Greece has an ancient culinary tradition dating back several millennia and over the centuries Greek cuisine has evolved and absorbed numerous influences, as well as has influenced many cuisines itself. The main ingredient you will probably find in just about every Greek dish is olive oil. Olive oil is the energy food that fueled this splendid civilization and is the one item that every Greek home cannot be without.
Eating times are similar to those in other warm countries.
Breakfast: Usually light, consisted of a cup of coffee/tea or herbal tea and perhaps a small pastry or some bread with yogurt and honey.
Lunch: Usually is a light to regular meal and is often eaten around 14:00. Many Greeks, especially those working in the private sector, skip lunch altogether.
Dinner: This is the main meal of the day, eaten rather late around 20:00 to 21:00 or sometimes later, especially during the hot summer months.
Meals are communal and are seen as important opportunities to talk and be with family and friends. Greeks eat out a lot, especially in the evening. It is common to order several dishes which are arranged in the middle of the table and everything is shared.
Restaurants tend to close around midnight, but it's quite common that some of them stay open longer.
Some eating habits:
- Salads in Greece are considered an accompaniment to a meal and are not eaten as a main course.
- Bread is always present at Greek meals and, in informal meals, it is common to dip it in the sauce of the different dishes and salad dressings.
- Most of the times there will be a block of Feta cheese on the table.
- It is not considered impolite to put food onto other people's plates, nor to refill their wine glass without asking them.
- Usually at the end of the dinner at a Greek restaurant, a dessert or a fruit tray is offered complimentary, followed by a glass of ice-cold aromatic Mastiha liqueur.
Food follows the seasons and the Greek cuisine is justifiably famous for its emphasis on the freshness of the ingredients, as well as for the simplicity of their presentation. The Greeks prefer non-elaborate dishes based on the simple but delicious regional produce: seasonal vegetables, wild fresh greens, whole grain bread, heart-healthy olive oil, home cured olives, protein-rich legumes, local cheese, yogurt, fresh fish and meat.
A major characteristic of the "Greek Table" are the "orektika" or "mezedes", the appetizers. It is a real delight to see all these colorful hot or cold delicacies served in little dishes, nicely arranged on the table.
As a main course, the green beans, eggplants, okra, potato or zucchini stew cooked in tomato sauce, as well as the stuffed-with-rice-and-herbs vegetables, are called "ladera" (cooked in olive oil). Combined with fresh cheese, such as the Feta cheese, make a perfect daily meal.
The meat consumed by Greeks is beef, lamb, pork and poultry, cooked as a stew with vegetables or charcoiled served with gorgeous fresh salads.
Fish is another long tradition in the local cuisine and usually is served with the head and the bones to prove its freshness.
And to complete your meal you may choose from the delicious and healthy collection of the traditional Greek desserts: the baklava, the milk pie (galaktoboureko), the semolina halva, the regional classics, or even the simple yogurt with honey or with fruit preserves have got you covered!
For us Greeks, wine is closely connected to our culture and religion; Greece is one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world. The earliest evidence of Greek wine has been dated to 6,500 years ago and as wine trade became extensive, it was transported from end to end of the Mediterranean where it always had high prestige. The ancient Greeks pioneered new methods of viticulture and wine production which they shared with early winemaking communities in what are now France, Italy, Austria and Russia, as well as others, through trade and colonization.
Today many ancient Greek varieties are extinct or nearly so, but there are a few which have been rescued such as: the aromatic white Malagousia, Crete's Vilana, Santorini's Assyrtiko, Roditis and Savatiano. Some of the better known dark-skinned grape varieties widely planted are the Agiorgitiko, Mavrodaphne, Xynomavro and, to a lesser extent, Limnio.
Greece has been modernizing her wine industry rapidly. This is particularly thrilling in view of the fact that the Greek wine industry is determined to avoid the Chardonnay-and-Cabernet-only trap and focuses on local varieties.
Hippocrates, the father of medicine, considered beer to have valuable medicinal qualities. Homer gives us a vivid description of how gold and silver royal vases were filled with "wine made of barley" (beer).
Zythos is the Greek word for beer, which derives from the verb "zeo" that means to boil / to foam. References regarding Zythos can be found in texts of the ancient Greek geographer Strabo, as well as in texts of ancient Greek historians.
The Greek beer market has been dominated by international brands, but recently there is an increase of small local breweries which offer high quality beer.
If there would be one symbol of Greece and its culture, it would be Ouzo. Drinking Ouzo is a lifestyle. This anise-flavored drink is served as an aperitif and captivates the Greek spirit. In 2006 the Greek government gained exclusive rights to the name, and thus, if it's not made in Greece, it can't be called Ouzo.
Ouzo is distilled from grapes and the best quality comes from the island of Lesvos. It is made of about 40% alcohol and therefore many people prefer drinking it by adding chilled water. It is served with Greek appetizers ("mezedes"), such as: octopus, sardines, olives, Feta cheese, etc.