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I hadn’t expected to eat well in Athens. I had long ago memories of lukewarm food and greasy kebabs with limp pitta bread, and I had experienced the limited repertoires of Greek tavernas at home. But as I sat in a small café on my first night in the city, sipping good wine and enjoying plates of excellent salad and cheese, I started to think that things might have changed.

Greek bread rings

It’s not all pitta! Bread rings with sesame seeds are a popular snack in Athens

A Long Culinary Heritage

Olives, wine and honey have been staples of the Greek economy since classical times, and they are still important today. Wherever you go in Greece you will find olives, not just the common black and green varieties but large, succulent Kalamata olives and many other varieties. And of course there is the olive oil, such an important part of the Mediterranean diet, that accompanies every meal. The honey comes in different forms, too, from clear to crystalline and even, if you look hard enough, a bitter variety.


You will find different types of olives wherever you go

Then there is the cheese. Most visitors are familiar with sheep’s milk feta, although they may not realise that there are several different types of feta, or that it comes in two forms – the familiar crumbly type, and a softer “spreadable” variety. But there is a whole range of other Greek cheeses, from goats’ milk cheeses to smoked cheese and matured hard cheese. There is even one type – Ladotiri from Lesbos – that is preserved in olive oil.
Feta cheese

“Spreadable” feta cheese

Eat with locals on BonAppetour

A Varied Cuisine

You may be familiar with dishes such as moussaka, or small mezze such as dolmades (stuffed vine leaves) that can be eaten as a starter or to accompany a drink. But there is much more to modern Greek cuisine than this. True, you will find plenty of lamb and pork but there is also a wealth of dried meats including several varieties of salami and Greek ham. And remember that Athens is a coastal city – look out for the fresh fish and seafood.

Cured meats in Athens

You will find many kinds of cured meats in Athens

Sardines in olive oil

And look out for the seafood. Here we have fresh sardines with olive oil

Then there are the cakes and pastries. These may be sweet or savoury. Savoury snacks include cheese pie (filo pastry stuffed with feta cheese) and numerous types of bread. The cakes – often, although not always, based upon pastry, honey and nuts – are sweet and delicious, but be warned, you can’t eat too much of them!
Greek cheese pie

Cheese pie is always popular in Athens – even at breakfast time

Traditional Greek cake

Traditional Greek cake with pastry, honey and nuts

Wines Old and New

Greece has been producing wine for more than 6,000 years, and some of the modern wines can be very good indeed. If your taste is for something stronger, look out for ouzo and raki, traditional anise flavoured liqueurs.

But one thing was puzzling me. “Where is the Retsina?” I asked one of our tour guides. “I always drink it in Greek restaurants at home.” The guide laughed. “They think it’s a rough drink”, he said. “Not good enough for restaurants”. It was time to rethink my preconceptions about Greek cuisine.

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