Greek Food – An Introduction

All About Greek Food

To say we enjoyed the food on our recent trip to Greece is probably a bit of an understatement. And our wonderful hosts really went out of their way to make sure we tried many of the dishes Greece is known for like gyros (pronounced YEE-ros), kabobs, pita (which is a pocketless flatbread in Greece), tzatziki, and of course, Greek salad.

I knew I’d get some awesome flavors and that there would be meat and pita involved – and lots of cucumbers (which I really don’t like…sigh), but here are a few of the surprising things I learned about food in Greece:

  • They serve French fries with everything. Seriously, they eat WAY more fries than we do. They stick them in gyros, and add them to the side of dishes like kabobs and keftedes (meatballs) and beefteki (burger patties). Every taverna meal we ate (and we ate a lot…) included multiple dishes with fries – or even just platters of fries. Oh, but they don’t eat them with ketchup – they use them to dip into the tzatziki.
  • The olives are never pitted. I had gotten used to our pitted Kalamata olives and I’d bite down in Greece on one and it’d be like, “oh, hope I didn’t break a crown.” Then comes the inevitable – how to get the pit from your mouth to the plate and not look all slobbery and weird.
  • Most of the meat is pork or chicken, not lamb. If you Google Greek food most of the recipes will include lamb and while you can get lamb, it’s more often pork or chicken – or even beef. The street gyros rotisserie meat is always pork or chicken.
  • The produce is AMAZING. Really, I don’t know why this was such a surprise, I suppose because I mainly pictured cities and lots of olive groves. As we rode the train north to Thessaloniki, we saw a country full of orchards and farms. These produce olives, of course, but also the best, most flavorful oranges I’ve ever eaten, cucumbers, peppers, lettuce, plus deep red tomatoes and strawberries…everything was really fresh and flavorful.
  • It was about the same price as food in the US. I kinda thought with the economic troubles lately that it would be cheaper, but not at tavernas and restaurants, we found. In the neighborhood market, though, the fresh produce was pretty inexpensive.

Laiki market in Greece

And the open-air, neighborhood markets called laiki (pronounced ly-KEE) were nothing like our sedate farmer’s markets. They are loud and noisy, with every vendor trying to entice you to buy their product. Little old Greek ladies barrel through the crowd with their wheeled baskets in tow – caring little when they inevitably bump into you – none too gently, I might add.

Oh, but what a feast for the senses! The laiki we went to was huge, encompassing so many streets we didn’t even get to them all. It moves from neighborhood to neighborhood throughout the week and locals know the day it will be in their area and plan accordingly. It also includes sections of dry goods – everything from kitchen gadgets to clothes to decorator pillows. I bought a leather purse there for only 20 euros (about $26), which isn’t dirt cheap, but a good price for a nice quality purse.

souvlaki at market

There actually weren’t too many vendors selling prepared foods from carts, but we did manage to find one (a-hem…). These cubes of pork on skewers (kalamaki) came in a bag with a piece of bread for 1 euro ($1.30 exchange while we were there). Very tasty! But here opens the confusion of the Greek terms for these foods – we heard souvlaki, kabobs, kalamaki, gyros…and all seemed to be describing grilled meat.

Here’s the answer from our host that helped us understand the different names:

Kabob is the pressed meat, gyros are the shaved meat from the rotisserie,  kalamaki is the cubed meat on a skewer.  Souvlaki is just a general term for anything grilled on a skewer- either on a small skewer that you would do over your grill or on the large rotisserie.  We’ll often say, “should we do souvlaki for dinner?”  – meaning we may order kabob, gyros, or kalamaki….

Athens Taverna Kabob

Here’s a kabob dish we had at one of Athens famous (and crowded) tavernas, Thanassis. It was a combo of seasoned ground beef and lamb pressed around a skewer before grilling. (When you sit down at a taverna, kabobs and gyros are served open-faced and when you buy take-out they wrap the pita around the filling and present it to you in a paper wrapper.)

Most of the time the tomatoes were fresh – this was the only time we had them grilled – it was really yummy and the meat was excellent.

gyros meat cone

And here are the amazing cone-shaped rotisseries from street gyros stands. It really is something to see – there are all these layers of seasoned meat (pork in front and chicken to the back of this photo) that cook as the spit turns. When it’s time to make the gyros, the worker uses a long serrated knife (just a blur in the photo) to slice off the meat into a container he’s holding as the meat turns. It’s all assembled while you watch.

Greek pork gyros

Into this delectable hand-held meal. (I actually forgot to shoot a picture of one of our many gyros meals – here’s the source for this photo). All our gyros were made this same way, whether we were in Corinth, Athens, or Thessaloniki – pita, rotisserie meat, fries, tomatoes and onion. Except, NO tzatziki like this picture shows – it was always separate and we had to pay extra for it. Maybe it’s because of the economy now, but it wasn’t included in any gyros during our visit.

Personally, I just don’t get the fries in it – I mean, it’s a huge piece of bread for heaven’s sake. I just gave mine to Brian, plus half of the pita – it was just too much bread for me. But I loved the meat – and it was good all together.

Athens taverna greek salad

And finally, the ubiquitous Greek salad. Can I just say I was in heaven? So fresh with bright red tomatoes and chunks of feta. This particular salad pictured was from the Thanassis taverna, and was the only time capers were included in the salads we ordered. Sometimes they came with sliced sweet peppers and most of the time they were on a very small bed of shaved lettuce or cabbage (so small that you didn’t see it until serving it up).

But all of the time they were composed salads, not tossed – vegetables layered and then topped with a few olives and a chunk of feta. The feta could be in one piece as pictured, but more often was in 3-4 pieces, but never crumbled – never. This layering worked very well for me, since I could choose my portion from the vegetables that hadn’t been contaminated with icky cucumber juice!

The salad was drizzled with a simple olive oil and vinegar (or lemon) dressing and sprinkled with oregano – the signature Greek herb. This is how I’ll be making Greek salads from now on.

I know this is getting long, but are you wondering how I did eating all this food and maintaining my weight? This trip proves the point I made in my real, whole food weight-loss series – when you live a lifestyle of eating smaller, moderate portions of non-processed, whole foods your body naturally stays at it’s optimum weight – after two and a half weeks of eating out, in friends homes, and trying a lot of new things I came back at the exact weight I’ve been at for the last two years.

And I never denied myself. But I did only eat half of most of what you see pictured. And taverna meals like we ate – sharing appetizer plates called mezedes – lends itself to just trying little bits of a number of dishes.

I’m working to refine some of the recipes I came back with and adapt others to replicate those we had in Greece – yeah, we have to eat more Greek food…sigh. But it’s all for a good cause – so I can share them with you!

signature

Comments

  1. Katrina Henry says

    We went to Greece last summer & while we were there, we learned from our host how they prepare fresh onions for their Greek salad. They slice all the onions up & cover them with tons of salt. Then they stir them up to let the juices flow out. Finally, they rinse all of the salt & juices away, leaving mild but very tasty raw onions that aren’t too spicy. It was the first time I had eaten a raw onion & not wanted to spit it out (I’m not a fan!). I definitely used this tip when I returned & was able to recreate the tasty Greek salads we had enjoyed so much! :)

    • says

      That’s a great idea, and now that I think about it, a few of the dishes might’ve had the onions prepared this way. But most were fresh slices – especially the ones in the gyros. They do slice them very thin, though. I like onions any way, so it’s all good to me. :)

  2. Lisa says

    OMGosh that salad looks wonderful!!! Yummmmm! And I’m with you on the French fries – why with everything? hmmm…

  3. says

    My cardiologist said if americans would eat the mediterranean diet we would all be healthier and would loose the weight we need to loose. I think the greek food is very similar. He told me eat fresh, uncooked foods as much as possible.

  4. jess says

    Jami- the salad looks scrumptious! I will try it.
    I wanted you to know that I have made the mini chocolate truffles three times already. The first time I made them in the little muffin pans. Then I got lazy and have just dropped tablespoonfuls onto a parchment lined pan. I used gluten free flour. They are great and several people have asked for the receipe so I referred them to your blog. Thanks for the receipe.

  5. jess says

    I just sprayed with canola oil, then used a seive to sprinkle cocoa powder over the oil and then over tops of cookies. They hold their shape fairly well.

Trackbacks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>