Here are some food tips we jotted down after our recent first-time trip to Greece:
- Popular dishes to try: moussaka, stifado, pastitsio, stuffed tomatoes/peppers, baklava, pastry pies (cheese hand pies, spanakopita), loukoumades, dolmades, saganaki, keftedes, pasta/meat cooked in a clay pot (giouvetsi), fried zucchini balls, octopus/calamari, lamb, horta, Greek yogurt with honey and fruit, olives, Greek salad, eggplant, tzatziki with pita, spicy cheese spread (“cheese salad” or “tirokafteri” on menus), and frappe (coffee drink). Gyros/souvlaki are your go-to for cheap eats. If you need a break from Greek, Italian seems to also be plentiful. If you order cheese (common appetizer), don’t expect it will come with something to spread it on. Popular drinks = ouzo and raki.
- Greek coffee is made from finely ground coffee beans boiled in water, not strained afterwards. If you ask for “Greek coffee”, what you get can range from a normal-sized cup with lots of grounds at the bottom to a very concentrated and gritty espresso-sized cup.
- Not uncommon to receive complementary shots, olives, bread, or dessert. Some may give you bread without asking and charge you for it.
- If remembering what you ate is an important part of your travel memories, remember to take pics of the menu before ordering. Not always easy to track down online afterwards.
- Have a method for identifying good restaurants, either by scoping out before trip or having cell data/tripadvisor.com available during trip. Though Europe has great food, you can’t expect to go into any random restaurant and be blown away. We made this mistake in France, just choosing restaurants at random and ended up just eating ok food. Going places with high reviews makes all the difference. Sometimes the places with highest reviews aren’t the ones with the perfect ambiance, so unless you have tons of time to research places with both, may need a few days where you just choose the place with the fun “I’m in Greece!” atmosphere (e.g. right on waterfront with the Greek music playing and candles on the table) at the expense of having the best food.
- Water isn’t always potable, particularly on the islands. Check locally. Expect to pay for bottled water in some but not all restaurants. Buy 6-packs of large water bottles from the corner markets to keep in hotel room (most economical).
- People generally dine late (restaurants start to liven up closer to 9:00) and linger for a long time.
- I’ve heard mixed reports about tipping. Most common is that service charge is generally included in the price of the meal, but can round bill up or leave a few euro on the table for a good meal.
- We had no problem bringing < 100 ml bottles of Olive Oil and honey home in our carry-on (in our quart-sized liquids ziplock). We had no problem bringing vacuum-packed olives, or spices, olive-wood products through customs.