From one of the most ancient civilizations on earth comes simply prepared food that uses the best of what's in season and adds a little magic in the form of clever flavorings to help it sing off the plate.
Greece's culinary tradition dates back hundreds of years and has evolved over time to absorb many diverse influences. Many well-known Greek dishes are in fact part of the larger tradition of the food of the Ottoman Empire, with classic dishes such as moussaka, börek, and tzatziki having Arabic, Persian and Turkish roots.
From some of the best lamb dishes on earth to fresh seafood, vegetables, beans, pulses and, of course, good olive oil, Greek food is simple, colorful and incredibly nutritious. Like other Mediterranean cuisines, Greek food has a reputation for being heart healthy with its heavy use of olive oil, fish, lean meats, vegetables, herbs and grain, although some dishes can be quite rich, like the classic moussaka – a hearty dish made of layers of lamb and eggplant, smothered in béchamel sauce and cheese.
Mezes (or mezze) refers to small dishes, which frequently help make up the main meal, served with salads, dips and pita bread. Besides the ever-present olive oil, other widely used ingredients and flavorings include eggplant, tomatoes, potato, okra, lemon, cheese, herbs, and honey. Greece's climate favors the breeding of sheep, making beef dishes less common in traditional fare. Many dishes are wrapped in filo pastry - including Greek classics such as spanakopita (spinach and feta) and the honey-drenched, nut-filled dessert baklava. As for beverages, strong Greek coffee, retsina (white wine with pine resin added) and the 80-percent-proof anise-flavored ouzo are all ever popular.
When Greeks taste something delicious, they have a lovely phrase "Yia Sta Heria Stas" which freely translates as "I wish your hands to be healthy", celebrating the skill of the cook.
Situated as it is at the crossroads between Eastern and Western Europe as well as Europe and Asia and sporting a cultural history going back some 4000 years it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that Greek Cuisine is some of the most varied and delicious in the world.
In fact, it could be said that the Greeks greatest gift to western civilization wasn’t democracy but the advent of being the world’s first true food culture and giving us that holiest of all creations, the cookbook. Archestratos, a Greek poet, and scholar, as well as perhaps the world’s first foodie, published it in 320 B.C.
Food in Ancient Greece
The food in Ancient Greece as with most of that in southern Europe at the time was based on what we now call the “Mediterranean Triad”. That is olive oil, wheat and wine with vegetables and fish rather than meat dominating the cuisine.
Where Greek cuisine found its true identity and what set it apart from its neighbors was mainly thanks to their early efforts at colonization and emphasis on trade. These efforts brought highly unique ingredients like lemons and spices such as basil, nutmeg to the European shores for the first time.
Modern Greek Cuisine
The hallmark of Modern Greek cuisine can still be traced back to its ancient roots. Greek recipes make use of a much wider range of seasoning than do most of its Mediterranean neighbors. Oregano, mint, garlic, onion, dill, bay laurel leaves basil, thyme, fennel seed and even sweet spices such as cinnamon and cloves are all considered key seasonings in Greek food.
In part due to the fact that Greece is a very mountainous and rocky country whose terrain favored sheep and goats over cattle, Greek cuisine also feature an wide variety of unique cheeses with Feta, Anthotyros, Graviera, Kalathaki (from the island of Limnos), Kasseri, Katiki-Tsalafouti (both creamy cheeses) and Mizithra Kefalotyri, Ladotyri (cheese with olive oil), Manouri, and Metsovone, being among those considered staples of the Greek diet.
In all honesty, Greek Cuisine is so varied in its nature that it can very hard to describe and something best experienced firsthand. Every region of the country has its own favorite dishes and ingredients with the only true commonalities between them being that to be a truly Greek dish it must reflect the hearty spirit of the country and its people, not be overly refined, and must be prepared from the freshest, seasonal ingredients available.