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While Greek dishes have traveled all over the world, these authentic Greek foods are the only way to experience the cuisine of this sun-baked Mediterranean paradise in its purest, truest form.
Some you’ll be familiar with. Others you may have never heard of. But all will open your mind and palate to a staggering array of Mediterranean flavors, aromas, and textures.
So, guided by a local writer, let us experience this wonderous country the way ancient Greeks would want us to, through 20 of its traditional and most beloved dishes.
Traditional & Popular Greek Foods
Greek Mains and Appetizers
If you can’t find this Greek classic on menus in restaurants, don’t worry: simply look for ‘horiatiki,’ particularly if you’re dining in Greek villages or more rural areas.
Greek salad is, without a doubt, one of the most refreshing foods to eat when dining near the sea, under the hot Mediterranean sun.
Tomato, cucumber, onion, feta, olive oil, vinegar, salt, and lots of oregano are tossed together to make the traditional recipe, which can be enriched with olives, or a few local greens, from place to place. In Crete, you can even find Greek salad with the beloved cottage-like white cheese “mizithra”.
Tip: Don’t miss the chance to make a “papara,” by using the salad juice as a dip for your bread. Utterly delicious!
2 – Ντάκος – Dakos
Simple, cheap, and beloved by the Greeks, dakos is an excellent example of how even just a few genuine products can create rich, deep flavors: a characteristic of Mediterranean cuisine.
Dakos is a dish of whole-grain rusks (paksimadi), topped with fresh ground tomatoes and some white cheese, either feta (for a saltier choice) or mizithra, seasoned with olive oil and herbs, preferably oregano or thyme.
Most popular in the islands and Crete, people often eat this Greek classic at lunch or as a light and healthy option for supper. Packed with carbohydrates, fiber, and protein, dakos is rich in nutrients and minerals.
Tzatziki is an appetizer that is rarely absent from Greeks’ dinner tables, especially when they go out to eat at a traditional tavern.
This famous dish is a refreshing spread of yogurt, grated cucumber, garlic, olive oil, and vinegar. It is an ideal side dish for all types of meats, and with fried potatoes, it is a culinary marriage made in heaven!
For Greeks, the great tzatziki dispute is around the inclusion of garlic, as people dare to eat it due to the intense smell it causes on the breath, which can linger even after you have brushed your teeth.
If you are ordering food and you want to kiss your date, however, the solution is simple: just both eat tzatziki together!
4 – Καλιτσούνια – Kalitsounia
Kalitsounia is not just a plate of food; it is an entire world of choice! The key to unleashing the incredible flavor of this beloved Crete-born pie is in the very thin dough it is made from, in which you can find a large variety of ingredients.
Various kinds of cheese, both salty and sweet, spinach, onion, pumpkin, and minced meat are just some of the many flavors of this crispy and flavorsome pie, which is one of Crete’s most adored foods.
5 – Ντολμαδακια – Dolmadakia
One of the most famous foods, dolmadakia have traveled all over the world and are a popular choice in Greek cuisine restaurants.
Found in Turkish cuisine, Armenian cuisine, Azerbaijani cuisine, and various Eastern European, Balkan, and Middle Eastern cuisines, it’s known by its many other names such as dolma, tolma, yebra, dolmades, sarma, and others.
Greek dolmadakia uses fresh grape leaves in which to wrap a simple, wholesome, and flavorful pocket of rice and herbs.
Minced meat dolmadakia is a popular choice for meat lovers, and this dish can be eaten hot or cold, and even found canned at supermarkets!
In Greece, is it believed that the tighter you can wrap dolmadakia, the better the chef or cook you are!
6 – Κοντοσούβλι – Kontosouvli
A simple and traditional meat dish, rooted in Greek culture, kontosouvli is meat, often pork but sometimes beef, cut into pieces, skewered, and roasted on a spit. Cooking the meat to the perfect level of soft and juicy is the ultimate goal for every knotsouvli cook and griller.
The preparation of kontosouvil is very much a ritual for the cook, as it is common to marinate the meat in a mixture of wine, vinegar, herbs, and lemon juice for up to 48 hours before grilling.
A meat-lovers paradise, knotosuvli traditionally is roasted over a charcoal pit. Once the juices are running, the meat can be served with a wide range of sides. If you get the chance to eat this dish with locals, at a household or gathering, take up the opportunity with open arms. You will not regret it!
7 – Παστίτσιο – Pastitsio
Pastitsio is a prime example of the influence of both Italian cuisine and French cuisine on Greek food. A late adoption to Greek cuisine, today pastitsio take pride and place on many menus at authentic Greek restaurants.
At its simplest, pastitsio is a pasta bake dish. It consists of three core layers. One layer is made of specialized long noodle pasta tubes, which some substitute for mostaccioli. The second is a layer of rich minced meat, and the final layer is a topping of thick, curdy bechamel sauce, topped with cheese.
Assembled in the same way as mousaka or lasagna, pastitsio’s eye-catching decadence help set it apart from other pasta bake dishes. The use of tubed pasta, laid lengthways when cut creates a unique holed pattern. Offest against the browned ground meat, and the thick, creamy white top of the cheese layer, pastitsio is very much a dish for the Instagrammers.
Kids love it, adults love it, and I guarantee you’ll be hard-pressed to find a local that doesn’t eat pastitsio at least twice a month!
Moussaka is possibly the most famous Greek dish of all. Rich, layered, and truly indulgent, moussaka is not exactly a light “summer” food due to its filling, and Greeks often enjoy that dish at lunch, then take a nap!
There are many variations of moussaka, but the traditional recipe consists of layers of potatoes, fried or roasted eggplant, and minced meat in a rich, fresh tomato sauce, topped with a layer of béchamel sauce.
Our Greek-inspired moussaka recipe has everything you need to make and learn more about this iconic dish.
9 – Καλαμαράκια τηγανητά – Fried Squid
Every country has a dish that piques the interest of nearly all children when reading the menu, and due to their curiosity, end up ordering. For the young little Greeks, that dish is very much fried squid, commonly served in a crusty bread roll.
Crunchy and delicious, fried squid is a go-to appetizer or side for many Greeks, and pairs perfectly with a glass of ouzo as you gaze out at the blue sea.
Despite being a simple dish, cooking fried squid is no mean feat. Achieving the ideal ‘crunchy but not overdone’ consistency requires both impeccable timing, and the cooking oil to reach a very specific temperature before the squid hits the pan.
Greeks generally agree the best fried squid is served at the taverns, allowing so many tourists to enjoy this Greek delicacy in its most delicious form.
10 – Γαύρος μαρινάτος – Marinated Anchovy
As the Mediterranean Sea laps mainland Greece and the Greek islands, it should come as no surprise that seafood dishes are a popular choice on Greek dinner tables throughout the week.
One of Greece’s most fascinating dishes to try, due to its unique flavor and preparation, is marinated anchovy. Technically, marinated anchovies are served raw. The anchovies are not baked, fried, or cooked otherwise at all.
Instead, the anchovies are placed on a bed of coarse salt for an hour or so and then left to soak in a marinade of wine, vinegar, garlic, olive oil, and herbs, for around 12 hours, or half a day.
A true Greek delicacy, while its deep, explosive taste isn’t for everyone, marinated anchovy is a Greek food you simply have to try!
11 – Κόκορας με χυλοπίτες – Rooster with Handmade Pasta
Rooster with handmade pasta is a dish strongly associated with life in the Greek countryside. For generations of Greeks who lived off the land, a henhouse and keeping hens was an integral part of day-to-day life.
Families would keep one, maybe two roosters in each henhouse. And that rooster would only be eaten for special occasions. When cooked, rooster meat has a firmer texture and a more succulent taste compared to chicken.
Traditionally, the handmade pasta used is made with a dough that contains eggs. Served in a fresh tomato sauce and plenty of aromatic herbs, this is a dish packed with the authentic flavors of the Greek countryside.
You can find many variations of this recipe in modern restaurants, but the truth is that the more mountainous and isolated the place you eat it is, the more delicious it will be.
12 – Φασολάδα – Bean Soup
Many refer to bean soup as the national food of Greece. The truth is however that the dish is very much a favorite with an older generation of Greeks as its popularity has waned in recent years.
Regardless, Greek bean soup is a thick, reddish soup, consisting of beans that simmer quietly and patiently in a cooking pot with rich tomato sauce, carrots, a little greenery, and herbs.
Bean soup is humble but very filling, with a strong, deep flavor. It is served in deep dishes, preferably accompanied by feta, bread, olives, and some salted fish.
Read more: Φασολάδα – Greek Bean Soup Recipe
13 – Χοχλιοί μπουμπουριστοί – Snails
Every cuisine has its intriguing delicacy, and in Greece, that is very much snails. A dish that Greeks either love or loathe, snails are served in several areas of Greece, but mainly in Crete.
Due to the climate, the species thrives on the island. Snails have been eaten in Greece for thousands of years, as far back as ancient Greece. Cretans would head out to the fields after heavy rainfall to collect snails for cooking.
Cooking snails Greek-style is very simple. They are pan-fried with a little flour and a lot of rosemary in hot oil and served with fresh olive oil. “Buburisti” derives its name from the sound (bu-bu), made by the snail shells while frying.
If you want a truly authentic taste of ancient Greece, you have to give this dish a try!
When it comes to soutzoukakia, every bite is an explosion of flavor. With its characteristic taste and rich history, soutzoukakia is a plate embedded in Greek culture.
Originating from the Small Asia coast, soutzoukakia traditionally is a dish of rich ground beef or pork balls, smothered in garlic and cumin, cooked in the oven in fresh tomato sauce. The dish can be served with rice, spaghetti, or mashed potatoes.
Soutzoukakia is an intense aromatic dish, that brings an array of flavors to the table. Not to be mistaken for meatballs, soutzoukakia are defined by their oval shape, and the special tomato sauce they are cooked in.
Read more: Soutzoukakia Recipe (Rich Greek Meatballs)
15 – Σουβλάκι με γύρο – Gyros Souvlaki
Gyros souvlaki is the king of Greek fast food. Many types of street food come and go in Greece, but souvlaki remains the most spontaneous answer to the question ‘’what are we gonna order?”.
Today there are many variations of this dish and dozens of ingredients to choose from, including chicken, lamb, bacon, cheeses, mushrooms, and many more.
However, the most traditional version of this dish consists of pork, grilled on an upright spit that turns (‘gyro’ means ‘around’), stuffed in a pie with fried potatoes, onion, tomato, and tzatziki.
Despite being fast food, the use of fresh ingredients provides far fewer calories than pizza and burgers. In fact, it is common for Greeks to order multiple gyros souvlaki for lunch, dinner, or a snack to-go. So if you eat one and you’re still hungry, feel free to order another: no one is judging you, trust me!
Read more: Succulent Greek Chicken Souvlaki Recipe
16 – Γλυκό του κουταλιού – Spoon Sweets
You’ll pretty much always find at least a jar or two of spoon sweets in every Greek household. Delicious little candy, they come in a wide range of flavors. Lemon, orange, and grape are popular spoon sweets, but you can find these little orbs of goodness with rose, eggplant, zucchini, and even garlic!
Spoon sweets may look simple but the preparation requires plenty of expertise and patience. They are made by boiling the ingredients with a generous amount of sugar in rotations of boiling water for 4-5 minutes, then cold water for up to 12 hours.
Loved by children and adults alike, you haven’t been a guest in a Greek household until you’ve been offered spoon sweets.
17 – Λουκουμάδες – Loukoumades
Not a doughnut, nor a churro, loukoumades are the go-to dough-based dessert Greeks from all walks of life simply adore. This is a simple dish of dough balls, deep-fried until golden in color, then submerged in sweet syrup or honey.
Traditionally, Greeks would sprinkle the balls with powdered sugar or cinnamon. Nowadays, however, you can find them swimming in chocolate, bueno, or whatever you can imagine, sold from small specialized kiosks.
Loukoumades are also a popular choice of food at churches throughout Greece, and you’ll find these delicious treats served at a variety of celebrations and festivities.
18 – Γαλακτομπούρεκο – Galaktoboureko
In case you have a friend that says “if it doesn’t have chocolate, it’s not a proper dessert,” just give them a piece of galaktoboureko, and the chances are they’ll change their mind!
With milk (gala) as its main ingredient, galaktoboureko can be crunchy, juicy, and sweet, all at once. The crunchy sheets of crust on the bottom and top wonderfully sandwich the cool, thick layer of cream in the middle.
The use of sweet, thick syrup allows this classic Greek dessert to stay intact for hours on end, once it has come out of the oven.
19 – Μπουγάτσα – Bougatsa
The most popular snack in the northern part of Greece is undoubtedly bougatsa. This decadent pie is renowned for its thin and crunchy crust, and it is commonly served cut into bite-sized pieces at bakeries.
Bougatsa can be both sweet and savory. One of the most beloved versions is filled with white cheese and sprinkled with icing sugar and cinnamon. However, you can find a wide range of other fillings, with popular choices including sweet cream, minced meat, and spinach.
In fact, Greeks have been enjoying this dish for centuries. Τhe first references to bougatsa date back to the 15th century, and northerners’ admiration for this particular food is so great, many teasingly call them “bougatses”.
Read more: Bougatsa Recipe
20 – Ρυζόγαλο – Ryzogalo
Ryzogalo (rice pudding) is a chilled, curdy cream made with three main ingredients: rice, milk, and sugar. It is made by simply boiling the ingredients together, putting the mixture in the fridge for a few hours, and before serving, sprinkling with a little cinnamon.
Traditionally, many Greeks lived far from the cities and the great trade centers. They were self-sufficient but had limited material resources. So, without the luxury of chocolate and other “modern” ingredients, they conjured up a dessert that many underestimate, but, if successful, is better than many “fancier” choices.
Simple, economical, and pure, ryzogalo can be made with ingredients you probably already have in your pantry!
Read more: Greek Desserts You Should Try
Greek Food Summary
These 20 dishes are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the cuisine of this staggeringly beautiful and rustic country. Many people claim to know ‘Greek’ food, but in reality have never laid eyes on these authentic dishes, let alone tasted their divine flavors.
Greece has a strong, deep connection with food. Over thousands of years, the rolling hills, luscious forests, and lapping waters have provided meats and produce of quality unparalleled by few other places on Earth.
This has helped elevate Greek cuisine to one of the world’s most loved and sought-after types of food. And, as with anything in life, you can only experience something in its purest, most authentic form, by going directly to the source.
An evening sitting at a table on sun-kissed cobbles, watching the sunset, enjoying velvety wine, rich cheeses, and one or more of these traditional dishes is an evening that will stay with you for a lifetime.
You Might Also Like to Read
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- Greek-Cypriot Baklava
- Popular & Traditional Greek Desserts to Try in Greece
- Charming Greek Islands You Have to Visit
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Contributor: Stelios Karkanorachakis is a Greek journalist and copywriter from Chania. He has a wealth of experience in journalism and the publishing sector and is eager to share more about Greek culture with the world via his writing.
Images licensed via Shutterstock