Greek taverns

In most countries, you go out for dinner at a restaurant, or an estiatorio in Greek. However, many Greeks don’t go to an estiotorio when eating out. Instead, the Greeks eat at taverns. But what are these?

What is a tavern?

Translating the Greek tavern, or taverna, gives a few results. One says that it is a small Greek restaurant. However, I have been at taverns that can seat up to a hundred people. So being small is not the correct requirement for a distinguishment between a restaurant and a taverna. Also wrong is the definition that implies that a tavern is a Greek cafe with music and dancing. Although this might happen in some of them, it is not a standard and does not happen in every tavern in Greece. It is also not the case that a Greek restaurant is a taverna. As mentioned before, Greece has estiatorios. Actual restaurants that are not tavernas. So what is the proper translation of tavern in English?

There is no single word that explains the meaning of the Greek tavern. It isn’t a bar, lunchroom, diner, saloon, or any other type of food establishment. The closest translation is maybe a dining room. A tavern is a place for a not-at-home-hosted dinner party. A place to feel comfortable with friends or family, without dishes at the end of the evening. A place for sharing food and conversations while not worrying about a giant bill. 

The requirements of a Greek tavern

Dishes & Prices

Greek taverns don’t have a menu, and if they do, they don’t use it. Ordering at a Greek taverna happens through the waiter, who will tell you which dishes are available that day. Taverns serve local dishes and specialties, often depending on the season of your visit. In many fish taverns, the waiter invites you to follow him into the kitchen. He will show you the fish they caught that day, and from these, you can pick out the ones you want for your table. 

Local seasonal products make the prices at a tavern pretty cheap. In non-touristic tavernas, mezes and salads are around 4 or 5 euros. Main dishes start from 7 or 8 for meat. Fish can be slightly more expensive, as well as taverns in touristic islands and cities.

Service

Since prices at a Greek tavern are low, service might slightly differ from what you expect when eating out. First of all, cutlery is not placed on the tables as it is in a restaurant. It often comes in a basket or holder, and you should spread it around yourself. Besides, there is always a giant paper towel as a tablecloth. This might look strange on your first visit. However, the paper cover is much needed for Greek family dinners. I can not remember one evening without this thing getting entirely covered in food and drinks. 

Lastly, the chairs. The most uncomfortable but traditional wooden seats. I believe these chairs are the most recognizable feature of Greek taverns. During the summer, they can be even more uncomfortable, wearing shorts or a skirt. So cover your upper legs when you go. Unfortunately, they will always remain a part of the tavern experience. 

Share

A Greek tavern is a not-at-home alternative for a Greek dinner party. The table has to be full of food, and everyone should share. Don’t order your own dish at a tavern, especially not the salads and the mezes, the starters. Depending on your company, you might choose the main dish yourself. However, more often than not, this one is shared as well, especially in fish taverns. All the food goes to the middle of the table, and everyone serves him- or herself from there. And if a dish is about to finish, you just order it again.

Good to know is that although the mezes and salads are categorized as starters, this does not mean they will be served before the main course. This is the case in many other countries, but in Greece, everything is served whenever the cook finished preparing it. Usually the starters will come before the main course. But then the main course comes right after, before you finish what is already on the table. This might seem strange to you but is a wonderful part of the Greek culture. There can never be too much food on the table.

Sharing in a Greek tavern is not limited to just the table. In small villages and rural areas, the tavern owners, as well as their guests, take care of the stray animals that live around. You don’t have to feed a dirty dog during your meal, but it is very common for the Greeks to (after they finish eating) give some to them. When you’re dining outside, of course. Eating inside, you might see Greeks putting leftovers in a napkin, which they take out to feed the animals in the neighborhood. It is nice to do the same!

Don’t rush

Although Greek taverns might be a place to eat, spending quality time with friends and family is more important than actually eating food. Drink and have conversations. Enjoy and don’t rush through your meal. That is what makes a tavern better than a restaurant.

In a tavern, I can have a lunch that lasts for 4 hours or a dinner that takes 6. And this is what makes the traditional Greek taverna part of Greek culture, Siga, Siga. No one will send you away or say they need your table if you’re not ordering any more. You have all the time and can stay as long as you want.

Free dessert

There is always a free dessert, usually fruit, at the end of the Greek tavern experience. Good to know as a tourist is that the free dessert usually is served when asking for the bill. It is quite rude to refuse it and instead quickly pay and leave. Reserve some extra time, talk with the owner or the waiter, laugh together, and leave when all the free extras are finished.

Tips for visiting a Greek tavern

How to find a tavern?

As a foreigner, it might still be hard to understand the difference between a restaurant and a tavern while picking out a place to eat. The first tip is that a tavern is much easier to find than a restaurant, especially outside the bigger cities. Secondly, look at the menu. When dishes are cheap, prices are handwritten and adjusted, the menu is local, Greek, or hard to find you found a tavern. Lastly, when the chairs look uncomfortable and old, you have found one! 

Do you have lunch or dinner at a tavern?

You can have both! Most of the traditional Greek taverns are at least open from 12 till 12, but in touristic areas even longer. You can eat anything at any time. There is no distinguishment between a lunch and a dinner menu.

Good to know is that although Greek taverns are open all day, they often do have an hour or so, around 18.00, in which they close the kitchen to prepare for the night. During this time, only simple dishes and drinks can be served.

Make sure to bring cash!

Throughout Greece, it is tricky to rely on a card for payment, but don’t do so when you eat at a tavern. Some tavernas do not accept card payments and only allow cash. Make sure you have enough money with you before you sit down.

For the vegans amongst us

Are you a vegan? Most Greek taverns either serve meat or fish. However, being a vegetarian or vegan should not hold you back from this Greek experience. Every taverna does have at least some plant-based options. Check out the 10 vegan dishes you can order in every Greek tavern, or try one of the many Greek cheeses.

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The 10 vegan dishes you can order in every Greek tavern

It is nearly impossible to have a bad meal in Greece. Feta, good olive oil, and fresh vegetables are able to turn any recipe into a delicious meal. Combine this with fresh fish or a souvlaki and you have heaven on a plate. Finding Greek vegan dishes, however, can be nearly impossible. Especially in smaller towns in Greece, it is difficult to stick to a plant-based diet. Greek main dishes at a traditional tavern often contain either fish or meat. But did you ever look at the starters? Meze’s is what they are called in Greek.

Read below to find the Greek vegan dishes that are served in almost all taverns around the country. Including their Greek name and the way to pronounce them. You should order around three to four of them to make a meal. Enjoy!

Grilled mushrooms

Μανιταρια πλευρώτους στο φούρνο – Manitaria plevrotous sto forno
Oyster mushrooms, grilled and served with vinegar, olive oil, and herbs. These mushrooms have an amazing texture and great taste! It is a super simple dish, but due to the quality of the used products it is definitely worth ordering. The Greek mushrooms are so good that they make a great replacement for meat.

Fava – Greek yellow split pea puree
by realgreekrecipes.com

Split pea puree

Φάβα – Fáva
Creamy and super tasty split pea puree, cooked with olive oil, garlic, onion, and lemon. Fava is a Greek hummus, perfect to eat with some bread or pita. Originally this recipe is made with fava beans from Santorini. Here, the volcanic soil on the island gives extra sweetness to the beans that are produced. However, today fava is cooked all throughout Greece and available in almost every Greek tavern.

Tomato salad

Σαλατα ντομάτα – salata tomata
Don’t be fooled by the name of this Greek vegan dish, there is more to it than just tomatoes. Tomato salad in Greece is short for the famous Greek (farmer’s) salad without the feta. Cucumber, onions, olives, and tomatoes, topped with herbs and olive oil. So simple, but so tasty.

Giant Greek beans from the oven
by kalofagas.ca

Baked giant beans

Γίγαντας στο φούρνο – Gigantas sto fourno
Gigantes means giants, and sto fourno, from the oven. The name of this delicious traditional dish explains exactly what it is. Big white beans cooked in the oven with onion, tomatoes, olive oil, and many herbs. Sometimes, carrot and celery are added as well.

Peppers from Florina

Πιπεριές Φλωρίνης – Pipėriés Florinies
Peppers from Florina, a region close to the border of both Albania and North Macedonia. The peppers’ taste is sweet and they are grilled and served with olive oil and vinegar.

Boiled wild greens

Χόρτα βραστά – Gorta Vrastá
Gorta Vrastá is a super traditional Greek dish that is unfortunately, not for everyone’s taste. The dish is made with a wild vegetable that does not have a translation into English. The vegetable is boiled and served with lemon and salt, super simple. Personally, I am not a big fan of this recipe. However, you must try since it doesn’t get more local than this. When you are a big fan of lemon taste, you will most probably like it.

Beetroot salad

Παντζαροσαλάτα – Pantsarosalata
This beetroot salad is again a very simple Greek dish. The beets are cooked in foil inside the oven. Meanwhile, garlic, olive oil, and vinegar are whisked together in a salad bowl. Once the beets are done, everything is put together with some pepper and salt. Kali orexi!

stuffed vine leaves
by giorgostsoulis.com

Stuffed vine leaves

Σαρμαδακια – Sarmadakia
This dish is absolutely one of my favorite ones in Greece Tiny handmade stuffed vine leaves that come in many variations. Rice with olive oil, onions, and a variety of herbs give taste to this dish. The leaves are usually eaten with tzatziki, but don’t let traditions prevent you from trying this dish. Eat without sauce or try with fava or melitzanosalata (eggplant dip).

Greek bruschetta

Ντακος, χωρίς τυρί – Dakos chories tiri
Dakos is made with barley rusks, a specialty of Crete called kritharokoula. This rusk is a hard, twice-baked bread and is topped with olive oil, tomato, and greek cheese. Some taverns add capers or olives as well. Dakos is traditionally a recipe from Crete and perfect for warm summer days. Although this is officially not a vegan recipe, it is definitely worth trying. Just order them without, chories, (feta) cheese.

Fried zucchini

Κολοκυθάκια τηγανιτά – Kolothàkia tiganita
Last but not least, my favorite vegan traditional Greek dish. Kolothàkia are fried thin slices of zucchini covered in a dough that is made of flour with either water or beer. You can eat them with fava, melitzanosalata, or even just mayonnaise or ketchup. They are better than potato fries!

Does this list not include your favorite Greek vegan dishes? Please leave a comment below so I can try it on my next trip to Greece!

Do you want to prepare yourself for a visit to Greece? Or do you simply want to learn all there is to known about this beautiful country? Leave your email below and get the answer to all your questions!

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