Greek cuisine is recognized as being one of the tastiest, and healthiest in the world. But you’ll need this guide to ordering Greek food to make the most of it!
Greek Food Guide
For many tourists, ordering food in Greece can be a very complicated affair. While many dishes like souvlaki, moussaka and tiropita are very well known, there are dozens others that will puzzle even the most loyal visitors. To help you out, we have compiled a local’s guide to ordering Greek food. Enjoy!
A local’s guide to ordering Greek food
The first thing you need to know about Greek food is that, unless you are at an upscale restaurant, it is absolutely fine to share all your dishes, including your main course. The strict protocol followed in several other countries simply does not exist in Greece. In fact, dishes are meant to be shared, and the more people around the table, the merrier. Food always tastes better with company!
The only exceptions that come to mind are the famous pitta wraps – souvlaki me pita and gyros pita, also known as pitogyro. These aren’t really meant to be shared, as they are individually wrapped. That said, no one will care if you try a bite of your friend’s meal.
What’s a Greek menu like?
This is the million euro question! Menus in Greek restaurants can vary a lot between them, and mostly depend on the type of restaurant you are visiting.
A souvlatzidiko, a taverna and an ouzeri will have radically different menus, though they will all typically offer the same 10-15 staples, such as a Greek salad and fries.
It doesn’t always help that some of the translations in English are plain funny, or just unhelpful. Check out “for the waist” above – can you guess what it means??
Have a look at this guide to the food in Greece for the main types of Greek restaurants you are likely to come across when in Greece.
The quick and easy option – Ordering food in a Greek souvlatzidiko
Perhaps the easiest solution, especially if you are travelling with children, is to eat at a souvlatzidiko. This place, also called psistaria or psitopolio, specializes in grilled meat, served either on a plate or inside a pitta. It’s also a good option if you want a quick and filling meal, or if you are on a budget.
The best known choices are gyros, which can be described as meat carvings, and souvlaki, which is composed of bite-sized pieces of meat on a stick. These are made from pork or chicken, while beef and lamb are very uncommon.
Perhaps the most popular option among Greeks, and definitely the most filling one, is a wrapped pitogyro. Here, the gyros meat goes inside a pitta, along with fries, onions, tzatziki sauce and a few pieces of tomato.
If you prefer to share, you can get a portion of gyros meat, which also includes fries, pitta and some salad.
If you want something slightly lighter, go for souvlaki, the meat on a stick. You can either have one / two pieces, or go for a portion, which includes 3-4 pieces along with fries, salad and a pitta bread.
By definition, souvlatzidika don’t cater for vegetarians and vegans. However, you can get a pitta stuffed with fries and salad, or just any of the salads on the menu.
Bigger souvlatzidika may have a selection of starters, so check out if any of them are vegan.
The most common option – Ordering food in a Greek taverna
Apart from the souvlatzidiko, the type of restaurant you are most likely to find while travelling around Greece is the good old taverna. This type of restaurant generally offers a long selection of dishes to suit everyone’s taste.
Tavernas typically serve up a few simple dishes, such as grilled meats and salads, but also a few more regional or complex dishes. Starters and salads often take up a large part of the menu – and it’s perfectly fine to just order a selection of starters and not worry about a main course!
The Greek taverna offers a few dishes that you can immediately recognize, such as a steak or pasta, but is also great if you are feeling adventurous and want to try something new. Most Greek taverna menus would typically include the following sections:
– salads, such as a Greek salad, horta, dakos, boiled vegetables, cabbage-carrot, lettuce and the taverna’s special
– a selection of starters, which can range from 4-5 starters to well over 30. Some of the most common starters are fava (mushed yellow peas), stuffed vine leaves, cheesepie, fried courgette balls, spicy cheese paste and aubergine salad.
– a variety of grilled meats and possibly fish
– a few meat dishes slow-cooked in the oven or a pot, served with fries or rice, such as rooster in wine sauce and rabbit with onions
– a few dishes containing vegetables, grains and possibly pulses, known in Greek as “ladera” (cooked in oil). These dishes are suitable for vegetarians and vegans, as they follow the Greek fasting tradition. Among the most popular ones are stuffed tomatoes and peppers, peas, okra, and aubergines with cheese.
Are all these foods Greek to you? Try them all and see what you think!
One a sidenote – a psarotaverna specializes in fish dishes, but they would typically offer a few meat dishes to suit people who are not used to fish. This is the best place to try fresh fish and seafood.
Note that fresh fish, which is served by the kilo, can be quite expensive. When in doubt, go for the grilled sardines – they are a budget option and taste great!
The adventurous option – Ordering Greek food in a mezedopolio, an ouzeri or a rakadiko
If you are a frequent visitor to Greece, you will definitely have noticed the locals sharing tiny plates in tiny restaurants with tiny tables and tiny wine glasses. In our opinion, this is where you can have some of the most inspired and unique Greek food.
The most common of these places are called mezedopolio, ouzeri and rakadiko. Here, the food on the table is meant to be shared, along with some alcohol.
The emphasis in a mezedopolio is mostly on the mezedes, the small dishes. An ouzeri and a rakadiko focus on ouzo and raki respectively. Here, the food is really meant to accompany the strong alcoholic drink. As such it has to be tasty and inspiring, in order for you to order the next round of drinks.
All these types of places will have menus with semi-obscure dishes, though if you visit Greece often you may recognize some of them. You may find a tiropita, but you may also find marinated fish, glistrida greens, octopus, sausages and fried liver. There will typically be some form of deep fried cheese, a fatty sausage, but also tigania, small pieces of meat cooked in a thick wine sauce.
If the description on the menu is not adequate, just ask your waiter. Alternatively, come with us for a “Dinner with a Greek” tour, where we will also have a chat about Greek food and Greek culture. As for ouzo and raki – find out more about them here!
The non-Greek option – Ethnic food in Greece
If you’ve had several days of souvlaki, Greek salads, tiropita, fish, dolmadakia and horta, you may actually want a break from all that Greek food. We can relate, as we love Thai and Indian food.
Generally speaking, ethnic food in Greece is not as big as in other European countries. Athens is the best place for ethnic food in Greece, and you can find some Indian and a few Thai restaurants. Chinese restaurants used to be a big thing in the 1990s, but nowadays there aren’t so many of them. Sushi lovers will probably get disappointed in Athens, but there are a few options if you are really craving sushi and sashimi.
While we have found a few Asian restaurants we like, we have generally come to the conclusion that the quality isn’t as good as we had hoped for. Also, prices are steeper than in other countries in Europe, as Asian food seems to still be some kind of novelty.
Athens also has a few down-to-earth eateries serving Mediterranean cuisines, such as Lebanese and Egyptian. Many of these are run by people who moved here, and they are located out of the touristy areas of Athens. Let us know if you are interested and we can give you some more information!
Some of the most touristy islands, especially those popular with specific nationalities, have ethnic restaurants that get good reviews. If you go off the beaten track though, don’t expect a lot more than the old, trusted taverna.
Finally, as far as Italian food is concerned, there are pizza and pasta places pretty much everywhere. Note however that the food they offer is generally quite far from the Italian food we’ve had in Italy. In a way though, pizza and pasta has been around for so long, that it’s not really considered ethnic food. You may even find that the taverna you went to have their own version of a pizza.
In general, we don’t think that ethnic food is Greece’s strongest point. If you are craving a good curry, by all means try your luck, and let us know where you went and what you thought!
What to order in Greece if I am vegetarian or vegan?
Like we’ve said before, vegetarians and vegans won’t have any problems finding something to eat in Greece. While dedicated vegetarian and vegan restaurants are scarce, most restaurants will have a few dishes that are suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
Apart from the tasty tiropita and spanakopita, that contain cheese and eggs, vegetarians can have the strapatsada tomato omelette, all sorts of regional cheeses, most salads and starters, and every fried vegetable or fried vegetable ball on the menu.
Vegans on the other hand, can enjoy the numerous ladera dishes, where the main ingredients are olive oil, onion, tomato sauce and some vegetables, pulses, legumes and grains. Ask your waiter for the dish of the day!
Some starters and most salads are also ideal, and don’t hesitate to ask your waiter to prepare your salad without some of the ingredients on the menu, such as cheese or meat.
How to order in Greece if I have an allergy to certain foods?
This is a very important issue for some people, and understandably so. No-one would like to have a severe allergy reaction, especially when travelling to a foreign country.
Your safest bet here is to inform your waiter, while also getting the simplest options in a menu, where you can control the ingredients. Most salads and grilled meats would be fine, but make sure that the salad doesn’t contain croutons or walnuts.
Your waiter is likely to speak some English, and they will probably have encountered this issue before. However, we know very well how difficult it is to travel with a food allergy! We have composed three texts for you, which you can print out, or simply bring up on your mobile phone, and show to your waiter.
At the same time, make sure you carry your epipen with you at all times!
I am allergic to gluten
Attention please – I am allergic to gluten! This means that I cannot eat any food that contains flour, wheat, barley, rye, oats, or other grains that contain gluten. I am not allowed to eat bread, rusks, cookies, cakes, pitta bread, koulouri, fyllo dough. I am also not allowed to eat any foods that contain flour as a sauce thickener, béchamel, or food that has been fried in a crust which contains flour. I cannot eat food that has been grilled on the same grill with bread or pitta bread, due to cross-contamination issues. Even a tiny amount of gluten can cause me serious issues. Thank you!
I am allergic to gluten – in Greek
Προσοχή παρακαλώ – έχω αλλεργία στη γλουτένη! Αυτό σημαίνει ότι δεν μπορώ να φάω οποιοδήποτε φαγητό περιέχει αλεύρι, σιτάρι, κριθάρη, σίκαλη, βρώμη, ή άλλα δημητριακά που περιέχουν γλουτένη. Απαγορεύεται να φάω ψωμί, παξιμάδια, μπισκότα, κουλούρια, κέικ, πίτα για σουβλάκι, τυρόπιτα, σπανακόπιτα, και κάθε άλλη πίτα με φύλλο ή ζύμη. Απαγορεύεται επίσης να φάω φαγητά με σάλτσα που περιέχει αλεύρι, μπεσαμέλ, ή τηγανητά φαγητά που περιέχουν κουρκούτι με αλεύρι, όπως κεφτέδες, κολοκυθοκεφτέδες κτλ. Τέλος, δεν μπορώ να φάω φαγητό που έχει ψηθεί στην ίδια σχάρα με ψωμί ή πίτα, διότι ακόμη και ελάχιστη γλουτένη μπορεί να μου προκαλέσει τεράστια προβλήματα. Σας ευχαριστώ!
I am allergic to nuts
Attention please – I am allergic to nuts! This means that I cannot eat almonds, peanuts, pistachio nuts, walnuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts and any other nuts. I am not allowed to eat foods or desserts that may contain them, such as multi-seeded bread, stuffed tomatoes and peppers, stuffed vine leaves, walnut pie, halva, cakes, and any other food or dish that may contain nuts. Thank you!
I am allergic to nuts in Greek
Προσοχή παρακαλώ – Έχω αλλεργία στους ξηρούς καρπούς! Αυτό σημαίνει ότι δεν μπορώ να φάω αμύγδαλα, φυστίκια, φυστίκα Αιγίνης, καρύδια, κάστανα, φουντούκια, κουκουνάρια, και οποιονδήποτε άλλο ξηρό καρπό. Απαγορεύεται να φάω φαγητά ή γλυκά που ενδέχεται να τους περιέχουν, όπως πολύσπορο ψωμί, γεμιστά, ντολμαδάκια, καρυδόπιτα, χαλβά, κέικ, και οποιαδήποτε άλλη τροφή που περιέχει ξηρούς καρπούς. Σας ευχαριστώ!
I am allergic to sesame seeds
Attention please – I am allergic to sesame seeds! This means that I cannot eat sesame seeds and tahini paste, as well as any food or dessert that contains them, such as bread, crispy bread sticks, koulouri, cookies, cakes, halva, sesame snap bars, falafel, hummus. Thank you!
I am allergic to sesame seeds in Greek
Προσοχή παρακαλώ – Έχω αλλεργία στο σουσάμι! Αυτό σημαίνει ότι δεν μπορώ να φάω σουσάμι και ταχίνι, και οποιοδήποτε φαγητό ή γλυκό που τα περιέχει, όπως ψωμί, κριτσίνια, κουλούρι, κέικ, χαλβά, παστέλι, φαλάφελ, χούμους. Σας ευχαριστώ!
Last, but not least – how to pay the bill in Greece!
After you’ve had your meal, it’s time for the bill! Once you’ve asked for the bill, don’t be surprised if you get a dessert or some fruit, and possibly a drink. This is a small treat, courtesy of the restaurant, and it is fairly common in many areas of Greece, especially in less touristy areas. In our experience, Crete is the best, as it’s unlikely that you won’t get a treat – we remember that one time we didn’t get one!
When it comes to actually paying the bill, you should be able to pay by card if you prefer. Keep in mind that most businesses, especially smaller ones, would definitely prefer cash.
Visitors, especially people from the US, often ask us if they should leave a tip and how much it should be. Though Greeks don’t tip as a standard percentage of the bill, it is common to leave a euro or two at a standard taverna. Take our word for it though – there is nothing wrong in tipping more, especially if you were happy with the service. Think of it as a nice gesture towards the waiter!
A local’s guide to ordering Greek food
We hope this guide will help you when you order your next meal in Greece. Do you have any questions? Let us know in the comments!