I don’t know if I have ever met someone that doesn’t like Greek food. Having just returned from 3 months in Greece, we turned to Michelle Schomp, from Passport Explorers, who has been traveling around the world full time with her kids for over 7 years, to weigh in on Greek Island Food.
Best Greek Island Food to Try When Visiting Greece
Greece is a country with a rich culinary tradition. Greeks take pride in their food and enjoy sharing meals together. You’ll often find Greeks gathered, sharing communal plates of food at the table. Here are some of the best Greek island foods to try when visiting Greece.
Have you ever had a Greek salad that comes with lettuce? Well, this isn’t a traditional Greek salad! When eating like a local in Greece, don’t be surprised that your Greek salad never contains lettuce. A true Greek salad in Greece is made with a delicious combination of fresh juicy tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions, olives (usually with the pits), and feta cheese. Then, it is topped with a sprinkle of oregano and olive oil.
Fava is a very popular meze (appetizer). It is a traditional Greek side dish made from yellow split peas that are cooked until they form a thick, creamy puree. The dish is popular in many parts of Greece, particularly in the Cyclades islands, where it is a staple of local cuisine.
Fava is typically served at room temperature, with a drizzle of olive oil, lemon juice, and some chopped onions or parsley on top. It is often accompanied by fresh bread or pita, or for a gluten free option try it with fresh veggie sticks instead.
Greece is known for its fresh and flavorful fruits, which are often enjoyed as a healthy snack or dessert. Truly, the fruit in Greece tastes more flavorful. There is quite a variety of fruit grown locally, depending on the season. Figs, oranges, lemons, grapes, melon, the list goes on and on. You’ll find fruit stands throughout Greece, so don’t hesitate to try as many different types of fruit as you can.
A hearty lasagna-like casserole dish made with layers of eggplant, a mixture of tomato sauce with ground meat (usually lamb or beef), and a creamy bechamel sauce.
Stuffed grape leaves filled with rice, herbs, and sometimes ground meat. If you are vegetarian, always check to see which dolmades contain meat.
The iconic savory pie made with spinach and feta cheese, baked in layers of phyllo dough. You can find spanakopita at almost every bakery and usually a few variations with or without cheese.
While Gyros consist of thinly sliced pieces of meat, souvlaki are grilled skewers of marinated meat (usually pork or chicken, but sometimes lamb or beef), served in fresh pita bread and tzatziki sauce.
You can’t eat like a local in Greece and not try the Baklava at least once. A sweet pastry made with layers of phyllo dough, chopped nuts, and honey syrup.
The Agean and Ionian Seas surround the Greek islands, making it an ideal place to enjoy fresh seafood. As such, seafood is a staple in Greek food culture. Depending on the season, you can find the most delicious fresh grilled sardines, anchovies, octopus, calamari, and many different types of fish.
Gemista means stuffed in Greek. Greece is known for its stuffed tomatoes. You’ll find vegetarian and meat versions of these tomatoes throughout Greece, typically stuffed with rice, peppers or eggplants, herbs, and sometimes ground meat.
This traditional local Greek dish is made from slow-cooked lamb or goat meat, which is typically marinated in olive oil, lemon juice and garlic. Kleftiko is usually slow-cooked in parchment paper with potatoes and vegetables to soak in all the marinated juices.
Tzatziki is a well-known Greek dip made from yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and herbs such as parsley, dill or mint. It is delicious as a sauce on souvlaki or as a dip for veggies and pita bread.
Which Greek island has the best food?
Greek island food varies from island to island. It’s fun traveling to each island in order to explore the food culture and specialities that each destination offers. Here are some islands that are known for specific Greek foods or cuisines.
There are four foods in particular that you should try in Syros. Capers, Loukoumi (sweet local turkish delight), San Michali cheese (made from cows in Syros) and local Syros fennel pie.
This famous picturesque island is known for fava, as well as tomato fritters, and white eggplant. You will also find unique wine varieties and of course, lots of fresh seafood.
The largest of the Greek islands, Crete has a cuisine made with bold flavors. Make sure to check out the local Cretan cheeses, Dakos (the traditional Cretan Dakos salad on barley rusks), and fried snails (Chochlios Boubouristi).
Ikaria is known as the island of longevity of Greece. Their philosophy is a diet rich in legumes, olive oil, and vegetables. Fish and meat are each eaten about once or twice a week. Make sure to check out the local honey, goat’s milk products, a variety of local herbs and the local wine. In addition, make sure to check out Taro root, a type of Jerusalem artichoke found only in Ikaria.
Mykonos is known for kopanisti, a spicy cheese dip, and louza, a type of cured pork. If you are in the mood for something sweet, make sure to check out Melopita, a tart cheesecake-like dessert made of honey, cinnamon and fresh tyrovolia (a soft cheese).
Naxos is a Cycladic island known for its potatoes (due to its unique terrain), as well as local Graviera cheese.
The Ionian island of Corfu has cuisine which has been strongly influenced by its Venetian past. Make sure to try Sofrito (thinly sliced veal or beef cooked in a garlic white wine sauce), as well as the famous Pastitsada (a meat stew made with spices, garlic, red wine, cinnamon, nutmeg, and tomato). You will also find a unique type of corn pancake in Corfu called Gialetia.
Of course, the best local Greek Island food is a matter of personal preference. One of the best parts when eating with a group of family or friends is that most of the dishes ordered are to be shared for the table, allowing you to try a little of everything!
What food are the Greek islands known for?
Besides the dishes mentioned above, there are some other local foods you want to make sure to seek out when visiting Greece.
For starters, Greece produces some of the best olive oil. Olives are grown and harvested in many regions and are used in many local Greek dishes. If you can find an olive oil tasting experience, it’s always a treat too.
You’ll also find a nice variety of olives throughout Greece. Local Greek olives are a real treat compared to canned variations that you might find back home. Take advantage of being in Greece and enjoy the olives.
Check out local bakeries throughout Greece for traditional breads and pastries. It’s hard to walk out of a Greek bakery without trying a few new snacks.
You’ll find a variety of honey from various regions throughout Greece. Each has a unique flavor from the region’s flowers and herbs. Greek honey is often used in local desserts, such as baklava.
Finally, if you are a wine lover, you must try Greek wine. Greece has a history of winemaking and produces some delicious local wine. Plus, it is usually quite inexpensive. Sometimes, a bottle of good wine is less than a bottle of water in Greece.
How to Eat Like a Local in Greece
You are excited to taste Greek island food, but how exactly can you eat like a local? Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Go to local family-owned restaurants or tavernas. Look for places that are filled with residents. This is usually a good sign that you will enjoy local Greek food and culture.
- Take notice of cafes where older generations hang out to play traditional board games. This usually means it’s a good local spot as well as a good place for people watching!
- Order traditional dishes and don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations. Greeks will happily make recommendations of their favorite dishes.
- Try meze, which are small dishes that are meant to be shared. Think of meze as Spanish tapas, where you order a variety in order to try different plates to pass around the table.
- Eat like Greeks do and take your time to enjoy your food. Food and conversation are not rushed in Greece. Relax and savor each bite.
- Learning a few basic phrases in Greek will go a long way. When Greeks hear you attempting to speak Greek, they immediately light up and become more social. Plus it goes a long way in showing your appreciation for the local culture.
Here are a few basic Greek phrases:
- Hello - Γεια σας (Yia sas)
- Goodbye - Αντίο (Adio)
- Please - Παρακαλώ (Parakalo)
- Thank you - Ευχαριστώ (Efharisto)
- Yes - Ναι (Nai)
- No - Όχι (Ohi)
- Good morning- Καλημέρα" (Kalimera)
Conclusion: Must-Try Greek Island Foods
By now, you hopefully have a good sense for how to eat like a local, knowing which Greek island food you should try. Greek has one of the best food cultures in the world, with a variety of dishes to suit everyone’s diet.
At the end of the day, do as the Greeks do: relax, take your time, gather around and enjoy a variety of food.