Finding History in the Food of Greece

Greek food pastries in Athens

The food of Greece doesn’t get the same respect as that of its neighbor Turkey, but Greek cuisine is one of the world’s oldest and most pervasive. Many items from this the Mediterranean country have made their way around the world over the course of two millennia and that still continues today.

Also, although this isn’t one of The World’s Cheapest Destinations, Greece is a relative travel bargain compared to the rest of Europe. So you can eat well in this country without spending a small fortune. Since Greeks have a reputation of leading a long life and heart disease is not as pervasive as many other western countries, they seem to be on to something too when it comes to a healthy diet.

Sampling Greek food on an Athens local tourOne of the best ways to get a good feel for a cuisine soon after arrival is to go on a culinary tour with someone who really knows the scene. On this Withlocals food tour in Athens, for example, you get to taste 10 different things that are representative of Greece.

I’m a big fan of food tours led by someone who lives there because they’re a great way to get a feel for the city you are visiting. On this one you connect with a local guide and try a lot of yummy items like souvlaki, koulouri, lukumades, some olives, and different olive oils. You’ll have some Greek coffee and the anise-flavored liquor raki. That’s a lot to sample for €32 with an experienced guide.

Food of Greece Through the Centuries

One of the most interesting aspects of dining in Greece is you’re often eating items that have been around since the days of Homer, Aristotle, and Jesus. What the Spartans ate before a big battle may be what’s on your plate today. Greek food has been a thing for some 4,000 years after all and with so much of their land comprised of islands and bays, they were some of the world’s first explorers, spreading what they ate around the rest of the Mediterranean.

While it’s often up for debate who first cultivated yogurt, feta, lentil soup, and olive oil, it’s a good bet that many of them spread wide from this region. They were probably the first to eat stuffed grape leaves and some of the first to cultivate wine in large quantities—though their retsina never caught on elsewhere. The Greeks were some of the first people to venture out beyond sight of land to go fishing for what you couldn’t find near the shore. A Greek, Archestratus, may have written the world’s first cookbook, in 350 B.C.

the food of Greece includes cheap street stall snacks

According to this fun facts about Greece page from a blogger friend living in Athens though, beans are a fairly recent addition to your plate. There used to be a suspicious belief that beans contained souls of the dead. Creepy.

A stuffed pita bread meal on the streets of Athens, GreeceThe cuisine of this country, more than most others, focuses on simple ingredients combined in ways that don’t require a lot of processing. While this may have kept Greek chefs from getting much respect on the world stage, it does mean that eating well means eating healthy in this part of the world. With many of the most common dishes comprised of fresh vegetables, fish, cheese, and olives—along with a glass of wine—you don’t have to wonder which factory your food came from. You’re eating things that have kept people alive for centuries, with plenty of time to figure out whether there are any adverse effects.

Once you go on a food tour, you can order with confidence in the future, armed with a bit of knowledge about what the locals eat instead of going to tourist places. The food of Greece can vary a lot in price depending on how many locals are sitting at the tables. The local economy is still in recovery mode, after all, and the average local salary is still estimated to be less than 700 euros per month. If you’re on a typical traveler’s budget, you can eat well at a reasonable price if you stay away from islands like Santorini or Mykonos, then find the tavernas where people who live and work in town are dining.

Have you eaten your way through Greece already? What food did you enjoy the most?

 

Comments
  1. Buzzy Gordon

    Hi,

    Enjoyed this a lot. Reminds me of my recent adventure:

    https://www.everettpotter.com/2018/04/gastronomy-in-athens-explore-the-past-relish-the-present/

    Buzzy

  2. Nick

    It’s true that many of the Greek foods have been around for centuries. Each dish that is part of Greek cuisine has a long history, and it can be fun to learn some of the stories. It’s amazing to think that the first Greek cookbook was written in 350 BC.

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