Greece is a country with a remarkable history. Inventing democracy, providing philosophical literature that remains relevant today, and offering countless contributions to arts and culture.
Bouzoukis, dancing, mosaics, and terra cotta come to mind as cultural contributions, but one can’t stray too far into the culinary world before seeing Greek influence.
From Westernized fusion dishes to piney white wines to authentic offerings off of a local grill, it’s hard to codify what the best Greek food is.
So to save you the extra research, we’ve come up with an extensive list that will steer you in the right direction.
If you’re reading this from North America, fear not! Greek food has made its way into most larger cities across the world. What are the best dishes, dips, and desserts to check out? Read on to find out!
Moussaka is one of the more famous Greek food options and can vary from village to village across Greece.
A staple in North America and abroad, Moussaka outside of Greece is almost akin to a Greek take on Italian lasagna.
While Moussaka can resemble a lasagna, the dish opts for potato and/or eggplant, whereas the Italians would use pasta noodles.
Inside you’ll often find mincemeat, most commonly beef. Other internal additions include tomatoes, bechamel sauce, and cheese.
The dish is Greek through and through, but variations are prepared throughout the Balkans and North Africa.
2. Courgette Balls (kolokithokeftedes)
At their simplest, Courgette Balls are scoops of main zucchini, deep-fried to achieve an appealing texture.
Think of kolokithokeftedes as “vegetarian meatballs,” if you will, since the zucchini is combined with egg and feta to form a robust ball of protein.
Feta is a cheese found in many Greek dishes, and in this one, it provides saltiness and texture.
The mixture is seasoned with common spices like cinnamon and pepper, balancing its richness and saltiness.
Frying the Courgette balls makes them crunchy to bite into before you’re provided with a soft inner bundle of flavor. Enjoy them hot, but let them sit for a little before eating since they retain their heat well!
Another cheesy option that can provide a one-dish meal is Pastitsio.
The dish takes its name from a similar word in Italian, and traditional methods involve coating a mix of meat and pasta in Filo pastry.
This filo preparation is similar to pastry encased dishes from Italy and France, but it was also a French chef who revolutionized what we currently think of as Pastitsio.
He added copious amounts of cheese to contrast the pasta and bechamel to keep the dish from getting dry. This preparation is the most common one in Greece and abroad to this day.
Stuffed vine leaves are a dish that appears in multiple cuisines across the Mediterranean region. Dolmades are the Greek version of this classic!
You can find vine leaves stuffed with many fillings, but the most common Dolmades from Greece contain meat, rice, and spices.
There are meat-free options, but these often have different designations. So if you’re vegan or vegetarian, you may want to cut open the leaves and take a look before digging in.
My favorite way to enjoy dolmades is when they’re drizzled with lemon juice. The acid from the lemon juice cuts through the richness of the meaty filling, and if your dolmades are served in olive oil, this almost creates its own dressing for them!
5. Souvlaki (Gyros)
Souvlaki is one of the most common foods associated with Greek cuisine, but there are many different varieties to choose from.
At its core, Souvlaki is meat on a stick. It can be made of lamb, chicken, beef, or pork, with pork and chicken being the most common.
The meat is marinated overnight or longer and traditionally will be grilled over charcoal or wood fire.
This meat can be eaten on its own, with dips and sauces, or served in a pita or bun.
Souvlaki can be found anywhere from Greek-American restaurants, to the most authentic Greek Tavernas, to the grills of Greek grandparents worldwide.
Tzatziki is a common accompaniment, but with a proper marinade, I find Souvlaki delicious on its own or atop a simple Greek salad.
We’ve talked a lot about filo pastry in this article and aren’t about to stop now!
Spanakopita is one of the most common filo encased foods and is savory, unlike some dessert options we know and love.
Spinach and cheese are combined and spiced before being encased in filo. The butter needed to activate the filo, and cheese present in the filling, make this vegetarian dish substantially richer than it looks.
It can be served as an appetizer or even a main course with a side or 2. I enjoy Spanakopita most when it’s sliced into rectangles and served with Greek coffee, but a common way to find it in cafes and restaurants is coiled in a snake-like filo spiral.
Rectangular or circular, Spanakopita freezes well, so it’s an everyday pre-made staple at Greek grocery stores and outlets. Try some on the town, or bring some back for your freezer and try it later!
I promised more filo content was to come, and another essential use for this versatile and delicate pastry is Baklava!
This treat is one of the most popular foods in the entire Mediterranean region, but its Greek iteration is unique.
Greek Baklava uses honey as a primary sweetener instead of sugars used elsewhere across the Ottoman region. So what difference does this make?
Greek Baklava is a softer and smoother texture when consumed fresh.
Another staple of Greek cuisine that is highly versatile is Tzatziki.
Greece produces excellent yogurt, and Tzatziki is essentially a tribute to this great product.
While many variations exist, Tzatziki is generally made from full-fat Greek yogurt with the addition of garlic and cucumber.
Lemon juice, dill, and oregano go a long way, depending on which Greek chef or local you’re talking to. The bright flavors in tzatziki make it one of my favorite things to eat or make during the summer.
This versatile condiment can have varying moisture levels but is often made thicker by straining through cheesecloth, which removes moisture from the yogurt and the cucumber, making the entire sauce thicker.
9. Saganaki – Fried Cheese
Opa! If you hear this in your favorite bustling Greek restaurant and see a plume of flames, don’t be afraid! It’s likely a delicious order of Saganaki being heated.
When we say “fried cheese,” this is not some kind of metaphorical creative translation.
Saganaki is a relatively hard cheese, fried till its surface is browned, then flambeed using Greek liquor and extinguished with lemon juice.
The flambe process is common in kitchens worldwide but isn’t often seen “tableside.” This process is what makes Saganaki a popular dish to behold. It is salty and delicious but also provides a show for dinner guests.
10. Fasolada (Greek Bean Soup)
We haven’t talked much about soup yet on this list, but no conversation about Greek food would be complete without mentioning Fasolada.
Beans are a staple of most Mediterranean cuisines, and they shine beautifully amongst aromatics and tomatoes in this simple but effective soup.
It is delicious and simple, and Fasolada is generally vegetarian when prepared traditionally.
Vegans, be warned, it’s commonly enriched using meat stocks or garnished with feta, but these are optional additions.
11. Tiropita (Greek Cheese Pie)
Like Spanakopita, Tiropita is a tasty “pie” made with filo pastry.
As with most cheese-based foods, the key to an exciting Tiropita is how several kinds of cheese complement one another.
Feta is a primary cheese in many Greek dishes, but the tanginess and poignant flavor could be overpowering in a dish like Tiropita.
The solution is to add other more decadent cheeses like gouda and ricotta. Of course, the exact blend varies depending on where you’re enjoying a cheese pie, but my favorite versions of this dish have a delicate balance between rich and tangy notes.
Bougatsa is another one of the many delicious desserts you may encounter after dinner or as a mid-afternoon treat alongside Greek coffee.
Like most filo-coated offerings we’ve discussed, the velvety yet crispy pastry coating is a staple of well-made Bougatsa.
Butter “activates” the filo and provides a richer flavor note when biting into the crust of well-made Bougatsa.
The innards of this dessert are essentially a custard, and like so many Mediterranean sweets, it is dusted with cinnamon.
One of the most popular desserts in Greece is Galaktoboureko. Filo pastry ties the product together, sealing in ample juices, flavors, and rich custard.
One of the most crucial elements of this dessert is its syrupy texture contrasted by the crispiness of the filo, which is also what makes it a difficult preparation to make.
In Greek cafes and home kitchens alike, the final step of Galaktoboureko preparation is pouring syrup over the premade filo.
My favorite part of this dessert is when the filo is still crispy. How is this achieved in the kitchen? The filo must be extremely hot, and the syrup needs to be cooled down.
If this process sounds a little daunting, you’re not alone in thinking that. Leave it to the bakers at your favorite Greek cafe!
Loukoumades are a very common sweet treat found throughout Greece.
I have seen these described as “honey balls” when translated to English, which isn’t too far from the truth!
Honey and sugar flavor these rich balls of fried dough, and they are often sprinkled with toppings like cinnamon or sesame seeds.
Another comparison that helps folks outside of Greece understand Loukoumades is that they are “Greek donuts.”
They are indeed fried dough, but their texture is substantially different from anything you’d find in a donut shop.
15. Tomatokeftedes (Santorini Tomato Fritters)
You don’t have to speak Greek to understand the main ingredient of Tomatokeftedes.
These tomato-based fritters are a staple across the Greek islands, originating in Santorini.
The island of Santorini was formed volcanically, so its soil is rich in nutrients, making for some tasty vegetables, namely their renowned tomatoes.
Spices and aromatics highlight and enhance the tomato flavors, and tomatoes are even incorporated into the bread-like batter that coats the tomato filling.