What is the food like in Greece?

Greece is a food lover’s paradise! The cuisine of Greece is rich and diverse. With a focus on fresh and seasonal ingredients, bold flavors, and traditional cooking techniques. From savory gyros and succulent souvlaki to creamy tzatziki and sweet baklava. Greek food is sure to satisfy your cravings and leave you wanting more.

But what is the food like in Greece, you ask? Well, let’s just say that if you’re on a diet, you might want to leave your self-control at home. Greek food is hearty, delicious, and oh-so-tempting. Here are a few of the things you can expect to find on the menu:

The five most famous foods in Greece:

Meze

Mezes are a staple of Greek cuisine. They are something like starters, small plates of delicious dishes. Mezes are perfect for sharing, and they are a great way to sample the variety of food the country has to offer. Some popular meze dishes include:

  1. Dolma. Stuffed vine leaves with rice, herbs, and sometimes meat, depending on the region or even the cook.
  2. Tzatziki. A yogurt dip with cucumber and garlic.
  3. Spanakopita. Pie stuffed with spinach and feta.
  4. Greek salad or farmer’s salad. The famous salad with feta, olives, tomatoes, cucumber, onions, and olive oil. 

Mezes are perfect for vegetarians and vegans traveling in Greece. Although many of the main dishes include either meat or fish, the starters are much more plant-based. Are you on a vegan diet? Check this guide on which mezes you can order in the many taverns around Greece.

Gyros

Gyros is the ultimate Greek street food. It is made with thinly sliced meat (usually lamb, beef, or chicken) that has been marinated and cooked on a spit. This meat is wrapped in a pita with lettuce, tomato, onions, tzatziki, or any other sauce of your choice. Sometimes even potatoes are added. Gyros is cheap in Greece, while one pita can feel like you ate a whole meal. Trust us, you’ll want to try at least one (or ten) during your trip to Greece.

Souvlaki

Souvlaki is made with marinated meat (usually pork or chicken) that has been grilled and served on a skewer. Similar to Gyros, it is often served in (or with) a pita, with vegetables and tzatziki. Above all, souvlaki is a popular snack or meal option in Greece, and you’ll find it at many street food vendors and taverns.

Moussaka

Moussaka is a classic Greek casserole. It is made with layers of eggplant, minced meat, and a creamy béchamel sauce. It’s hearty, comforting, and oh-so-delicious. You’ll find it on the menu at many Greek restaurants, and it’s a must-try if you’re a fan of eggplant. However, the best moussaka experience is a homemade one. So if you are ever invited to try a home-made-moussaka, say yes!

Not into eggplant? A great alternative on Moussaka, is the less famous Pastitsio. This dish has a similar idea, but instead of using layers of eggplant, pasta is used.

Baklava

No trip to Greece is complete without trying some baklava. This sweet and flaky pastry is made with layers of phyllo dough filled with nuts and honey. It’s the perfect end to any meal. You can find baklava at most bakeries and sweet shops in Greece.

Maybe you wonder why baklava is on the list of Greek foods, isn’t it Turkish? Although the Turkish are more famous for their baklava, the Greeks have their own delicious recipe. With more spices, different nuts, and a thicker dough, the Greek baklava is definitely worth a try!

Kali Orexi!

So, what is the food like in Greece? It’s delicious, diverse, seasonal, and will have you coming back for seconds (or thirds). Make sure to bring your appetite and a sense of adventure, because Greek food is sure to surprise and amuse your taste buds. One last tip: don’t forget to add some local feta to everything you eat in Greece! Kali Orexi!

Note for people on a plant-based diet

Many of the most famous Greek recipes include meat. However, don’t let this scare you to visit Greece when you follow a plant-based diet. Traditionally, the Greeks are used to eating a lot of beans, lentils, and vegetables in general. Although this food is seen as food for home and often not served in most taverns and restaurants, the country does offer a great variety of vegan dishes. If you want to know more about traveling in Greece on a vegan diet, continue reading here.

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Cooking with Yiayia : Kotopita

Greek pitas, or pies, come in various shapes and tastes. From a quick snack that fits in your hands, to an oven dish that feeds the whole family. As a sweet dessert or a savory lunch. The most famous Greek pitas are Spanakopita, spinach pie, and Tiropita, cheese pie. But the tastiest is Kotopita.

What is Kotopita?

Kota in Greek means chicken. Kotopita is nothing more than a Greek pie, stuffed with chicken. The pie is made with a phyllo dough that gives this pita a crunchy outside. While the chicken filling is creamy, due to the milk, cheese, and eggs that are added. Onions, olive oil, cumin, pepper, and salt give this pie the perfect taste.

Why is Kotopita not well-known?

Entering a traditional Greek bakery in search of a savory snack, you will always find Tiropita and Spanakopita. But where is the chicken pie?

The process of making Kotopita is more complicated and time-consuming compared to the famous pitas. Besides, the ingredients are more expensive and more difficult to store. But what I learned from Yiayia, is to never be afraid of spending time on good food. The result is worth it.

Yiayia’s secrets

  • The first secret to grandma’s Kotopita is, of course, her homemade traditional phyllo dough, Check out her recipe and prepare the dough before starting the Kotopita
  • Yiayia’s Kotopita is simple. The main ingredient is chicken, and everything else is there to add flavor and texture to it. Many other recipes add bechamel and vegetables to create a more complex taste. But for a good chicken pie, all you need is a good chicken.
  • Although Yiayia uses more butter and oil in her phyllo dough, she does the opposite in the kotopita’s filling. The chicken in this pita is dry but tasteful. Perfect with her crispy and buttery phyllo.

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Ingredients

For a large pie of 40 centimeters in diameter.
If you own a smaller oven dish, I would recommend still using a whole chicken because the bones really add to the taste of the pie. If you have too much, you can store part of the chicken meat in the freezer. Continue the recipe with the amount of chicken you need for one pie.

  • Phyllo dough
  • Chicken filling
    Olive oil
    1 whole chicken, about 1.5 kg (3.3 pounds)
    3 big red onions
    300 grams of salted hard cheese
    1 glass of milk
    1 tablespoon of pepper
    1 teaspoon of cumin
    Salt for taste (around 1 – 2 tablespoons, depending on the cheese and your preference)
    3 eggs
    Sunflower oil (to sprinkle on top of the pie)

Tools

  • pan
  • oven dish
  • bowl
  • baking paper

Preparation

Before you can start with the Kotopita, you have to prepare your phyllo and the chicken. You can do this the night before, or just before preparing the pita. Just know that both these things are time-consuming and with long hours of waiting in between.

You will have to put the whole chicken in a large pan and cover it with water. Add about a tablespoon of salt and put to a boil. The chicken needs to boil for 30 to 40 minutes (60 if it is frozen). When the chicken is ready, take it out of the water and let it cool down. Don’t throw away the chicken broth, you can use this to make a tasty homemade chicken soup.

When the chicken has cooled down, you will first have to remove the skin. Then it is time to take it apart and collect the meat in small pieces. Cut bigger parts with scissors or a knife. You don’t want big pieces in your chicken pie.

Yiayia’s Kotopita

Time needed: 1 hour and 45 minutes.

45 minutes cooking time and 1 hour in the oven

  1. Fry the onions

    Cut the red onions into big pieces. Add a generous amount of olive oil to a heated pan on a high fire. Cook the onions till they are soft.

  2. Add the chicken

    When the onions are soft, it is time to add the chicken. Stir regularly but don’t be afraid to overcook it. The pieces should get brown. In the meantime, you can grind the cheese for the next step.

  3. Add cheese and milk

    When the chicken is brown, it is time to add the cheese and a glass of milk. Add slowly and keep stirring regularly. Leave to cook until the chicken mixture is dry.

  4. Add the spices

    Start with a rich amount of pepper and cumin. Mix everything together and taste the filling. You’re looking for a taste that seems slightly too salty. Add salt till you feel like you have reached this. Don’t be afraid of making it too salty, the taste of salt will disappear in the complete pie. If you don’t taste the salt, you have to add a bit more

  5. Let it cool down

    When the mixture has the proper taste, it is time to turn off the stove and let the mixture cool down for 10 to 15 minutes. The reason for this is that you are about to add eggs, and you don’t want them to solidify immediately. The eggs should remain uncooked until you put the pie in the oven.
    Use the waiting time to put the bottom layer of phyllo dough in your oven dish. Use baking paper to prevent it from sticking to the bottom.

  6. Finish the chicken filling

    Break the eggs in a bowl and hit them with a fork. Mix them into the cooled-down chicken filling. Add the chicken filling on top of the bottom layer of phyllo. Add the top layer of dough and tuck it in on the bottom.

  7. Finish the pita

    Carefully slice the top layer of the pie into smaller pieces. You want some part of the dough to be open, so the oven can cook the individual layers, while at the same time you do not want a pie that falls apart. This requires some practice.

  8. Cook in the oven and enjoy!

    Sprinkle sunflower oil over the pita and place it in the oven. The pie should be cooked at 180 degrees (350 F) for an hour. Keep checking in between if the phyllo does not get too dark or stays too light and adjust the temperature according to what you see.pie of traditional greek phyllo dough before it enters the oven

Tips:

  • When working with baking paper to prevent a pie from sticking to your oven dish, Yiayia has a tip. If you wrinkle the paper before use, it is much easier to shape into your dish. Before use, make a ball of the paper in your hand and squeeze. When you open it, it is much more user friendly!
  • You might feel like it is much easier to use chicken breasts for this recipe. Although this will save you time and dirty hands, it also reduces the taste of the pie. If you really don’t use a whole chicken, it is better to choose legs instead of breasts. But best is to follow the recipe.
  • I usually use the ingredients for the 40 cm pies, but make two smaller ones out of them. When making the phyllo, I create 4 packages, of which I store two in the freezer, and use two immediately for the pie. I boil the chicken and use half of the meat to make the filling and again store the other half in the freezer. This way, I save a lot of time making the second pie.

How to cook like a Greek yiayia, grandmother?

I finally attended cooking classes with yiayia, my boyfriend’s grandmother. Her generation of Greek women cooks the most delicious meals. Tasty and seasonal, with local products gathered from friends and family who live close by. And one of the goals I had set for this year was to learn how to cook like her. 

Entering yiayia’s kitchen is not easy

My yiayia is from a time in which women did not have a paid job. Instead, her work has always been to care for the family and the household. Cooking, cleaning, and being there for her children. That is what she has done all her life. Now, she is 80 years old and did not retire yet, nor will she in the coming years. As long as she is able to, she will keep her job as the perfect mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. And the way to express her love to her family is by cooking. 

Yiayia’s food is the tastiest I have ever eaten. There is no mousaka, piroski, or kotopita like hers. I want to learn how to cook like her, but it is not easy to make a Greek grandmother allow you, her guest, into the kitchen. Greek women of this generation want to make the family happy with their food. They will cook all day, get tired, and complain, but they will never allow you to help them. 

In the past year, I have been continuously asking yiayia to let me help her in the kitchen or at least allow me to be there when she cooks. Until now, I did not get further than receiving recipes from her. However, a Greek grandmother’s instructions do not include all the information you need to cook. Yiayia would tell me to use a bit of salt and add a lot of flour, but with this information, I never recreated the taste of her dishes. I had to see it, and luckily the previous days, I was finally allowed to enter yiayia’s kitchen. 

Cooking starts early

We were going to make kotopita, a pie stuffed with a chicken from the village, inside a crispy homemade filo dough. Yiayia’s most tasty recipe and I immediately understood why. It takes yiayia two days to cook this dish! On the first morning, she makes the filo, which she then puts in the freezer till the evening. When the filo is ready to be moved into the fridge, it is time to prepare the chicken. And on day two, everything is combined into the most delicious pita or pie.

To cook with yiayia, I had to get up early in the morning. Greece is hot in the summer, and Greek life is adjusted to the temperatures. Early in the morning, it is time for work, followed by the time to swim. In the afternoon, the family eats lunch together and goes for a nap after that. And in the evening, there is again time for swimming, chores, and socializing. Yiayia knows this schedule well, and cooking in the morning can start as early as six o’clock, so, my alarm woke me up at 5.30.

When I entered yiayia’s kitchen at 6, she told me we had to hurry because there was a lot to do. Well, she had to hurry, because, for me, she put a chair in the kitchen to observe her cooking. That was not my plan! Refusing to sit, she soon understood that an extra pair of hands might come in handy when making filo dough. And I finally started learning how to cook like a Greek grandmother.

When yiayia says ligo, a little, she means a lot

The first thing I learned from yiayia is that when she says to put a little of something, she usually means you have to put a lot. Ligo alati, salt, is about a handful. Ligo olive oil in Greece apparently means to add about 7 or 8 spoons. However, when she says add ligo xidi, vinegar, a little is actually what she means.

I understood immediately why my attempts of recreating yiayia’s food with only her recipe did not turn out great. Her ligo can mean anything, from a little bit, till a lot for me. She did not learn to cook from a recipe, but instead looked at her mother when she was young. Who probably also told her to put a little of everything.

Everything has a unique technique

Using a rolling pin, cutting vegetables, or knitting dough, everything in yiayia’s kitchen has a particular way of doing it. Some recipes require medium-sized pieces of onions, and others require slightly smaller ones. There is dough that you open with your fingers open, and dough that you open with your fingers closed. There is a special technique for everything and only yiayia knows when to use which.

Yiayia’s food always has a story

The ingredients of a good home-cooked Greek meal always have a story. Especially in summer, no meal is cooked using only things from the supermarket. Peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, and cucumbers always come from either the family or a friend. But even meat is often something from close by. 

Yiayia knows many farmers. If she wants a goat, for example, she will call a friend, and the next day a man will ring the doorbell with a package, containing her goat. For chicken and lamb, yiayia calls a different person, but always the meat comes from close and is fresh. Something we should all try to do.

Cooking is combined with other jobs

As I mentioned earlier, cooking Greek food like a grandmother, is not done within an hour. When working with dough, you need time for the yeast to work, and with mousaka, you slowly bake layer after layer in the oven. 

Cooking is a continuous alternation between hard work and waiting, but Greek grandmothers are not familiar with the definition of waiting for something. When yiayia and I finished knitting the dough for the filo, she said it was time to go to the market, do laundry, and clean the house. I found out this translates into waiting half an hour to three hours to open the filo.

Cooking means hard work

For yiayia, a good recipe requires effort, especially when working with homemade dough. When a Greek (grand)mother cooks, she gets tired, sweats, and trains her muscles. And that is what it should be according to her. Yiayia even told me to be careful when helping her, afraid it would be too hard for me. “Tell me if you’re tired, I will take over!”

It is impressive to see an 80-year-old woman still work hard, knitting a big piece of dough for 20 minutes. When I tried, my muscles pained quickly, but for yiayia, it is a normal daily job. She showed me how strong a Greek housewife is, and how hard her work at home used to be. 

I admire her even more after spending time in her kitchen.

Yiayia’s recipes (more coming soon!)

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