Meze, or “small plates,” are appetizers in Greek cuisine. Meze are common at large meals, and they are a traditional offering at Greek restaurants and bars. There are numerous examples of meze, from the well known dolmades which are popular in many parts of the world to delicate pastries made from phyllo dough stuffed with ingredients like cheeses and meats. Like other aspects of Greek cuisine, meze are heavily influenced by Mediterranean foods like olives, fish, whole grains, cheeses, and fresh vegetables.
Typically, a spread of meze includes a wide number of these appetizers, shared by a group. Dipping sauces and tapenades are extremely common, as are dishes of olives and pickled vegetables. Sliced bread is commonly on offer as well, as are dishes of crumbled Greek cheeses like feta. Among the many dipping sauces are purees of beans, artichokes, or eggplant, a yogurt and cucumber sauce called tsatsiki, hummus, and mashed roasted peppers or garlic.
Meze can also be more substantial. Many restaurants offer kofte or meatballs, along with peppers or squash stuffed with rice, sausages, tabbouleh, fried and stuffed squash flowers, and sometimes fried or grilled fish or octopus. Salads are also a common part of a meze platter, made from greens, pickled beets, cheeses, melon, potatoes, or lightly marinated cabbage. Bean salads are also not uncommon. Plain yogurt is usually also set out with meze for drizzling on food or eating plain.
Small pastries like phyllo dough wrapped meat or vegetables and dumplings are common in many regions. In some cases, small bowls of soup may also be offered with appetizers, although they can also be saved for a second course. Traditionally, meze are offered with wine or liquors like retsina. In bars, no night of drinking is complete without a selection of meze, which may sometimes be offered with the compliments of the house to encourage customers to drink more.
Depending on the venue, meze can be simple and hearty, or more delicate and refined, taking cues from cuisine in places like France. The tradition of meze or some sort of appetizer spread is common to many Mediterranean nations, some of which share appetizers between each other. Hummus, for example, is served in many parts of the Middle East, along with tabbouleh, and the tradition of stuffed grape leaves probably emerged in Turkey. Meze also make excellent snack foods for someone on the go who wants a reasonably wholesome meal without a great deal of effort.