served cut into squares and laced with icing sugar and powdered cinnamon.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Choriatiki (Greek Salad)

  • Greece

close up of a bowl of Choriatiki, or Greek Salad - tomatoes, onions, olives, cucumber and feta cheese

Experience

The ubiquitous Choriatiki (‘peasant) salad consists of sliced tomatoes, onions and cucumber, as well as olives, feta, a sprinkling of oregano, and a sloshing of olive oil and vinegar. Capers and thinly sliced green peppers are also common additions. Eaten with fresh bread, it can be a meal in itself.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Dolmades

  • Greece

close up of Dolmades - stuffed grape leaves filled with rive

Experience

You’ll find these rolled-up stuffed vine leaves all over the Eastern Mediterranean (dolma means ‘stuffed’ in Turkish). The filling is usually cooked rice with onions and dill served with avgolemono sauce, but in many regions they use minced veal or pork. The wrappings can also change: in Northern Greece they use cabbage leaves and in Lesbos onions.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Ellinikos (Greek Coffee)

  • Greece

close up of a small jug of Greek coffee

Experience

Greek Coffee was still called Turkish until the 1980s when nationalist pride prevailed. It requires a much finer grind than espresso and it’s brought to boil together with water and sugar (to taste) in a special demitasse-sized pot. The residue in the cup is still used by clairvoyants to read one’s future.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Fasolatha

  • Greece

close up of a bowl of Fasolatha or white bean soup with feta

Experience

The staple food for the poor for most of Greek history, this white haricot bean stew, using carrots and whatever other root vegetables are available, has become very unfashionable in the past few decades. You’ll have to seek it out in traditional food outlets in residential city districts or in out-of-the-way villages.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Frappe

  • Greece

close up of two glasses of Greek Frappe on Santorini

Experience

This coffee is made using Nescafe powder beaten in a shaker with water and sugar, and served cold – ideal for chilling on the beach. It’s generally accepted that it was invented by an unnamed employee in Thessaloniki during the 1957 expo, because there was no hot water available.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Galaktoboureko

  • Greece

close up of a slice of galaktoboureko - a custard and honey desert

Experience

This is an oriental sweet not unlike bougatsa, with the important addition of flavoured syrup. It belongs to the class of ‘honey sweets’ that include baklava and kataifi, but it’s the easiest to make, so it’s often served as a treat to taverna diners at the end of their meal.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Gemista

  • Greece

close up of gemista - green and red peppers will with flavoured rice

Experience

These are vegetables that can be hollowed out – beef tomatoes, green peppers large courgettes –stuffed with a mixture of cooked rice, dill and onion like dolmades. Once again, the stuffing can consist of ground veal or pork, while the sauce for courgettes is almost certainly avgolemono.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Glyka Koutaliou

  • Greece

close up of Glyka koutaliou - sugary spoon sweets

Experience

A way of preserving fruit for the winter months, these ‘spoon sweets’ are called as such because a spoonful is enough for a sugar rush, so they’re best consumed with a dollop of yoghurt. It’s what you’ll be offered as a guest in a Greek home as a gesture of hospitality.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Fava

  • Greece

close up of Fava - a puree of yellow split peas

Experience

A popular starter in Santorini, fava is a puree of yellow split peas considered a superfood for its high protein content. Garnished with a splodge of olive oil (to add fat) and chopped red onions (for crunchiness and vitamins), it’s spread on pita bread (carbohydrate) for a proper rounded meal.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Gyros/kebab/souvlaki

  • Greece

close up of skewers of chicken Souvlaki

Experience

Gyros in Greece is what elsewhere is called a doner, and it’s mostly made from chicken or pork. If you ask for a kebab you’ll get an elongated skewer of minced meat. And when you want a kebab (skewered meat) you ask for a souvlaki. All of these are served as wraps in pitta bread with tzatziki, sliced onions and lettuce.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Halvas

  • Greece

close up of Halva - ground semolina, raisins and almonds boiled with sugar and flavoured with vanilla pods, orange zest and cloves

Experience

Originally a Persian dish, this is a mixture of ground semolina and almonds boiled with sugar and flavoured with vanilla pods, orange zest and cloves. It’s decanted into muffin-like tins and consumed warm with a sprinkling of cinnamon, or with a dollop of ice cream.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Kataifi

  • Greece

close up of Kataifi desert - a honey sweet with string pastry

Experience

Kataifi is a ‘honey sweet’ made with a special kind of string pastry around a mixture of nuts and spices drizzled in honey syrup. Very popular around the Mediterranean, in Greece you’ll also find a variation called ekmek – a layered kataifi dough with nuts, underneath a topping of vanilla custard and whipped cream.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Keftedes

  • Greece

close up of a plate of Tomatokeftedes or Kolokythokeftedes - vegetarian fritters

Experience

Every country has its own version of meatballs and in Greece they’re generally made with minced veal or lamb and flavoured with chopped mint. Bound by egg yolks, rolled around in flour and deep fried, they’re usually served with a home-made tomato sauce.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Kolokythokeftedes

  • Greece

close up of several Kolokythokeftedes - greek vegetarian meatballs

Experience

These are vegan fritters, alternatives to meatballs. Kolokythokeftedes is fashioned by grating courgettes and cheese and mixing them with flour. Other varieties: patatokeftedes uses potatoes like the Jewish latkes; tomatokeftedes, a Santorini speciality, are prepared with flour mixed with the firm pulp of sweet cherry tomatoes that grow on the island.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Kleftiko

  • Greece

close up of lamb Kleftiko - slow cooked lamb with herbs and spices

Experience

Back in the olden days villagers brought legs of lamb to the village baker’s wood-fired oven to cook for several hours. To distinguish one from the other each family dish was wrapped in a separate greaseproof paper with everything inside: meat, spices, seasoning. This cooking method made an easy jump to modern electric ovens.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Koulouri

  • Greece

close up of a person holding up a Koulouri ring

Experience

Thessaloniki’s snack that’s been popularised all over Greece: baked dough rings covered with sesame seeds. They’re still easy to find, though not available in every street corner as they used to be; their main attraction is their low price that’s even regulated by the state – currently at just over €1 each.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Ladera

  • Greece

close up of a bowl of Ladera - green beans in tomato sauce

Experience

As befits a country where fasting is still prevalent, these meat-free dishes are consumed during Lent or saints’ days. They’re vegetable stews cooked in olive oil (ladera means ‘oily’): melitzanes (aubergines with onions and tomatoes), fasolakia (runner beans with potatoes), gemista, briami (a kind of ratatouille), bamies (okra) and more.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Loukoumades

  • Greece

close up of some Loukoumades balls - fluffy, bite-sized dough balls fried in oil, sweetened with honey

Experience

These fluffy, bite-sized dough balls fried in oil, sweetened with honey and liberally sprinkled with ground cinnamon and chopped walnuts are as close as you’ll get to ancient Greek patisserie. Presented to the Olympic Games winners and mentioned by Aristophanes and Aristotle, they have entertained Greek palates ever since.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Melomakarouna

  • Greece

close up of Melomakarouna

Experience

The ultimate Christmas sweet, these oval-shaped confections are made from flour, olive oil and honey, spiced with cloves, baked in the oven and sprinkled liberally with chopped walnuts and citrus-flavoured syrup. The cook’s challenge here is to prepare them with a crispy crust but with a melt-in-the mouth juicy centre.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Moussaka

  • Greece

close up of a slice of Moussaka - layers of bechamel with mince topped with parsley

Experience

Although the word is Arabic and today’s recipe only first appeared in print in a 1910 Greek cookery book, moussaka – an oven dish of layered potatoes, aubergines and minced meat topped by a thick bechamel sauce – is considered the quintessential Greek fare and it’s ubiquitous all over the country.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Pasteli

  • Greece

close up of some Pasteli - sweet sesame and honey cakes

Experience

A doddle to make yet full of energy for those cold nights spent by shepherds in the mountains while tending their flocks, this triangle-shaped chewy sweet contains equal parts by weight of sesame and honey. It’s definitely an acquired taste and a challenge for loose molars. Try before you buy.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Pastitsio

  • Greece

close up of Pastitsio with bucatini pasta and mince meat

Experience

The last in the trilogy of Greek classic foods along with kleftiko and moussaka, pastitsio resembles the latter because of the bechamel topping over what looks like spaghetti bolognese. Yet it’s more like the Greek riposte to Italian lasagne, with bucatini pasta (and, yes, only bucatini will do) instead of lasagne sheets.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Papoutsakia

  • Greece

close up of a plate of Papoutsakia - Greek,Stuffed,Eggplants,With,Ground,Beef tomatoes,,Topped,With,Bechamel

Experience

This Persian aubergine oven dish is very old, with a recipe first written down during the 13th century Abbasid Empire. The Greek version is a cross between gemista and moussaka: a hollowed-out aubergine complete with protruding stalk, stuffed with minced meat, onions and oregano, topped by bechamel sauce.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Retsina Wine

  • Greece

close up of a glass or Retsina wine

Experience

Typical of the Attica region, retsina has been produced in the same manner since antiquity. It takes its characteristic flavour from the pine resin added during fermentation to preserve the wine from oxidation. Synonymous with cheap plonk in times past, it’s been snubbed by Greek vintners, but has recently made a dignified comeback.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Revani

  • Greece

close up of Revani - a syrupy sponger cake with pistacchio

Experience

A syrupy sponge cake from Northern Greece – especially from the Veroia region – that, apart from the standard semolina, egg and flour mix, uses thick Greek yogurt as its mystery ingredient to achieve fluffiness. Slices are typically served with an almond on top.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Saganaki

  • Greece

close up of a slice of Saganaki - greek fried cheese

Experience

The French have baked Camembert, the Greeks have fried cheese. ‘Saganaki’ is the small frying pan that the dish is cooked and served in. Different regions use different hard cheeses, but kefalotyri is generally used, because it’s soft enough to be cooked through, but hard enough to maintain its shape.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Stifado

  • Greece

close up of a dish of beef Stifado - A pot stew with tomatoes, red wine and pickling onions

Experience

A pot stew with tomatoes, red wine and pickling onions for tough cuts of lamb, goat or beef that require a long, slow simmer to become tender. Traditionally flavoured by allspice and rosemary sprigs, it’s a heavy meal to be eaten at Sunday lunch during the winter months.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Soutzoukakia

  • Greece

close up of a bowl of Soutzoukakia Beef,Meatballs,In,A,Spicy,Tomato,Sauce,With rice

Experience

Despite being a meatball dish, soutzoukakia are not to be confused with keftedes. The latter are fried, while the former are oven baked in tomato sauce, often along with potatoes and flavoured by cumin. They are the most distinguished example of Greek ‘politiki’ cuisine (i.e. from Constantinople and Asia Minor).

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Taramosalata

  • Greece

close up of a Taramasalata dip with olives and pita bread

Experience

One of the most famous Geek dips in meze platters, this is made from fish roe (usually cod or carp) beaten with olive oil on a potato or breadcrumb base. Although supermarket versions are pink, this is a food colour additive for Western consumers; proper taramosalata is slightly oatmeal-coloured.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Tyropita

  • Greece

close up of Tyropita

Experience

A pie with cheese filling, this is the most common Greek fast food. There are three variations: the customary puff pastry version; kourou style with shortcrust pastry and feta cheese; and skopelitiki, a filo pastry spiral from Skopelos that’s not baked but fried. Fillings also vary: in spanakopita, cheese is replaced by spinach.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

Tzatziki

  • Greece

close up of a bowl of Tzatziki

Experience

The second most famous Greek dip along with taramosalata this is a mix of yoghurt, garlic, cucumber, olive oil and dill. It’s traditionally used to flavour souvlaki wraps and gyro platters, and appears as a cold dip in meze starters to be scooped up by pita bread.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -