The cradle of western civilization and a land of myth and legend that has captivated and fired the popular imagination for millennia, Greece’s long history, wonderful islands, a rich array of landscapes and Mediterranean setting have all combined to produce a signature culinary style all on its own. From classic Greek dishes like souvlaki, moussaka and salads, to unique twists on established dishes from elsewhere in Europe and further afield, any visitor to the country will have ample opportunity to tuck into some memorable dishes that they simply can’t find elsewhere. And, whether you’re out exploring such world-famous landmarks as the Parthenon in Athens, enjoying the stunning architecture of Santorini Island, taking in the cradle of the Olympic Games or simply wanting to sample the vibrant party scene of Thessaloniki, you’ll have ample chance to indulge in the local cuisines. Read on for some of the best street food you must try in Greece.
This simple but very versatile fast food is a very popular Greek dish and one with a lineage dating right the way back to ancient antiquity. Made up primarily of meat pieces on a skewer - although vegetables are often thrown into the mix - souvlaki can be wolfed down straight from the stick, but can also be served alongside a range of accompaniments. This simple but effective fast food serving technique is a long-lasting one - there’s evidence in the Greek archaeological record of food being cooked on skewers almost three millennia ago. The meat in question is most commonly pork, but food fans should be able to find others without much difficulty - so if you’re more of a chicken, beef or lamb fan you won’t feel left out. Accompanying dishes range from fried potatoes to pita bread.
2. Koulouri (sesame bread rings/bagels)
Arguably the most popular street food in the country, Koulouri - or simit/cracknel as it is known in other quarters - are simple but tasty sesame seed coated bread rings that are baked until they are crunchy on the outside, but retain a softer center. Stop off at a typical bakery or street vendor in Greece and there’s a very good chance you’ll find these dough treats on sale. And, because they can be eaten cold, they’re handy for snacks if you don’t plan on tucking into food straight away. What’s more, while they can happily be eaten on their own, they can be consumed with a host of accompanying spreads - from jam to honey and more besides.
3. Spanakopita (spinach and cheese pie)
A dish that’d have Popeye salivating, Spanakopita is a savory type of pie that contains a spinach and feta/ricotta cheese interior, all wrapped inside a phyllo dough with a little olive oil thrown into the mix. A very popular dish in Greece, it is often cut into handy bite-sized pieces, making it a tasty and handy food to tuck into on the go. Keep your eyes peeled while traveling around Greece and you may find regional takes on the recipe, sometimes featuring the likes of minced meat, custard or semolina inside and going by alternative names like bougatsa, bouréki and bourekáki.
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Thought to have originated somewhere from the Middle East back in the mists of time, falafel has conquered the world, and you’ll find it on sale as street food in a wide number of countries. Greece is no different, and you shouldn’t have too much difficulty finding the deep-fried vegetarian balls or flat patties on sale. Consisting of ground fava beans, chickpeas, or a combination of both, falafel can be consumed on its own or stuffed inside pita bread alongside a host of other ingredients like salad.
A Greek twist on the classic doner kebab, a gyros (or gyro) features meat cooked on an upright rotisserie (just like kebab meat). The meat usually used is typically either pork or chicken, although other types can also be used before the meat is then cut off its rotisserie and stuffed inside pita bread alongside a number of other ingredients. These often consist of a range of vegetables, as well as sauces - tzatziki dip being a particularly popular option, and a staple of the traditional Gyros recipe. Today, you can find gyros on sale in supermarkets and takeout vendors in a number of countries - the US for instance - but Greece is where it all began.
6. Tiropita (cheese pie)
Another type of börek - like the aforementioned Spanakopita - Tiropita (also spelled tyropita) is a predominantly cheese-based pie. As with other böreks, it is contained inside layered phyllo pastry and can be purchased as pieces, cut from a much larger pie - or as smaller single self-portions to suit. The origin of the dish is uncertain - there are competing arguments suggesting roots everywhere from the Byzantine empire to Turkey and the Roman empire. Whatever the true story, it has centuries of cooking heritage under its deceptively simple pastry exterior. Will you be tempted to see why it has endured for so long?
7. Dried Fruits
As with many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern states, dried fruit is a popular snack food - the drying process helping to preserve the tasty sweet treats for longer. Raisins, plums, apricots and figs are typically the most common dried fruits you’ll find in Greece, but pears, peaches and apples can also undergo the process. Dried fruits and nuts also make for a handy food on the go, should you plan on taking sustenance with you while out exploring the sights.
8. Loukoumádes (lokma, dough balls)
Although these soft, deep-fried dough balls can be found in a number of countries - where they go by different variations on the name, such as luqma and lokma - Greece has created its own twist on the classic, centuries-old recipe. Although they are often dipped in honey or syrup, Greeks have added spicy cinnamon into the mix and also produce versions that have been coated in powdered sugar - to make them even more of a tempting treat for those with a sweet tooth.
9. Bougatsa (custard pie)
Another member of the börek pie family, Bougatsa is a custard pie take on the phyllo pastry covered recipe. Created using very creamy custard, these traditional desserts are cooked until golden brown, before then having the likes of cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on the top to add to the sweet flavor. A very popular dish, you should be able to pick it up in most corner bakeries, should you be tempted to give one of them a whirl, or pick one up for bite-size snacking on the go.
Roast chestnuts have delighted peckish food fans in many a country since time immemorial, and classic images of the snack food being cooked over a portable brazier on street corners are common in many a culture. And Greece is no different. A particularly popular winter snack food - the hot roast nuts helping to warm the eater - these bite-sized treats can be consumed as they are, sweetened with candy, or incorporated into a number of other recipes, such as sweetbreads. Grown all over the country, the annual chestnut harvest is celebrated at an array of local festivals, where it is not uncommon for chestnuts to be consumed alongside the alcoholic spirit tsipouro or wine.
One for cheese fans now. Halloumi (also spelled haloumi) is popular in most eastern Mediterranean states, having originated from Cyprus centuries ago. A type of semi-soft cheese, which is typically produced using sheep and goat milk and then brined, Halloumi has a salty flavor, is white in appearance and is often sprinkled with mint for an extra burst of flavour. Popular not just as an ingredient in other cooked dishes, Halloumi is also enjoyed as a light bite in its own right. Those who tuck into a traditional Greek recipe will find the cheese is not pasteurized. Longer matured varieties - with a much stronger taste - are also available.
12. Peynirli Pide (boat-shaped bread with buttery and cheesy filling)
A traditional boat-shaped bread that is stuffed with a buttery and cheesy filling - Peynirli literally translates to ‘with cheese’ - these tasty baked goods are similar in appearance to the 'pide’ and can be enjoyed 'as is’ as a snack food to go, or with a dizzying array of extra ingredients inside their 'bow’. These range from minced veal meat to eggs, giving you the option of choosing the taste sensation that’s just right for you. Naturally, the wide array of additional fillings available means you shouldn’t have much difficulty finding a street vendor/bakery with the version that’s perfect for tickling your particular set of taste buds.
13. Dolmades (stuffed leaf wraps)
A popular Mediterranean dish, Dolmades (or dolma) are wraps that are made using vine or cabbage leaves which are then stuffed with a spicy mix of rice, onions and garlic - although other vegetables and even fruits can be swapped in or out to add to the variety. Shaped into small rolls, they can be consumed as a snack or alongside other foods as part of a larger meal. Naturally, if it’s a street food you’re after, then eating them as a snack is what you’ll probably wind up doing. Just bear in mind that some dolma recipes include seafood or offal - which means that, while the vegetable is the common option, it’s by no means a guarantee, so vegetarians should probably best check before getting stuck in.
14. Kolokithokeftedes (courgette fritters)
Vegetarian fritters made with zucchinis/courgettes, Kolokithokeftedes are a traditional Greek dish that are popular as a starter for a larger meal, but also as a tasty snack in their own right. The various ingredients used mean that diners can typically expect to enjoy a salty flavor, combined with notes of feta cheese and mint, although other garnishes/sauces such as tzatziki are also a popular addition.
Enjoyed across the eastern Meditteranean and the Middle East, Moussaka is typically produced using aubergines or potatoes, but with a wide array of regional varieties to the subsequent ingredients. Greek recipes, for instance, can feature alternating layers of meat and aubergine that are finished with an upper layer of savory custard or a Béchamel sauce. Classic local recipes use lamb, a number of spices and the likes of tomatoes and onions - although there is a range of variations available, some of which are vegetarian-friendly. Which option will you plump for during your culinary exploration of the country?
16. Greek salad
Also known as horiatiki salad, Greek salad is perfect for a light bite while out and about, without spoiling your appetite for a later meal. Typically produced using tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, olives and feta cheese - which is then seasoned to suit individual tastes (pepper or various herbs being popular options) - there are, nevertheless, other choices available. For instance, bell peppers or other light vegetables can also be added to the mix. Regional variations also affect how certain ingredients are prepared (skins left on or peeled, for instance). Either way though, it is sure to appeal to the vegetarians out there - so long as you steer clear of any varieties that incorporate meat.
17. Greek burger
Greek burgers, or biftekia, are a classic meat patty. Unlike hamburgers, which are typically just ground meat, Greek burgers add a range of additional ingredients to the mix, for added flavor and a tantalizing aroma. These additions typically include a range of herbs, breadcrumbs and egg, to produce something which is less ‘bland’ than a more simple meat patty. Popular with salads or the classic tzatziki garlic yogurt dip of Greek cuisine, they’re likely to hit the spot when hunger pangs strike while out and about sightseeing.
It’s the Mediterranean so, of course, no list is complete without the inclusion of this superfood. Olives, and the oil they produce, are often cited as one of the reasons why Mediterranean people are said to be healthier, and live longer. But, regardless of the merits of this belief, olives are an intrinsic part of the culture. Kalamata olives, which hail from the Peloponnese region of Greece, are a popular table accompaniment for snacking and are often preserved in a range of ways, using everything from vinegar to wine, for different flavour sensations. And those are just one of the olive varieties you’ll encounter on your travels - from different green olives, to red and even black. What’s more, the varieties and differing modes of preparation combine to produce a range of flavour notes - from nutty to smoky and even meaty depending on the olive you’ve plumped for. Time to find your favourite.
A culinary journey of discovery awaits
Greek cuisine is celebrated around the world, and any visit to the country will open up a myriad of opportunities to explore its rich taste sensations. This even extends to food on the go, and street vendors. Where will you opt to stop for a quick bite during your holiday adventures?
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