A Guide to Greek Cuisine for American Travelers

Amongst the ancient ruins and picturesque landscapes, one of the highlights of any visit to Greece is undoubtedly the food. Greek cuisine is a delightful fusion of flavors, influenced by its rich history and diverse geography.

For American tourists eager to tantalize their taste buds with authentic Greek fare, here's our guide to Greek food, along with some cultural insights and essential tips for navigating dining experiences in Greece and some key phrases to know at any Greek eatery.

Explore the Top 10 Greek Islands: Find the One for You

Cultural Insights: The Art of Greek Dining

In Greece, dining is not just about satisfying hunger; it's a social ritual that brings friends and family together. Greeks take pride in their food culture, which emphasizes fresh, seasonal ingredients and leisurely meals enjoyed with loved ones. When dining out, expect a relaxed atmosphere, with meals often lasting for hours, accompanied by lively conversation and laughter.

Tips for Ordering

  • Sharing is Caring: Many traditional Greek dishes are meant to be shared, so don't be afraid to order a variety of mezes (appetizers) and share them with your dining companions.

  • Ask for Recommendations: Greeks are passionate about their food, so don't hesitate to ask your server for recommendations or for help navigating the menu.

  • Don't Rush: Greek dining is a leisurely affair, so embrace the relaxed pace and savor each dish.

A Culinary Journey: Traditional Greek Dishes

Appetizers (Mezes)

  • Tzatziki: A refreshing dip made from strained yogurt, cucumber, garlic, and herbs, perfect for dipping pita bread or veggies.
  • Spanakopita: Layers of flaky phyllo pastry filled with spinach, feta cheese, and herbs, baked to golden perfection.
  • Dolmades: Grape leaves stuffed with a flavorful mixture of rice, pine nuts, herbs, and sometimes ground meat, served either hot or cold.
  • Saganaki: A beloved Greek appetizer consisting of pan-seared cheese, typically kefalotyri or graviera, served with a squeeze of lemon.
  • Tiropita: A delightful pastry filled with a mixture of cheeses, and sometimes Greek yogurt, seasoned with herbs like dill or mint.
  • Keftedes: Meatballs made with beef or lamb, combined with breadcrumbs, onions, garlic, and fresh herbs like mint and parsley. Wonderfully juicy, flavorful morsels perfect for dipping in tzatziki or marinara sauce.
  • Melitzanosalata: A creamy and smoky spread made from roasted eggplants, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil, blended to a smooth consistency.

Meat Dishes

  • Souvlaki: Grilled skewers of marinated meat, typically pork, chicken, or lamb, served with pita bread and tzatziki.
  • Moussaka: A beloved Greek comfort food, moussaka features layers of eggplant, minced meat (usually lamb or beef), and creamy béchamel sauce, baked until golden and bubbly.
  • Gyro: Thinly sliced meat (usually pork or chicken) cooked on a vertical rotisserie and served wrapped in pita bread with tomatoes, onions, and tzatziki.
  • Giouvetsi: A comforting one-pot meal, Giouvetsi features tender lamb or beef, braised with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and aromatic spices, then simmered with orzo pasta until the flavors meld together into a rich and hearty stew.
  • Pastitsio: Often referred to as the Greek version of lasagna, Pastitsio is a rich and flavorful dish consisting of layers of pasta sheets, seasoned minced beef or lamb, and a creamy béchamel sauce.

BBQ Travel Guide: Best Barbecue by State and Style

Vegetarian Delights

  • Gemista: Stuffed vegetables, often tomatoes, bell peppers, or zucchini, filled with a mixture of rice, herbs, and sometimes pine nuts or raisins.
  • Fasolada: A hearty bean soup made with white beans, tomatoes, onions, carrots, and celery, seasoned with olive oil and herbs.
  • Horta: Boiled greens, such as dandelion greens or Swiss chard, dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt, served as a nutritious and flavorful side dish.
  • Melitzanes Papoutsakia: Translating to "little shoes" in Greek, Melitzanes Papoutsakia are adorable stuffed eggplants that resemble miniature moussakas. Hollowed-out eggplants are filled with a flavorful mixture of minced meat and aromatic spices, topped with a generous layer of creamy béchamel sauce, and baked until golden and bubbly.
  • Greek Salad (Horiatiki): Bursting with vibrant colors and flavors, this classic salad features a refreshing combination of ripe tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, tangy red onions, briny Kalamata olives, and creamy feta cheese, all drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with dried oregano.

Visiting Schengen: What American Travelers Need to Know

Seafood Specialties

  • Grilled Octopus: Tender pieces of octopus marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, and herbs, then grilled to perfection.
  • Psari Plaki: Baked fish fillets (often cod or sea bass) topped with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and herbs, then baked until tender and aromatic.
  • Calamari: Lightly battered and fried squid rings, served with lemon wedges and a side of tzatziki for dipping.

Find more: 15 Places to Visit for the Best Food in Italy

Divine Desserts

  • Baklava: Layers of flaky phyllo pastry filled with chopped nuts (usually walnuts or pistachios) and sweetened with honey or syrup.
  • Loukoumades: Golden-brown, crispy Greek donuts drizzled with honey and sprinkled with cinnamon, often served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
  • Galaktoboureko: A luscious custard-filled pastry, enveloped in layers of crispy phyllo dough and soaked in a sweet syrup flavored with lemon and cinnamon.

    6 Fantastic Food Tours and Travel Destinations Around the World

Essential Greek Phrases for Dining

Remember to speak these phrases with a friendly demeanor and a smile, and you'll find that your efforts to communicate in Greek will be warmly appreciated by locals. The English phrases are followed by the Greek pronunciation.

  • Hello / Goodbye:
    • Greek pronunciation for both: Yah-soo
  • Please / Thank you:
    • Greek pronunciation: Pah-rah-kah-loh / Eff-kha-ree-stoh
  • Excuse me:
    • Greek pronunciation: Sing-noh-mee
  • I would like...:
    • Greek pronunciation: Thah ee-theh-lah
  • What do you recommend?:
    • Greek pronunciation: Tee proh-teh-ne-teh
  • The bill, please:
    • Greek pronunciation: Tohn loh-gah-ree-ahs-moh, pah-rah-kah-loh
  • Can I have the menu, please?:
    • Greek pronunciation: Boh-roh nah eh-hoh toh meh-noo, pah-rah-kah-loh?
  • Water:
    • Greek pronunciation: Neh-roh

Best Free Travel Translation and Language Apps

Embarking on a culinary adventure in Greece is an experience not to be missed, but it should be done with some forethought. From savoring the flavors of traditional mezes to indulging in decadent desserts, Greek cuisine offers a delightful array of dishes that reflect the country's rich history and vibrant culture. So, as you prepare to explore the wonders of Greece, remember to bring your appetite and an open mind, and prepare to be captivated by the gastronomic treasures that await you.

And don’t forget that every trip abroad should include travel protection that is available to help you 24/7. Get a quick quote today.


Get travel protection for Greece and beyond
Average Customer Rating: