The Greek Salad

Let us now praise the Greek salad, good for what ails you, and sufficient for all times and places. In Greece this is called a choritiki (village salad) and comes with a block of feta, onions, olives, tomatoes and enough olive oil to drown a rat. It varies in size and in some places is large enough to be the meal. Someone should write a history about it. But do not put any lettuce in it.

A photo tribute to the perfect meal.

The Olive

The olive is a blessed tree. hardy and long-lived, with fruit that is nourishing and useful, it is an intrinsic part of Greek cuisine and of Greek domestic life. The oil is used in delicate filo pastry; in bean and lentil soups; in sweet kourambyedes. It is used to dress salad, to baste meat, to moisten bread, to soften the skin, to make soap. Olive oil feeds the lanterns in roadside shrines and in grand cathedrals; it polishes the red eggs of Easter and anoints the baby in baptism. In myth, the olive tree was wise Athena's gift to the people of Attica. The olive branch is an ancient symbol of peace, but for Greeks, more particularly, the olive is also a symbol of domestic harmony. -- Katherine Kizilos, Sappho's Island, quoted in Travelers' Tales: Greece, p. 42

If you're in Sparta you can visit the Museum of the Olive.

A perfect meal

What too many are looking for

Greek meals

Breakfast is usually included in your hotel bill. It will include coffee, tea, some breads and jams, and sometimes nothing else. In bigger hotels or in Athens, you'll get meats and cheeses and sometimes cereal. The breads are nothing special, typically. This is clearly the low point, however, all those pastries you normally eat aren't really good for you anyway. This will do.

Lunch? Well, I could have a Greek salad, some stout bread and cold orange juice every day and not care to change. They do have Gyros in Greece, and they are good.

Dinner is late, generally starting at 7pm or later. I'll have souvlakia. In any case, take your time, talk, solve the world's problems, people watch.

Practicalities. Menus are often bilingual, in English and Greek and sometimes German. The waiter may just remember your order and figure out the bill by writing on the table cloth. If you look like a rich tourist the bill may go up. Watch them.

My best meal. A swordfish slouvaki on a rooftop restaurant looking over the harbor of Patmos. But, then, I'd had a very good day, and we could see the cruise ships leaving.

Resources

"World Food: Greece" by Lonely Planet goes into great and fun detail.

Harry's Food Guide (Up 7/26/14; posted 1/24/04)

What is there to drink?

Bottled water is always pure, refreshingly cold and widely available.

Retsina, the pine-resinated wine, does taste like turpentine, but goes well with Greek food. I like it. In restaurants with pretensions, this gets watered down and tastes more like bad Chardonnay. For more on retsina visit here (Up 7/26/14; posted 1/22/04).

Greek wines have been coming on over the past few years and offer more than before.

Greek coffee is thick and often served in very small cups.

Ouzo, is an anise flavored drink with a licorice flavor is the Greek 'white lightening' or 'moonshine'. It can put you under the table, and that can be a good thing. Some (Up 7/26/14; posted 1/22/04) think that Lesbos makes the best ouzo.

What is there to eat?

Gyros (lamb meat) and souvlakia (kebabs, with various meats) are the staple of my diet. Other common dishes are moussaka, stuffed tomatoes, and types of fish dishes.

Various snacks appear as (mezedhes) appetizers, or side dishes including tzatziki (yogurt, garlic and cucumber dip), cheese pies, dolmadhes (stuffed grape leaves).

Beware of Kalamaria (squid). Done well it is wonderful, but it often is done badly and is just rubber.

Desert offers Baklava, and a shot of Ouzo, and who needs more? But you can also have various sweet pies, loukomadhes (donut holes), puddings or ice cream. My pick is γιαούρτι με μέλι (yee-ah-OOR-tee meh MEH-lee) Yogurt with honey - and it is much thicker yogurt than the "Greek yogurt" in the US.

Vegetarian in Greece? I'm a carnivore myself, but I do get asked about this. To choose from, you've got the Greek salad, eggplant dishes, breads, a number of appetizers and probably other things that I can't think of. If you can eat fish, you'll have many choices.

I'm not the one to ask about this subject, because my attitude to food is so different than the typical tourist. I hate the arguing about restaurants and traipsing back and forth to determine which one to go to that so many enjoy. I think that conversations about food that last longer than two minutes are inefficient and boring. Then, I actually need help in eating healthy, and I welcome getting out of the US where it is impossible to do that. So, don't ask me how to get a hamburger or Mt. Dew in Greece. I don't look for that.

But, I know this is the question people want to know about, so here's my take. Understand it isn't comprehensive.

Greece does not rate highly with gourmet diners. Its food is derided as simple, unimaginative, etc. Nuts, you can eat very well there, you can eat very inexpensively, and sometimes do both at the same time.

But first, we have to talk not about food, but about atmosphere. Socializing over dinner is a great Greek custom, and one the tourist should partake of. Taking three hours for dinner, or more. Eating outdoors in the soft, summer air. Lingering over appetizers, or drinks. Americans used to do this but our hectic life seldom allows us to do it. Don't think of dinner as a something you do after you see the sights. Think of dinner as one of the sights.

Here's how to do dinner: Come back in the late afternoon, or find a shady spot. Sit down, rest until 7pm or later. Then, walk (don't drive) out into the town, wander around until you find an outdoor eating establishment. Look it over, look at the menu. Visit the kitchen if the mood seems right or you're invited. Sit down. Talk to the waiter. Have a long conversation over food as you watch the light fade and the night arrive. People watch. Solve the world's problems. Get reacquainted with your spouse or friends. Then, do it again tomorrow.

Where to eat

Since I go out to eat to get food and to relax, not for a story to impress people at a dinner party after I come back, I tend to find hole-in-the-wall places where all they have to offer is the food.

Eating on the waterfront is attractive, but most claim that by going back a street or two you can get better food for less. Here is another rule I've found: the worse the place looks, the more Greek the food is and the better the retsina is. The better the place is and the more it charges, the more its trying to be European or American.

Actually, this is only true to a certain point on the down side, because there are some really bad places, but those are obvious just looking at them.

Also, if you want to save money, consider going to a grocery and getting some cheese, meats and crackers. This can be an inexpensive meal.

Go look at the photo essay on Eating Outdoors in the Plaka for what I mean.

Shopping to eat

Don't overlook the wonderful opportunities that shopping for food can bring. Greece is still a country of tiny speciality stores.

And the bigger shops can be just as interesting. I went in here and told them their store was fabulous. "And we are fabulous too" she said.

Last modified 7/26/14; posted 8/8/00; original content © 2014, 2000 John P. Nordin