I am back from an incredible vacation in Greece where I visited Athens, Santorini, Naxos and Mykonos; the history and ruins were monumental, the scenery was breath taking, the people we met were amazing and the food was delicious.
I can divide greek food up in a few categories:
According to Greek mythology, Aristaios, son of Apollo was sent by the gods to give the gift of cheese-making to the Greeks. It was called a "gift of everlasting value," and the Greeks certainly take their cheese making seriously.
Feta is the most famous traditional Greek cheese, that is semi-hard and salty and we often had it on top of a greek salad or served with some tasty olive oil. Feta was also the base to many dips (our favourite included a spicy cheese dip which was quite peppery) as well as in baked goods such as in their flaky cheese pies that we would eat as snacks.
In Naxos - we tried a Graviera hard cheese. It was flaky, salty and had a bit of a bitter after taste but it was really good mixed into a lettuce salad with tomatoes.
In Santorini, we tried Manouri which is a traditional Greek whey cheese that is soft and has a sweet taste. We had a round of Manouri served with honey, wal-nuts and sesame seeds - this was such a delicious dish.
Our very favourite cheese dish of all was saganaki which is a greek appetizer of deep fried cheese (could be a feta or a Kefalograviera, Kasseri or Kefalotyri) and always served with lemon. It's salty and sometimes a bit rubbery. But if it's deep fried well - the crunchiness and saltiness compliment each other. We had saganaki at least once per island. Our favourite was with our friends from NY Michael and Gracen at this taverna in Mykonos.
Greek Mezethes (appetizers)
We enjoyed many traditional greek dips as well as platters that would have a combination of tiny greek delicacies that we enjoyed.
Melitzanosalata is their eggplant puree dip which was always tasty, Taramosalata which is their pink salmon roe dip which is usually a favourite but when I ordered it - it was a little fishy.
We had a lot of Tzatziki which is the most popular dip of yogurt, cucumber and garlic dip - this would be served alone to lap up with bread on in your gyros or souvlaki. I would be careful not to load up on this during dinner or late at night because i would be worried about my breath.
My favourite dip was the fava bean dip - Fava in Greek is yellow split peas and is very popular in the island of Santorini. It had a very similiar taste to lentils which I love!
We also sampled platters with dolmades (vine leaves), Spanikopita (spinach pie), cheese croquettes (really tasty and crunchy), stuffed tomatoes (these were always a hit or miss for us), meat balls (which we could never go wrong with), octopus salad which was soo tender and of course olives... delicious!
Pasteries and Pies
On every island we visited, every few steps there would be bakeries and pastry shops selling flaky goodies such as spanikopita or cheese, leek pies which were always such a treat to have. They were filling and very affordable and we could feel the butter on the pastery shells. They would be soo flavourful and flaky - by day 6 - we had to make a pact to stop eating pastries and pies as we were concerned about our expanding waistlines!!
Baklava was another story - when in Greece - you definitely need to have some! These nutty phillo pastry drenched honey delights were sooo good that I smuggled a box of these delights home!
Gyros, Souvlaki and Kebabs
We started having Gyros everyday towards the end of our trip as they were substantial so we were instantly satisfied, perfectly flavourful with tzatziki, onions, tomatoes and sometimes we would get lettuce and shredded carrots and mixed with their meat (either pork or chicken) that had been rotating on a spit all day all wrapped up in a pita for you take with you and the main thing is they were our most affordable meal.
My first day in Athens - I thought I would order a platter which was sooo large - it came with everything that a gyro was served with but it wasn't wrapped so everything was served on a plate on top of a pita. The only comment i would make is that you never get potatoes served as a side, they always serve french fries... they even wrap the gyro up with french fries which was very different.
Frappes - when it was the morning or the middle of the day and too early to have a beer, I would order a frappe which is an ice coffee drink made with nescafe and frothed milk and sweetened with sugar. I would go as far to say this is the national coffee beverage of Greece.
Ouzo- this black licorice drink that we would sip or swig out at night. When ouzo is served with ice which is usually clear in color, it turns milky white; As a drink on it's own - it's quite a strong drink but after doing some research, I was surprised to find out that the alcohol content of Ouzo is not especially high compared to other liquor. The reason that it's a strong drink is mainly because of it's high sugar content. Sugar delays ethanol absorption in the stomach, and may thus mislead the drinker into thinking that they can drink more as they do not feel tipsy early on. And I am embarrassed to find out that it is generally considered poor form to drink ouzo without eating mezethes or snacks. It's called "dry hammer", which is a Greek expression that means "drinking alcohol without eating anything") No wonder we were always well on our way when slamming back this drink.
Mestica - is a sweet liquor that we were offered on all the greek island as a shot. It was light and very sweet. The drink is made from Mastic trees which are small evergreen trees native to the Mediterranean region. The famed Masticha resin, however, can only be produced from the Chios Mastic tree and we can only find the alcohol in Greece.
Citron- In Naxos, we drove for an hour on our ATV to the town of Chalki to find the oldest Citron distillery in the world. They have been producing Citron in the traditional way since then and their brand can be found all over the world. Citron is a very sweet after dinner drink and can be found in 3 different sweetness from the strongest to the mildest.
Seafood since Greece is surrounded by ocean, they have easy access to the freshest seafood out there. One favourite was grilled octopus over an open fire - I saw a lot of Octopus everywhere and it was tender and done always just right. Also the size of the prawns I saw were humongous.
Moussaka- is the Greek's version of Lasagne with eggplant, tomatoe and mince meat. It gets chilly when the sun sets in Greece and on those days a heaping portion of Moussaka would serve as comfort. I had some of the best moussaka in Mykonos!
Stuffed Peppers - although I'm not a huge fan of peppers, Stacey, my amazing travel partner claimed she had the best stuffed peppers ever in Santorini
Greek Yogurt and honey- Greek yogurt is especially creamy, the consistency is between soft cheese and yogurt with a sour after taste so it is usually served with traditional greek honey to sweeten up this thick goodness or fruit.
As you can see, we certainly had many fantastic culinary adventures. It was "nostimos!" (delicious in Greek) and we were very sad to leave the gorgeous islands. There will always be next time... Yamahs! (Cheers!)