Everything I Know About Greek Food

Apr 12, 2019 | Cooking Tips

Greek food is delicious. I think we can all pretty much agree to that. Really, what’s not to love? Fresh bright flavours combined with fresh bright ingredients. It’s almost perfect.

Years ago I worked in a Greek Restaurant for some time and so the information I’m about to provide you is largely based on that experience. This is not a guide to everything authentic Greek. It is more an intro to Greek food as it is represented in North America.

Okay, let’s get into it. This is…

Everything I Know About Greek Food

The Difference Between North American Greek Food and Greek Food.

Greek food is know the world over as being one of the healthiest cuisines there is. In Greece they traditionally eat a lot of wild greens along with fish and seafood, lean meats, olive oil, cheese, vinegar and lemon. Essentially, they eat a varied and balanced diet.

In some ways the Greek Food we eat here is more of a time capsule than a true representation of what you would eat if you went to Greece. It is more akin to what you would get if you went to a Greek Grandmothers house, rather than if you went to a modern restaurant where the locals hang out.

Do moussaka and dolmades still exist in Greece? Sure, of course they do. So does chicken souvlaki and roast leg of lamb. And there are a lot of Greek Chefs putting their modern spin on these traditional dishes that here, have largely remained unchanged for the last 50-70 years or so.

I think that there are two main differences between what we eat as Greek food and what is actually eaten in Greece. The first difference being that we only know a handful of Greek dishes. I mean go to almost any Greek restaurant in North America and the menus are going to be pretty much identical. There are a lot more than 20 or 30 Greek dishes out there. The second difference is that our Greek food hasn’t evolved since it was introduced by Greek immigrants in the early to mid 1900’s. In Greece, like every where the food changes bit by bit with every generation.


The flavours of Greek food are largely based on very fresh ingredients and flavours. The fresh flavours come from things like yogurt, and lemon along with fresh tasting herbs like mint and dill. Oregano, rosemary and parsley are other very common herbs in Greek food.

Unique Flavours

Greek tomato sauces often have a flavour that clearly is separate from Italian tomato sauces. This flavour comes from the addition of spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. This is true of Giouvetsi (U-vet-si) which is a stew made of lamb braised in tomato sauce, often served with orzo pasta. A similar spiced tomato sauce if often used as part of the filling for stuffed peppers and tomatoes as well.


Greek food generally uses more acidic ingredients than a lot of other foods. This include lemon as well as the use of vinegar, often red wine vinegar. These acidic ingredients are used to make dressings, dips for bread, or to season or marinade meat, fish and vegetables. These acidic flavours are often accompanied by flavourings like oregano, mint, dill, and garlic.

Yogurt is another acidic and fresh tasting ingredient used often in Greek food. It can also be used to marinated meat or fish, but is more often used as a dessert, dressing, or as a sauce. We are all familiar with tzatziki which is yogurt mixed with lemon, mint, dill, garlic and cucumber.

Rich Flavours

These bright fresh flavours are often contrasted by deep rich flavours which come from long cooked stews and braises. Either meat based or seafood based. As well as traditional casseroles like moussaka which is potato and eggplant layered with spiced ground beef and tomato sauce and topped with béchamel. Or pastitsio which is like a Greek lasagne made with long macaroni noodles and also topped with béchamel.

Greek food also relies heavily on seafood including octopus, and different species of fish. Often served braised in tomato sauce or grilled along with a simple salad and a bit of olive oil and vinegar or lemon.


There are many traditional Greek Cheese but none as popular as the salty, tart Feta Cheese. Feta can be made from either sheep’s milk, goat’s milk, cows milk, or a combination of two or more of those milks. Most traditionally it would be sheep’s milk.

Feta can be eaten on its own with a little oil, maybe a few olives and some bread. It can be served on a salad. Or added to any number of other dishes.

Two other very famous Greek cheeses include halloumi which is often served grilled with lemon and olive oil. And kefalograviera which is most commonly used as the cheese lit on fire table side at Greek restaurants.

This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of Greek Cheese, but those three are the most common here.


The most traditional meats in Greek food are lamb, goat, rabbit, pork, chicken and beef to a lesser extent. Really, up until the modern era meat was eaten fairly rarely in Greece. Their diet more often consisted of a lot of vegetables, bread, and seafood.

In North American Greek food you are most likely to find lamb, chicken, and pork on the menu. These will often be marinated in olive oil, lemon, garlic, and oregano before being grilled or roasted. These will then be served with side dishes like Greek Salad, rice or potatoes, Greek pita, and tzatziki.

Traditional Greek salad would be very similar to the Greek salad that we eat minus the romaine lettuce. Although there are many variations on the “traditional Greek salad”


Greek cuisine has been developed and perfected over thousands and thousands of years. They have taken the best parts of other culinary traditions they have come across and let the dead weight fall away. What we are left with is a simplistic cuisine that combines the perfect balance of variety, flavour, and freshness. Rarely, if ever do you walk away from a meal of Greek food feeling that heavy disgusting feeling. You just feel full and satisfied.

Because Greek food is so focused on complimenting the flavours of the ingredients rather than covering them up, it is important to use the freshest possible ingredients. There is nothing to hide low quality behind.

When preparing Greek Food at home, remember that simplicity is your friend. A few herbs, a touch of garlic, a bit of lemon or vinegar, and of course olive oil, is all you need to create and recreate really delicious Greek food.

For a handy recipe that illustrates my point check out this recipe for chickpea salad I did last week.

Thank you as always for reading and if you have any questions or comments leave them in the comments section below or on my social media.

Have a great weekend!


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