Traditional Greek Cuisine

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Similar to the way the country’s culture has been shaped through the centuries, Greek cuisine is a melting pot of different civilizations on the crossroads between the East and the West. It’s celebrated internationally for its immaculate tastes and the simple ingenuity of its Mediterranean character.

Lately, Athens has been rapidly transforming into one of the most interesting culinary destinations worldwide. The Greek capital is undeniably one of the best places worldwide to experience high-end gastronomy and get a taste of authentic Greek cuisine.

Here’s our list of the most traditional Greek dishes you have to try on your visit to Athens.

Greek Salad

This one is probably the most internationally acclaimed traditional Greek dish.

Its recipe is quite simple, yet its tastes and aromas are impeccable. It’s typically made with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, olives, virgin olive oil, fresh oregano, and of course the trademark slice of creamy feta cheese on top.

The extremely refreshing Greek salad -or “Horiatiki” as you will hear locals call it- is ideal for a light lunch at a seafront restaurant and the perfect way to recharge your batteries in between sightseeing and exploring Athens city.

greek salad
In Greece, the greek salad is called Horiatiki or Village Salad

Fava

Fava is the delicious Greek answer to houmous. The two dishes might look similar but are actually based on different recipes. Fava is made with mashed fava beans, onions, parsley, olive oil, and various seasonings.

Although it’s native to the famous Santorini island, it has gained nationwide fame and you can find fava in almost every restaurant and tavern in the country.

It can be served both as an appetizer and a spread and it’s a must-try dish for vegetarians and vegans visiting Athens.

fava
Fava is a tasty, creamy purée of split peas very popular throughout the country

Moussaka

Moussaka is undoubtedly one of the most delicious dishes Greek cuisine has to offer. It’s traditionally made with boiled and fried potatoes, eggplants, minced meat, and béchamel cream layered on top of each other and bathed in rich tomato sauce.

During the past years, several kinds of variations of the recipe have been popping up in gourmet restaurants across the hippest neighborhoods of Athens, some of them being vegan and vegetarian, incorporating mushrooms or zucchini in the mix instead of meat.

mousaka greek food
Moussaka is one of the best-known Greek dishes. Courtesy: Jules / flickr.com

Dolmadakia

Dolmadakia are as tasty as hard they are to pronounce. You can expect to find this dish in many local traditional eateries in the center of the city and when you do, don’t hesitate to try it as a finger-food appetizer or even a main course.

Dolmadakia are small rolled vine leaves stuffed with minced meat, rice, dill, parsley, and other herbs. They’re typically sparkled with olive oil and served with a side of lemon juice.

dolmadakia
Dolmadakia is one of the stuffed dishes common in Mediterranean cuisine.
Courtesy: Lesya Dolyk / flickr.com

Spinach Pie

Roaming around the streets of Athens, you’ll probably notice countless bakeries serving slices of fresh hot spinach pie or “spanakopita” from sunrise till sundown.

Locals go crazy over it and apart from it being a street food delicacy, it’s also served in restaurants and taverns.

The crispy crust of the trademark “phyllo” dough on the outside and the rich filling of spinach and feta cheese will surely have you asking for more.

spinach pie
A classic Greek combination of spinach, feta, and filo pastry.
Courtesy: stu_spivack / flickr.com

Taramasalata

If you’ve been wondering what that pinkish thick spread side dish that locals seem to savor piously is, you’ve come to the right place. Taramasalata is a paste made with codfish roe, lemon, black pepper, olive oil, and dill.

If you’re visiting Athens during Easter, you’re sure to come across this one a lot, as it’s traditionally made during the Lent period.

taramasalata

Zucchini Balls

This dish is one of the most typical “mezedes” you’ll find on a restaurant’s menu.

Not to be mistaken with common meatballs, zucchini balls are made with fresh zucchini, feta cheese, spices, and herbs that are deep-fried in a mix of eggs and flour to come out as crispy fritters. Finger-licking is good.

zucchini balls
Zucchini balls are best served with a yogurt dip

Tzatziki

You’ve probably tried or heard of this one even if you’ve never visited Greece before. Tzatziki is famous the world over for its strong flavor and refreshing taste and as the perfect accompaniment to souvlaki.

The creamy white sauce comprises Greek yogurt, fresh cucumber, olive oil, vinegar, dill, and lots of garlic. And we do mean lots.

Even though not the ideal choice for a romantic date in Athens which includes dinner, tzatziki is an exceptional dip for any kind of meat or vegetable platter.

tzatziki
When you think of Greece, one of the first things that come to mind is sure the tzatziki

Souvlaki

Souvlaki is one of the six national dishes of Greece and beyond any doubt the most beloved.

The name itself has often been a matter of controversy among different Greek regions, but one thing is for certain; souvlaki is enjoyed equally across the country.

The recipe is quite simple. Thick pieces of pork or chicken meat are skewered on a stick before slowly cooking on the grill. It’s served with French fries, pita bread, onions, tomato, and -of course- an abundance of tzatziki. 

souvlaki
Souvlaki plural souvlakia is a popular Greek fast food consisting of small pieces of meat and sometimes vegetables grilled on a skewer

Gyros

Gyros is sometimes confused with souvlaki and, indeed, the similarity is evident. 

Yet, gyros is made with thinly trimmed slices of pork and chicken that are grilled on the iconic vertical rotisserie you’ll see everywhere around you in downtown Athens and especially around Monastiraki.

The juicy meat is served rolled in pita bread with fresh tomato, tzatziki, fries, and onions. We’d urge you to try it, but the enticing smell of gyros will certainly lure you in a gyros place anyhow. 

gyros
A gyro or gyros is a Greek dish made from meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie

Yemista

This dish is as traditional as it gets. Yemista –or ‘’stuffed’’ in Greek– is a delectable vegan dish.

It’s made with mature tomatoes, green peppers, and zucchini filled with a mix of long-grain rice, herbs, and seasonings and cooked in the oven. A perfect example of the distinctive simplicity of Mediterranean cuisine and diet.

Yemista are typically enjoyed with a side of feta cheese or a generous scoop of Greek yogurt.

gemista

Saganaki

Calling all cheese lovers! If Greek gastronomy hasn’t completely and utterly charmed you yet, this one is bound to do the trick.

Saganaki is a thick slice of “kaseri” or “graviera” cheese that is fried in a pan with olive oil. It comes out as a golden brown delicacy that’s crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, the perfect side dish for any meal.

Make sure to sprinkle your saganaki with a lot of lemon juice to bring out its extraordinary taste.

saganaki
Saganaki is basically a Greek cheese that’s been pan-fried

Loukoumades

After you’re done feasting on all the treats listed above, it’s high time for dessert. And Athens has the most exquisite delicacy in store for you.

Loukoumades are deep-fried donut balls dipped in honey, chocolate, ice-cream, or anything else you can imagine and they’re seriously addictive.

Little known fact: loukoumades are actually nearly as old as Greek civilization itself, served as a heavenly trophy to winners of the Olympic games as early as 776 B.C.

loukoumades

Whether you choose to indulge in these famous Greek dishes in a street food stall, a traditional local taverna, or a luxurious restaurant, there is no doubt that the gastronomy scene of Athens will astound you.

Bear in mind that Athens By Locals is here to help you embark on the most exciting culinary adventure with insight into the city’s best food spots, eateries, and hidden gastronomical wonders.

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