Foodies, rejoice! Enjoy another great piece from full-time sailor Georgie Moon, who is currently sailing in Greece. Read about some of Georgie’s favourite dishes to choose at the taverna. Choose one of our 1349 boats in Greece and try out these dishes for yourself.
If you are on a sailing holiday in Greece, after a hard day at sea you really should reward yourself and eat like a Greek when you go ashore, and visit a traditional Greek taverna. It’s a shame that people often seek out the food with which they are most comfortable or familiar with, rather than trying something new. You might think the menu is undecipherable, if you are unused to the language, but most Greeks speak some English and are happy to help. So take the plunge and order the Greek salad with feta cheese, try some aubergine fritters, grilled sardines, and beetroot salad. Don’t be put off by marinated octopus, a pot of vegetable briam, rabbit stifado or stuffed vine leaves. Other popular dishes are stuffed tomatoes and peppers, pastichio, lamb kleftiko, fried zucchini, fava, tzatziki, kalimari, ….. The list is endless.
Greek food is typical of the popular Mediterranean diet which is abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and olive oil. The diet also features fish and poultry — lean sources of protein — instead of a lot of red meat, which contains more saturated fat. Red wine is consumed regularly but in moderate amounts. The variety and freshness of Greek seafood is a major feature of many tavernas, often freshly caught by the taverna owner himself, or his family. Eating out in Greece is a very sociable activity. Locals see food as something to be savoured and enjoyed, preferably in company.
You may find that the way of eating in Greece is very different to what you are used to at home. For example, Greeks rarely have more than a cup of coffee for breakfast. They may stop to buy something on the way to work for a snack, such as a cheese pie or a koulouri (bread ring like a bagel) which are sold on street corners all over Greece. A lot of Greek businesses start work early then close for lunch by 2pm. Most Greeks will have their main meal at lunchtime, usually starting around 2pm, and eat something lighter in the evening. After sitting down together with friends or family to eat a leisurely lunch, often consisting of many different dishes, they will retire for a siesta and to escape from the heat.
Shops and businesses then re-open from 5.30pm onwards. If Greeks eat out in the evening, maybe for a celebration or festival, they may not sit down until 10.30pm or later. Even the youngest children will join in, and are expected to take part with the rest of the family. However, in the more touristy areas in the summer months, a lot of shops and businesses will stay open all day, and tavernas will serve food at any time.
So, if it’s your first time in a Greek taverna, what can you expect? Tavernas are very friendly places, with lots of chatter and laughter coming from the diners. They don’t expect you to be formal, and you don’t have to dress up. Rustic tables covered with paper tablecloths, and traditional Greek wicker chairs will overflow into courtyards, gardens, and even the street. Even if the taverna seems full and you cannot see any empty spaces, extra tables and chairs will appear from nowhere and you will always be welcomed.
The waiter will bring you a basket containing thick slices of bread. You won’t often see butter on the table – instead, you can drizzle your bread with the olive oil and vinegar on your table. Although you may be used to ordering a starter and a main course, in Greece is is more traditional for all the food to arrive together, or at least dish by dish as soon as it is ready. In the smallest places, there may not even be a menu. Special dishes may be listed on a blackboard, or more usually, the waiter may tell you what they have cooked that day. The owner will often invite you into the kitchen and proudly display what has been cooked that day and you will choose from a selection of their dishes.
It is usual for diners to choose a selection of small plates as appetisers, which are shared by everyone on the table. Your whole meal might consist of many different appetisers, or you could each order a more substantial dish. Every taverna will always have tzatziki, taromasalata and Greek salad available, which will arrive first, if ordered. You might also choose fried courgettes or aubergines, beetroot, fried cheese, large white beans in tomato sauce, stuffed vine leaves, all eaten with fresh crusty bread. They might also have small fried meatballs, or fried little fish. But be careful not to order too many of these delicious appetisers! Greek food always seems to offer lots of choice for vegetarians too. You might find that you eat so much of these delicious dishes, you won’t have room for the larger plates of cooked food. But don’t despair, the taverna won’t rush you. Once you have a table, it is yours until you leave. The Greeks love to linger, chat, and socialise with other diners. If you are lucky, one of the locals may start playing a guitar or bouzouki, or traditional Greek dancing may continue late into the night.
Some tavernas specialise in seafood, much prized by the Greeks. It will always be fresh, and the choice may differ each day, depending on the catch. You may be invited to choose your particular fish, and you will be charged by the kilo. The waiter will recommend how much to order for your table. Often, the taverna may offer to large parties a fish meal, or meat meal, where the whole table will be given a wide selection of different meat or fish dishes – maybe small fish, fried Kalimari, grilled sardines and a whole larger fish to share, along with Greek salad and fries. Even the smallest tavernas will offer grilled meat on the spit or cooked over charcoal – juicy pork steaks, chicken pieces and lamb chops will tempt your taste buds. To go with your meal, it is usual to choose beer, wine or ouzo. Although you could choose a special bottle of wine from a menu, it is more usual to have a local house wine, served in a metal carafe.
Another difference you might find, compared to eating out at home, is that the Greeks often seem reluctant to bring you the bill! You might have to ask several times, but they are not being rude, they would prefer you to stay and have another drink! To persuade you to linger they will often offer you a plate of fresh melon or apple with cinnamon, or a moist sponge cake baked to grandma’s secret recipe, or even another carafe of wine, all for no charge.
Greeks rarely eat dessert, and tavernas are unlikely to have much to offer. Instead, you must go to a Zacheroplasteio – literally, a sugar shop. If you still have room to eat more, after your magnificent taverna feast, you might find one of these wonderful cake shops which also serves coffee along with their huge range of pastries and desserts, and maybe ice cream too. Baklava is a very famous Greek dessert – crisp layers of filo pastry soaked in honey and nuts. If you are ever invited to someone’s home in Greece, it is traditional to take a beautifully wrapped box of cakes or pastries. You are then certain to be accepted as an honorary Greek, and experience their warm hospitality.
Ready to try out Georgie’s recommendations? Experience the pleasures of Greek dining on your own sailing adventure.