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Food, Dining, & Drinks in Greece

Culinary Influences

Greece's food begins with the local ingredients and the seasons. Having a long growing season different foods are ripe at different times so their cuisine is based on seasonal foods above all else. This begins with fresh fruits and vegetables, plus the well-known Greek wines, honey, and seafood. Meat was not a common ingredient as cattle were generally more valuable for their dairy produce than their meat; pork, goat, sheep, and rabbit were present in small numbers as well, all of which were used for meat in small quantities.

Over time, many foods now synonymous with Greece were developed from this base including yogurt, feta cheese, and olive oil. Greece also began using these foods in various ways and with differing preparation methods.

During the Byzantium Empire's reign, the Greek menu expanded as new ingredients were introduced, including lemon. After the Byzantines came the Ottoman Turks and again new ingredients or dishes were introduced, including many spices and sauces from the Middle East.

Even today, Greece has maintained their traditional dietary base of locally available and fresh ingredients. The most significant change in recent history is that going out for dinner has become more common and many traditional dishes are now served as fast food, such as gyros and souvlaki.

Staple Foods

Although olive oil may not constitute a true staple food, it is used heavily in Greek cooking and as a dip with bread. Most Greek dishes also include some combination of vegetables, although none individually are so common as to constitute a staple.

Regional Variations & Specialties

Mezes: small dishes generally including sauces with bread, cheeses, light appetizers, vegetables, and finally grilled meats or seafood

Dining Etiquette

Greek Food - Souvlaki
Souvlaki

Dining and socialization in Greece go together and are nearly inseparable. From the time you arrive (ideally 30 minutes late) to the time you leave there will be few formalities, but a couple courtesies are expected.

If you're lucky enough to be invited to a Greek's home be sure to bring a small gift or send flowers before arriving so they can be displayed. When you do arrive, dress well and offer to assist in the kitchen; even if you arrive 30 minutes late the host and hostess will probably still be preparing the meal and volunteering to assist is quite polite. Also, compliment the house; the Greeks take great pride in their homes so find something you truly like and be sure to mention it.

Once dining finally nears wait until your host shows you a seat as there might be pre-arranged seating; then wait until you're invited to sit down. The elders will be asked to begin first and all guests, no matter their age should wait until the hostess begins, unless you are specifically asked to do otherwise. While rules are relaxed, do try to eat in the continental style (knife in the right hand, fork in the left) and keep your hands visible by resting your wrists on the table.

As the meal will most likely go on and on due to conversation, remember that accepting more food is a great compliment and when you do finally finish, eat everything off your plate and place your napkin on the table next to your plate to indicate that you are finished. This will probably be followed up with a cup of coffee, which may last another half hour.

If dining out, you may be asked to share a table with others if you're alone or in a small group. To summon the server just make eye contact and if you invited everyone out for dinner, be sure to pay for everyone as the inviter generally pays for everyone. If, on the off chance, you are asked to dance, which is not as uncommon as one may think in restaurants, getting up and dancing will be good form to help build relations.

Tipping in Greece is odd as there is a mandatory service charge on the bill (although it may be included in the menu price, it typically is not), but tipping in addition to this is still expected. The additional tip should be about 10% for good service.

Drinks

The most popular non-alcoholic drinks in Greece are various coffees. Strong coffee is common as is frappe, a foamed iced coffee. Other non-alcoholic drinks are also readily available throughout Greece, including juices, soft drinks, tea, and milk.

The most unique alcohol and the one that seems to be forever associated with Greece is ouzo, which is an anise seed liquor. Tentura (a cinnamon flavored liquor) and metaxa (brandy and wine) are also local drinks worth a try. Greece also has a large number of wines, which has been an integral aspect of Greek culture for millennia, although are few are popular abroad. Popular international drinks are also widely available in the country, including wines, beers, and hard liquors.

There is no consensus on the cleanliness of the tap water in Greece. Generally speaking, the tap water in Athens and on the mainland is safe to drink, but in some areas (particularly some islands) the water quality is poorer, perhaps unsafe, so should be avoided. Additionally, there seem to be outbreaks in the water source from time to time so the best course of action for a short stay is to be extra cautious and avoid the tap water entirely. If you do decide to drink the tap water, remember that many people may have troubles adjusting to the local water, as it will most certainly be different from what your system is used to.

This page was last updated: March, 2013