Guide to Greek cuisine.
The main principles of Greek cooking; the use of fresh ingredients, excellent olive oil, slow cooking and grilling, have remained since the days of Ancient Greece.
Many of the dishes have not changed much over the years either. In Greece mealtimes play an important role in family and community life and food is something to be shared, savoured and enjoyed. The food served is designed to complement the gathering.
Most Greek meals are made up of several courses, starting with appetisers and then moving on to fish and meat dishes before finishing up with sweet pastries. What, then out of the rich choice of dishes to be found in Greek cuisine, are the five dishes that any visitor should try?
Meze is the collective name given to appetisers that are traditionally served at the start of a Greek meal. However, Meze can be so delicious and numerous that they can be eaten as a lighter meal in themselves.
Variations of Meze can be found in all the countries that formerly made up the Ottoman Empire.
The list of Meze will depend on the restaurant but two of the most common dishes to be found on a Meze menu are Tsatsiki, which is made of yoghurt with garlic and cucumbers and Taramosalata, which is Greek red caviar, olives, a fried cheese called Saganaki and fried aubergines.
Meze dishes are a mixture of hot and cold dishes and are served with bread.
Moussaka is a well known Greek dish that is to be found on nearly all the tourist menus. Despite this it is still a dish that should be tried on any visit to Greece.
The most common form of Moussaka to be found in Greece is made up of a layer of aubergines which have been lightly sautéed, then a layer of minced lamb which has been cooked with onion, garlic and herbs with
a little ground cinnamon and some chopped tomatoes. The dish is then topped with béchamel sauce and browned in the oven. Traditionally, Moussaka is served lukewarm.
This version of Moussaka was thought to be first invented by one of the most influential Greek chefs of the twentieth century, Nikolaos Tselementes. He studied and was influenced by French cooking and was the man who introduced béchamel sauce into Greek cooking.
Dolmades is the name given to stuffed cabbage leaves, a traditional Greek dish. The contents of the stuffing vary, particularly according to the region. Minced meat of some sort or other is often used. However, you can also find versions that contain no meat. The basIs of these is usually rice. The sauce used also varies from region to region and can be based on tomatoes or on an egg and lemon sauce called avgolemono.
Souvlaki is a very popular type of food in Greece. In essence, it is the Greek equivalent of fast food. It consIsts of food cooked on a skewer and then grilled. Souvlaki are generally made up of meat, traditionally lamb. However, you can also find Souvlaki made up of other types of meat such as chicken or pork and even some which are made up of fish, particularly firm fish such as swordfish. The Souvlaki contents are often eaten in a pitta, but they can be eaten straight from the skewer.
Souvlaki have been part of Greek cuisine since the days of Ancient Greece and there is even a mention of them in Homer. There are special Souvlaki shops in nearly every town in Greece, which are very cheap. Generally, this form of cuisine, mirroring fast food shops, is designed to be eaten as a take away.
Any person who is planning a holiday to the Greek islands should definitely sample some fish during their stay. It will usually be very fresh and grilled with some herbs to give it some flavour. One of the most famous fish dishes in Greece is Kalamari or squid.
Kalamari can be served in many forms. It can be dipped in batter and served lightly fried as part of the Meze course. Alternatively, it can be cooked slowly with vegetables such as tomatoes and served more like a stew as a main course.
Tavernas are the best places to sample traditional food. They are used by the Greeks themselves when they eat out and will often have traditional music being played in the background. When choosing a taverna you should try and stay clear of ones that have signs in English outside them as this means that they will probably be very touristy.
The best tavernas are those where there isn't a menu at all but where you simply ask the waiter what the best dishes are. If you can see a lot of Greeks in the taverna, it is worth trying.
The Greek word for restaurant is 'estiatorio' and you can get some of the dishes here. However, tavernas remain the best choice for traditional Greek cuisine, unless you are trying Souvlaki in which case go to one of the traditional Souvlaki shops.