Several years ago, ATB#1 Mady and I started a short-lived blog for friends and family while we were travelling around Greece. We would sit in a cafe or restaurant, drink copious amounts of iced coffee and write using our Ipads and a tiny wireless keyboard. Today, I share one of those blogs. This was written sitting in a café in Oia, Santorini, Greece.
At dinner tonight, we were reminiscing about some of the fantastic meals we've enjoyed over the past three weeks. We're both fans of Greek food at home. But these last few weeks have really opened our eyes to how fresh, healthy and simply delicious this cuisine can be.
So, in no particular order, are our top tips for eating well in Greece!
- Learn to love the feta and the olive oil. As the Greek national flavours, they are in virtually every dish.
- Price doesn't always equate to quality.
One of our best quick meals was a couple of delivery souvlaki pitas from Kozi's tiny shop in Naxos. They cost us less than 5 euros, and we raved about them for days. On the other hand, our long gourmet splurge dinner at Themelos Bistro in Batsi, Andros, served with great courtesy and charm by Giorgos and his family, was worth every cent. So basically - try everything!
- On busy touring/travel days, bakeries will become your new best friends. Each features a wide range of cheese, meat, and vegetable pies that are great for grab-and-go noshing. One of the best lunches Mady had was a spectacular one-euro tiropita (cheese pie), piping hot from the oven and with the flakiest phyllo dough ever, that she ate walking to the National Archeology Museum in Athens.
- Bring your appetites. Apparently it is some sort of national dishonour to allow a tourist to leave your taverna hungry. As a result, Greek portions are HUGE and will fill even the growliest belly.
- That said, if you're not overly hungry, consider ordering a couple of appetizers, or even sharing a plate. Greeks don't care if you want to share a gyros plate, a salad, or even just a local sausage; sharing dishes is part of the social aspect of dining here, and you'll happily be offered as many plates and forks as you require.
- Embrace the veggies. Many classic Greek dishes are vegetarian: more importantly, they're just as satisfying and tasty as other meat-laden choices. An added bonus is that these meals will generally be a bit easier on your digestive system in the unfamiliar heat and frenzy of your travels.
Thanks to our Greek cuisine class with our fantastic private chef Stam, we've fallen in love with papoutsakia, a baked eggplant layered with tomato sauce, feta, red and green peppers, drizzled in olive oil and oregano, and then baked again until the feta is soft and melty. Served warm or cold, it's hearty and nourishing, even on the hottest day.
We made this!
-Eat a good breakfast. One of our go-tos was Greek yoghurt with honey and nuts. Need I say more?
- Lunch is typically between 2-4 pm here, when many businesses close for their afternoon rest period. This is not to say you can't find food outside those hours; but heartier dishes like stews, sauces, and baking are all timed to be ready for teatime. Experience the country authentically, and surround yourself with locals as you lunch.
- Don't skip over the tavernas. They may look humble and lack curb appeal, but some of our best meals were served in these friendly, homey terraces. Always ask them for their house specialty; you might find yourself noshing on Grandma's homemade tzatziki, or a long-braised lamb stew that you could smell from the road (this was actually how we found our very first Santorini dinner spot!)
- A word of warning: read your menu carefully. An asterisk next to a dish means that some ingredients are frozen rather than fresh. A good way to avoid disappointment, especially if you're longing for fresh seafood or fish.
- If you're in a hurry, don't go to a restaurant for dinner. Your food will be delivered quickly but you'll then be left alone, possibly for hours. Again, Greek meals are social times, and the waitstaff will not interrupt your conversation until you have made it clear that you are ready to move on.
That said, don't expect to leave just yet. Asking for the bill is seen as one last opportunity to fill you up, offer hospitality, and ensure you remember your experience. We've been given everything from apple slices with honey and cinnamon, to coconut orange cake with homemade ice cream, shots of limoncello and homemade bitter orange liqueur, and ouzo - as well as the ubiquitous plates of cubed watermelon chunks. All of it on the house, and all of it AFTER we asked for our bill. So you might want to build in even more time for your evening meal!
- Ditch the Starbucks iced lattes and try an authentically Greek coffee drink that's cool and refreshing instead - the frappé. It's creamy without being milky, sweet but not cloying, and will deliver a great jolt of caffeine when your energy ebbs. Virtually any of the hundreds of cafes will have its own take on it - so try a few!
We'll miss the friendly, social aspects of dining in Greece. Luckily for us, we are leaving not only with fond foodie memories, but also with a stack of recipes so we can try to recreate the taste of Greece at home.
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