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Greek food is characterized by natural, unprocessed ingredients that are not overly spiced. Main dishes are made with fresh vegetables, olive oil, grains and pasta. Lamb and beef are paired with vegetables in such offerings as moussaka — an eggplant and beef dish — and dolmades, or stuffed grape leaves. Desserts get their sweetness from local honey.
A meal at a restaurant serving traditional Greek food may begin with a salad filled with fresh green lettuce, peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes. Feta cheese, a traditional Greek cheese with a crumbly texture and briny taste, is liberally spread over the salad, along with purple kalamata olives, red wine vinegar and olive oil. It often is served with crusty, baked loaves of bread.
Moussaka is a baked dish made with ground beef, eggplant and tomatoes. Fresh herbs and spices lend a contrast to a creamy sauce made from flour, eggs, cheese and butter. Pastitio is a mellow cheesy dish filled with pasta, tomatoes and ground beef.
Roast chicken often is spiced with oregano and baked surrounded by quartered potatoes. Leg of lamb is a traditional holiday dish that is flavored with garlic and rosemary, and served with roasted onions and potatoes. Steaks are marinated in olive oil and herbs before they are put on the grill.
Greece is surrounded by water, and many Greek food recipes include seafood. Psarosoupa is a fish soup made of grouper and fresh vegetables such as potatoes, carrots and onions in avgolemono, an egg and lemon broth. Fresh, small sardines that are rubbed with oil and vinegar, and gavros, which are fried anchovies served with vinegar, are both popular snacks and light meals. In season, calamari, or crispy fried rings of squid, are heaped on plates along with spicy dipping sauce.
Souvlaki is a popular snack in Greece and a well known kind of Greek food. Slivers of meat are shaved off a large cone of lamb and beef and served in warm pita bread with onions, tomatoes and feta cheese. Souvlaki is sometimes served with a vinegary tomato sauce or, more often, a yogurt sauce rich with garlic and cucumber essence. It also is known as a gyro, which is pronounced “YEE-row”.
Dolmades is made with grape leaves that are stuffed with ground lamb, bulgar wheat and spices. The rolled leaves are boiled in chicken broth and served with a lemon and egg sauce. Another traditional appetizer is marinated feta cheese served with black olives and peppers in a balsamic vinegar sauce.
One might want to save some room for dessert when eating Greek food. Greek desserts are confections usually made with phyllo dough — a delicate and thin pastry dough — nuts and honey. Baklava is a dense, rich pastry cut into triangles or diamonds and served. Loukomades are fried doughnuts that are dipped in honey sauce.
I wish we had a restaurant that served traditional Greek food around here. I used to live in the Chicago area, and there was a great Greek food culture there. I love all kinds of Greek food and drink, but the closest place I can get it now is 50 miles away. Apparently it's difficult to get some of the authentic ingredients shipped to this part of the country.
My first real job was dishwashing at a local Greek restaurant. The owners were from Greece, and they brought with them all of the traditional Greek food recipes. I fell in love with most of the items on the menu, especially gyros and souvlaki. I even helped prepare some of the more time-consuming Greek food dishes, like rice pudding and baklava.
I was allowed to have one meal during my shift, and it was always a lamb and beef gyro. I had never had anything like it before in my life, and the combination of the grilled meat and the tzatziki sauce was amazingly good. I didn't care for dolmades as much, but I did like moussaka.
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