You’ve booked your late summer vacation to Greece and you still have your mind set on statues, beaches and sun? Well, maybe you should think again, because there might be something that has slipped your attention… We are, obviously, referring to food; one of the fundamental elements of Greek culture, the delights of which you should not miss.
Despite the fact that most Greek food is made fresh, rich, satisfying and packed full of flavor, the problem most people encounter in the local tavernas is how to avoid the tourist traps. Here’s a heads-up for you, my prudent friends!
One of the principles on which the Greek culinary experience in a taverna is based, is the fact that you should consider yourself partaking in a social event, which is much more than a typical meal. By saying that, don’t underestimate the joy of sharing dishes, so ordering as a group always takes a front seat.
Also, be aware that dishes arrive as and when they are ready and not in the typical order of starters/main/desserts. So, if you like something you can always order more along the way.
Time is a non-issue when it comes to a Greek taverna. You are not supposed to leave after an hour or two; it’s completely normal to stay as many hours as you want even if you’ve finished eating and you only take your last sips of wine. In many of the old tavernas, it’s not unusual for you to be even invited in the kitchen to see what has been made on that specific day.
In the beginning you should expect the waiter to bring you a basket with bread, either soft or toasted, sometimes sprinkled with salt, or drizzled with olive oil.
Depending on the exact location, the set of main appetizers might differ and can encompass tzatziki, typokafteri (spicy cheese spread), melitzanosalata (smoked eggplant spread) and of course the iconic ‘horiatiki salata’ (greek salad), a dish which the Greeks always share.
There are also other salads to try, like the Cretan Dakos salad, featuring the rusk dakos bread mixed with olive oil, tomato, olives, capers, and feta or mitzithra cheese.
Concerning the main dishes, Greeks often have the tendency to talk about their grandmother’s recipes which are always – arguably – the best. For that reason, in tavernas, you will often see dishes which are best described as family favorites, the sort of dishes a Greek grandmother might cook! You can’t make a credible list of trademark main dishes if you don’t include Pastichio (oven-baked minced beef and/or lamb, topped with béchamel sauce, over layers of pasta), moussaka (oven-baked layers of sautéed eggplants, potatoes, minced meat, again topped with béchamel), and the world famous Souvlaki with the many different versions (e.g. served on a skewer or wrapped in pita bread with tomatoes, onions, tzatziki etc).
However, if you are really curious about what locals would truly order, who better to ask than the experts of the Athens Insiders’ team?