Eating out is national pastime in Greece. For an informal snack, try an ouzeri, where you can join locals for small platters of savoury appetisers and a glass or two of aniseed-flavoured ouzo. Visit a mezedopolio to feast on a selection of tasty mezes
(Similar to Spanish tapas) which you might accompany with a flask of rakija (a potent spirit made from distilled grapes) or a carafe of hima (barrel wine).
For a more hearty meal, try a taverna, serving generous portions of traditional Greek favourites, often in a rustic (or pseudo-rustic) setting – the best ones have open log fires and stage occasionally live music. A psarotaverna is a taverna that specialises in fish and seafood. Last but not least, an estiatorio is a full blown restaurant, where service will be a little more formal and the menu will probably include a choice of both Greek and international cuisine, as well as quality bottled wines.
Greek food tends to be very simple, rarely involving sauces but with full use of local seasonal produce, olive oil and charcoal grills – just as people have been eating in outlying villages for many centuries. However, Athens and some of the more fashionable islands such as Santorini and Mykonos have seen the arrival of fusion cuisine and so-called modern taverna fare (involving lighter dishes with more subtle flavours and artistic presentation).
Restaurant hours are normally 1200-1500 for lunch and 2000-2400 for dinner. Opening hours vary according to the region and local laws – many establishments in popular holiday destinations stay open all day through the summer. Waiter service is usual.
Those with a sweet tooth should head for a zaharoplasteio (cake shop), where a vast array of syrup-drenched Turkish-inspired goodies such as baklava and slices of chocolate-coated cakes like Black Forest gateaux are displayed behind glass counters. You can choose pieces individually and then have them put in a box to take away – if it’s a gift they’ll tie it with a brightly coloured silk ribbon.
- Dolmades (stuffed vine leaves).
- Gemista (tomatoes, peppers and courgettes, stuffed with rice and oven-baked).
- Gigantes (big butter beans baked in a rich tomato sauce with olive oil).
- Moussaka (aubergine casserole with minced lamb, cinnamon, red wine and olive oil).
- Calamari (deep-fried rings of squid) or htapodia (octopus).
- Souvlaki (spit-roasted meat, generally pork or chicken).
- Stifado (a rich beef stew with caramelised onions, cinnamon and cloves).
- Kokkinisto (a rich stew of either beef, pork or chicken cooked with red wine and tomatoes).
- Horiatiki (Greek salad: feta cheese, tomato, cucumber, green peppers, black Kalamata olives and fresh olive oil).
- Krasi (wine - lefko is white, kokkino is red).
- Retsina (wine made with pine-needle resin).
- Ouzo (an aniseed-based clear spirit to which water is added).
- Raki (a sharp and fiery spirit made from distilled grapes, like the Italian Grappa).
- Metaxa (a Greek spirit, similar to brandy).
- Greek coffee (thick and strong, and sugared according to taste).
- Frappe (frothy iced coffee made from Nescafe and drunk through a straw).