FIRST TIME EATING... GREEK FOOD
FOOD VIRGIN'S FIRST TIME
first time eating Greek food was when I was a kid.
This is because I was lucky enough to grow up in an
area with a sizable Greek population.
I say ‘lucky’ because Greek food is doubly
good- both good tasting, and good for you.
Simple, fresh ingredients that have been used since
the time of Zeus: Honey, fresh pressed olive oil,
tomatoes, feta cheese, fish… many of these are still
used the same way they have been for more than 2000 years,
because honestly, why try to improve on perfection?
Tell us about your first time eating Greek
you’re going to a Greek restaurant, when you enter,
expect a warm welcome, even if you’ve never been there
culture is very open and relaxed and you’ll likely
immediately feel this after talking to the host (who often
might be the owner, or family member of the owner).
At Mykonos, in London, Ontario, my favorite place
to go, Heidi Vamvalis, one of the co-owners knows me since
I was a kid, so I always get one of her famous hugs, but
elsewhere I’ve also found a friendly and inviting
welcome as well. Many
Greek restaurants also lend themselves to a party
atmosphere, with the lively traditional music that they
play; in some places, they might even have Greek dancers
some nights, or encourage the patrons to get up and dance.
“The big thing about getting into Greek food and
company is that hospitality is a big thing in Greek
culture,” Heidi explains.
“Greeks are very social people.
They love to share their food and company
don’t be surprised if there is a blue and white theme,
often involving images of the Greek Islands, or ancient
monuments, like the Parthenon.
Greece is largely known for its islands, such as
Mykonos, as well as ancient culture, so it’s only
natural that these are popular choices for décor.
Because fish is such a major ingredient in Greek
food, you may also see fishing items up on the walls.
Other than this, Greek restaurants won’t
typically have anything too alien in America; regular
seating, and normal menu layouts.
speaking of the menu, if you’ve never eaten Greek
before, the names of everything are going to throw your
brain for a loop- spanikopita, melitzanes tighanites,
pretty much pronounced as you see them, but if you’re
still afraid of being tongue-tied, in a lot of Greek
restaurants, there are two ways to avoid dealing with
them: One, is that some restaurants will invite you to
their kitchen or seafood display to see what’s cooking
(or what’s hoping not to be cooked) and pick out what
you’d like. The
other way is to rely on the menu descriptions which are
typically in English. For the most part, you’ll recognize the ingredients and be
able to decide if you might like the dish.
TO ORDER & HOW TO EAT IT
Eating at a
Greek restaurant, as you can probably already tell, is
about more than just the food.
The whole dining experience can go on for most of
the evening if you want it to, with eating and drinking
continuing late into the night.
Heidi explains that this is called, “Taverna-style”.
Start by ordering an assortment of appetizers.
They’re all delicious, but if they’re
available, my must-have is tiropita- little feta cheese
pastry triangles, or spanakopita, the version with spinach
and feta. My
husband loves tarama salata, which is a dip made from puréed
fish roe that you eat with regular bread or pita.
This is a little bit too fishy for me, but for
caviar lovers, or even caviar beginners, it’s a great
choice, good for beginners because the dip is milder than
regular caviar by itself.
Greek salad is fantastic- you’ll find simple
salad ingredients, like tomatoes, cucumber and onions,
plus olives, peppers and feta cheese, all mixed in a light
olive oil dressing. “The Greek salad is sometimes a meal in itself, especially
when the ingredients are fresh,” Heidi says.
a collection of islands, Greek food has always included a
lot of seafood. As
such, some other great starters are deep-fried calamari,
and grilled sardines.
If you’re feeling more adventuresome, try
saganaki, which is cheese that’s been grilled and may
well get lit on fire at your table.
This is eaten by itself, just by cutting pieces
from it, not put on any bread. Any of these are great
introductions to eating Greek, so go with what suits your
don’t be afraid to make a meal of just starter- often is
Greece, this is what happens: They’ll keep ordering
appetizers (called mezedes) all night, along with ouzo,
the licorice flavored liqueur, which should be sipped- not
knocked back in one!
“Ouzo is really for the mezze or you can have one
drink before the meal,” Heidi explains. “In Greece it’s usually not after the meal.”
Although she does acknowledge that North Americans
sometimes have it after the meal.
If you do want an entrée, the most fun option to
try for the first time is souvlaki.
Some assembly may be required, as you can build it
into a pita pocket sandwich.
If you’re presented with the meat on a skewer,
firstly, hold it with one hand, and use your fork to slide
the meat off with the other hand.
Then, pick up a pita pocket, and put some meat, and
some lettuce, tomato, onion and tzaziki sauce inside.
Tzaziki is one of the tastiest condiments on the
planet; made from yogurt, garlic and sliced cucumber, it
is the perfect match for the grilled souvlaki meat.
Sorry, I have no tips for keeping your fingers
this is sounding like too much work (or mess), try
moussaka (pronounced moo-sa-KA).
It is similar to eggplant parmesan, but not so
heavy on the tomato sauce or cheese.
It will likely come to you in a hot casserole dish,
though it might be served like a serving of lasagna would,
on a plate. If it’s in the dish, feel free to eat it straight from the
Share more tips of your own
ouzo is the most famous traditional Greek alcoholic drink.
It tastes like black licorice.
Heidi explains, “A lot of people think that
it’s something to have at the end of the meal, but
actually, it’s an aperitif.”
And although it’s served in a shot glass, it
should be sipped, so don’t knock it back in one!
go with most Greek entrees, Heidi Vamvalis recommends
drinking wine- red or white, Greek or otherwise.
For the adventuresome, you might also find retsina
on some menus; this is wine mixed with pine resin.
There are lots
of choices for dessert, but they all come down to one
option: Sweet, sweet, or sweet.
This is a cuisine that adds sugar to honey to make
its most popular dessert sauce.
The most famous Greek dessert is baklava
(pronounced bah-klah-VAH)- crisp, layered pastry with
crushed walnuts drizzled with honey-sugar syrup.
It is suspiciously similar to the crisp, layered
pastry used to make tiropita and spanikopita, but
basically, the sweet version.
The syrup makes it necessary to eat with your fork,
as opposed to your fingers.
You could also try kadaifi, which is pastry with
crushed walnuts and honey-sugar syrup, or loukoumades,
which are essentially Greek donuts.
Instead of feeling like Homer Simpson, though, you
can feel like an original Olympian, as this is what would
be given to Olympians back in ancient Greek times.
LAST WORD- OPA!
most fun aspect of Greek dining is the tradition of plate
trick to successful plate smashing is firstly to make sure
that you’re in a restaurant where they don’t mind if
their plates get smashed.
Very few places actually allow it these days,
probably due to the lawsuits that could arise from bits of
broken plate flying up at other diners, and the general
costs of replacing plates all the time.
Where I first smashed a plate, you had to actually
buy special plates for smashing.
Why smash plates, you ask?
Well in addition to it being a great release,
it’s also a sign of exuberant celebration in Greek
explains that some places will have a bouzouki night,
bouzouki being traditional Greek music.
“Bouzouki creates an atmosphere of kefi, which
translates as ‘the spirit takes you’.”
As this happens, people get swept up in the moment
and everyone’s likely to become more exuberant.
Feel free to shout, “Opa!” as you smash the
plate on the floor. “Opa!” can also be used as a toast instead of,
smash your glass.
DO’S AND DON’TS
are a classic part of a Greek meal.
“Opa!” enthusiasticaly if you’re having a good time at
your table. Shout
it when you’d normally say, “Cheers!”, when
saganaki cheese is lit on fire, or at the end of any
live music performed (if you like it).
friendly to the people running the restaurant.
down any items that the restauranteurs might send to
your table with their compliments.
It’s like refusing their hospitality.
Also, however full you might be- eat them!
too much about etiquette- if you do what you usually
do when dining out, you’ll be fine; there are no
weird Greek traditions or rules you need to follow.
any plates without explicit agreement from the
management of the restaurant.
Most Greek restaurants don’t allow this
anymore, so ask first.
Suggest more DOs and DON'Ts
GREEK FOOD TERMS
(sa-ga-NA-kee) Saganaki is actually the name of the pan used to fry cheese.
A few different types of cheese can be used, and in
some places, they’ll flambé the cheese and put out the
flames with lemon juice.
Yes, Greek food is where fried calamari comes from,
like onion rings except made with squid rings.
Calamari cooked other ways may also be available.
A dip made with fish eggs (caviar) and sometimes
potato or bread crumbs.
Dip normal bread of pita bread into it.
Phyllo pastry stuffed with feta cheese, these are
flaky but tasty.
(span-i-KO-pee-ta) Like tiropita but with spinach mixed with the cheese too.
(moo-sa-KA) An eggplant and tomato sauce dish, sort of like what the
offspring would be from eggplant parmesan and lasagna.
most famous alcohol, ouzo is a licorice-flavored liqueur
to be sipped as an aperitif (at the beginning of the
can also be mixed with water.
flavored with pine resin.
(soo-VLA-ki) Skewered meat, typically chicken, pork, or lamb, souvlaki has
a light flavor of oregano, garlic and other herbs.
A very popular dessert, baklava is made with the
same flaky phyllo pastry as tiro- and spanikopita.
It’s drizzled with honey-sugar syrup and
sprinkled with walnuts.
are powdered cookie-donut type things.
more Greek food term items to the list
Greek food and culture is very family friendly.
You’ll find lots of items you can feed kids
that’ll be much healthier than anything you’d find on
a typical kids’ menu- and the kids will probably love
it! As I
said, I was a kid when I started eating Greek food, and I
was one of the pickiest eaters around.
Also, items like souvlaki can be ordered and shared
easily because you don’t have to give all the pieces of
meat on the skewer to one person- two kids can probably
share. For the most part, you’ll find that with the relaxed
atmosphere in Greek restaurants, kids don’t have to feel
stifled- in fact, it’s entirely possible that the
restauranteurs might bring them some little dessert
Food (is it easy to find things that American kids will
Level (how different is this from standard American food): 5/10
Rate Greek food yourself!
eat where the Food Virgin eats, click here: Mykonos