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Five Foods Not To Be Missed In Greece

History recognises Greece as one of the most influential countries during ancient times. The land of legends and heroes, Greece is steeped in fables and is a melting pot of cultures. Asides from the political, literary and military influences on world history, Greece has had a rather strong influence on the food the world eats. The first cookbook was written by the Greek food gourmet, Archestratos, in 330 B.C. – highlighting the importance of culinary traditions in civilization and world history. Greeks are as famous for their hospitality as the different flavours that have won over palates globally.

A Greek kitchen, even today, offers an incredibly rich and diverse array of foods and beverages that are the culmination of centuries of living, cooking, and eating. It is important to think of Greek cuisine beyond feta, olives or the very popular Greek salad. It took a trip to Greece to actually realise and appreciate the symbiotic relationship between Greek and world cuisine. Greece was invaded, and also led global military campaigns, innumerable times.

Consider the following:

  • When Alexander the Great extended the Greek Empire’s reach from Europe to India, in the 4th century B.C., many northern and eastern influences were absorbed into Greek cuisine.
  • Around 145 B.C., Greece was conquered by the Romans. This is where Roman influences – olives, oregano and spice flavourings – enriched Greek food.
  • The Turkish flavours influences the cooking of the Greeks after 330 A.D. – when Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Constantinople – founding the Byzantine Empire – which, in turn, fell to the Turks in 1453 and it remained an integral part of the Ottoman Empire for almost four centuries. Many dishes that originated then had Turkish names – and have not become Greek classics. Tzatziki (from the Turkish “cacik”), and dolmades (from the Turkish “dolma”) are some.

With each annexation and settlement came many ‘non-native’ culinary influences – from the Romans, Venetians, Balkans, Turks, Slavs, and also the English. Many modern-day Greek dishes have names that belong to these varied cultures.

Even now, as I noticed while walking through the streets of Athens on my recent trip there, while shawarmas and kebabs may be amongst the most popular dishes travellers might favour, there are several dishes that may not originally have been a part of Greece’s culinary history. A few Greek restaurants I visited have also adopted Ottoman dishes that weren’t indigenous to Greece but were actually brought there during the 400-year-old occupation by Ottomans. One mustn’t miss savouring these on a trip to the Country. 

1. Gyro 


Possibly amongst the most popular street foods in Greece, Gyro is a Pita flatbread wrap stuffed or rolled with meat (mostly lamb) cooked on a rotisserie. The meats may be accompanied by fresh veggies, Greek yoghurt or tzatziki and seasoned with mild spices and herbs. With a variety of textures to bite into, a gyro is incredibly flavourful and comforting.

2. Saganaki Cheese 

Saganaki Cheese is not really cheese, but a delightful dish made using cheese. Dairy cheese is flambéed or shallow fried until it has a nice and mildly crispy golden crust while being comparatively soft inside. A variety of cheese can be used for Saganaki, but mostly firm and mild cheese similar to halloumi is the best. Saganaki Cheese is mostly served drizzled with olive oil and herbs, and also with seasonal fresh fruit puree or sauce!

3. Koulouri 


It is hard to miss koulouri – possibly the most popular bread in Greece. Crusted with sesame seeds, this bread is baked in various shapes and is one of the favourite on-the-go breakfasts for Greeks. Koulouri lends itself as a great base for several sandwiches that can be had in different kinds of fillings. However, it’s never overstuffed or overtly seasoned to allow for the nutty taste of sesame to come through. Whether as a sandwich or on its own, this sesame-flavoured bread works extremely well with coffee!

4. Bougatsa 

This delightful baked dish is traditionally a Greek breakfast pastry – even though the variety of ways in which it is prepared or served makes it perfect as a snack, side dish or even dessert. A bougatsa consists of fine layers of phyllo – its crunchy layers are stuffed with either custard, cheese, or minced meat. What many people outside Greece do not know is that the country has an extreme fondness for Phyllo pastries and the Bougatsa with its varied stuffings is amongst the favourite Greek things to eat. 

5. Lokma or Loukoumades 

These are traditional Greek doughnuts served at almost all festivals and gatherings in Greek homes. The appeal of loukoumades transcends age groups. Kids have them on their own while grown-ups tend to pair them with coffee. These fried dough balls could be served topped with nuts and smothered in Honey, Melting Chocolate or simply dusted with icing sugar. Lokma could be eaten at any time of the day. Paired with a cup of coffee, lokma is definitely one of the most popular foods in the country.

It would not be fair to bind the smorgasbord of flavours that is Greek cuisine in a handful of adjectives. Some might consider it simple, and yet others might be overwhelmed by the contrasting flavours and textures that might exist together on a typical table or meal. I can say from personal experience that the food in Greece is a rather adventurous journey into one of the oldest cradles of civilization – one that must be undertaken almost with the approach of a pilgrimage!

Text and Images by Udhey Sidhu
He is, as his Instagram handle
confirms, a food writer, commentator and gourmand.
A farmer by profession, Udhey also loves to
travel to experience places, cultures and people.

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