Greece is no stranger to cuisine. In fact, it was a Greek, Archestratos, who wrote the first cookbook in history, in 320 B.C. Today, the Mediterranean diet consistently wins praise for its proven health benefits. Local dishes exude the steadfast character of their origins – fava in Santorini, masticha in Chios, amygdalota in Mykonos, cheese pie with honey in Crete. But no matter where you visit, you’ll encounter the pleasures of freshly baked breads and a bounty of vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and zucchinis. To Greeks, food is a celebration best served as saganaki, grilled lamb, moussaka, fried octopus – all enhanced with that crisp Greek olive oil.
The diverse terroir of Greece has been producing wines longer than most any other place in the world, for close to 6,500 years. The flavors and notes of Greek wines is so unique that 72% of its vintages entered into the Decanter World Wine Awards once received a prize, 3 of them gold and 50 of them silver.
Here’s what you can expect to find on the Greek table:
Food of Greece:
Mezes. Like Spanish tapas, mezes is a small-plate approach to Greek dining. Items can vary from piquant olives to a pita bread with dips to more complicated dishes such as cold eggplant salad. Mezes should not be confused with the orektika that you might see on a menu, which is the formal name for appetizers that are intended to precede larger meals.
Olive oil. Like in many Mediterranean restaurants, olive oil is a central ingredient in Greek cooking, pressed from the olive trees that have graced the country’s landscape for centuries.
Cheese. With a climate and landscape conducive to goats and sheep, a wide array of cheeses are common in the Greek diet, from feta to kasseri.
Filo. Whether in large sheets or bite-sized triangles, various fillings might be wrapped in filo dough, from chicken to spinach and cheese to minced meat. One version of this, spanakopita, might be served with cubes of feta.
Tiganita. These deep-fried vegetables might be served as a side dish.
Dolmadakia. Cousins of the Turkish dolma, these grape leaves are often stuffed with rice, vegetables, or meat.
Fava. This puree of yellow split peas or beans might be flavored with olive oil, garlic or parsley and served as part of mezes with pita bread.
Greek salad. This simple salad is made with tomato salad, cucumber, red onion, feta cheese and kalamata olives.
Tzatziki: Served with warm pita bread, this is a yogurt with cucumber and garlic puree.
Fasolada: Often called the national food of Greece, this white bean soup is made with tomatoes, carrot and celery.
Fakes: This lentil soup is typically accompanied by vinegar and olive oil.
Moussaka: Eaten warm or cold, this casserole is usually made with ground meat and either eggplant or potatoes.
Wines of Greece:
Agiorghitiko (red). Also known as St. George’s grape, this wine is mostly produced in the Peloponnese region. The soft, fruity red expresses itself in many styles with qualities that are similar to Beaujolais.
Xinomavro (red). This “sour black” grape ages well and has flavor notes that actually bring tomatoes and olives.
Assyrtiko (white). This grape is mostly grown on the island of Santorini, whose old vines were resistant to the phylloxera virus that wiped out other European vineyards. It has characteristics similar to Riesling.
Savatiano (white). Known as the “Saturday” grape, this is the major white grape of Attica. It has a distinct floral, fruity aroma and if fermented without cooling, its wine matches well with Mediterranean dishes.
Roditis (rose). Very popular in the Peloponnese, this elegant and light wine has lovely citrus flavors.