The very first thing I do after booking a flight is start researching all the different foods I want to taste wherever I am headed. Our trip to Greece was no different. Literally moments after I entered my passport number onto my reservation, I was already flipping through guidebooks in search of what to eat in Athens. Travel and food go hand-in-hand for me, because both allow me to savor and drench myself in a new culture. I was on a mission to sample as much traditional Greek food as I could, and I can’t wait to share the best food I ate in Athens.
Ready to dive right in?
What to Eat in Athens, Greece – A Guide to Traditional Greek Food
Whenever possible, I’ve tried to list both the Greek name along with the English translations so when you’re making your own list of what to eat in Athens, you’ll have an easier go of matching it up in the menus.
Spanakopita (spinach pie) consists of crispy phyllo dough wrapped around spinach, fresh herbs, feta cheese and savory seasonings. A traditional Greek dish, we found this offered at nearly every taverna and restaurant we visited. This dish is usually served as an appetizer, but I thought it was hearty enough to make a lunch out of it. Yum.
Koulouri are circular sesame crusted rings of bread. While they look similar to a bagel, they are not prepared the same way and taste quite different. When bagels are boiled, they are soft and tender. Koulouri are baked, and they have a bit of a crunch to them. A common street food, it’s best to grab one early in the morning when they are still fresh. You can order one plain, stuffed with cheese, or filled with Merenda, the Greek equivalent to Nutella.
Meze refers to a collections of small plates that make up a meal, similar to tapas in Spain. Cold meze traditionally means a collection of dips. My favorite cold meze dips were skordalia (garlic and potato) tirokafteri (spicy feta) tzatziki (yogurt and cucumber) and fava (yellow split pea puree). Meze is a traditional Greek food served at lunch or dinner with fresh pita bread.
Horiatiki is a traditional Greek salad made up of chunks of juicy tomato, cucumber, red onion, green pepper, and olives, topped with a slab of feta cheese, lemon juice, olive oil and fresh herbs. It is SO good and refreshing! It was my little one’s favorite dish, and she literally ordered it at every meal, and proceeded to separate all the ingredients and eat them in categories (starting with all the tomatoes and finishing with the slab of feta cheese.)
Briami is the Greek version of the French ratatouille. It consists of various marinated vegetables, grilled or roasted together with olive oil. Cooking the veggies in this ways really brings out their sweetness, and I can’t tell you how delicious these veggies were. We couldn’t get enough – trust me – this belongs on your “what to eat in Athens” list.
Keftedes are Greek meatballs. This traditional Greek dish is made up of minced lamb, minced beef, or a combination of both, along with onion, breadcrumbs, spices, and fresh herbs. These meatballs are typically dusted with flour and pan-fried until crisp.
Kreatopita is a flaky meat pie. Minced meat, garlic, onion, and tomato sauce are simmered together and nestled between sheets of phyllo dough. I’ve seen it served two ways – either with chunks of feta mixed into the meat filling, or with a bechamel-style white sauce. It is often served with a creamy dipping sauce, similar to skordalia.
Both styles are delicious.
Dolmathakia are stuffed grape leaves. They are SO SO good. This traditional Greek dish is one of my favorites, and I think it should be at the top of your “what should I eat in Athens” list. Typically, dolmathakia are vegetarian – grape leaves stuffed with rice, pine nuts, herbs, and topped with olive oil and lemon juice. You can also find these stuffed with mincemeat and served with a thick lemon sauce. I prefer the vegetarian version, but both are delicious.
Youvetsi is a stewed dish of beef, lamb or veal, served with orzo. This is comfort food at its best. We ordered this dish on our first night and then came back twice more before we left. Chunks of tender, braised meat, al dente orzo, and a decadent gravy made of tomato sauce, red wine and beef stock. We normally try to be civilized – and will scoop a portion from the serving dish onto our individual plates, but after the first night, my little family of three pounced on this dish as soon as our server placed it in front of us, forks in hand! It’s freaking amazing. Definitely order this traditional Greek dish!
Souvlaki is a skewered meat dish – most commonly made with either chicken or pork. Athenians eat the meat directly off the skewers, dipped into the side sauce. The accompanying tomatoes, pita bread, fried potatoes, and lettuce are eaten on the side. The best souvlaki can be found on “souvlaki row” – near Monastiraki Square.
No Athens food guide would be complete without mentioning pastitsio. This baked pasta dish screams “comfort food” and reminds me of a Greek version of baked ziti. It consists of 3 main layers – tubular pasta, layered with a minced meat and tomato sauce, and topped with a bechamel sauce and cheese. The spices used in the meat are a heavenly mix of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice.
I’m a huge fan of eggplant and was excited to try the popular Greek dish, melitzanosalata. I sampled this eggplant salad at every restaurant that offered it and I really fell in love. This is one of my favorite traditional Greek foods! Typically, it’s served as part of a meze but you can always order it as a side dish as well. Flavored with lemon juice, garlic, onion, and parsley, it’s a simple and delicious way to serve eggplant.
Ok, I know what you’re thinking. Potato chips? On an Athens food guide? But hear me out – one of my favorite things to sample in another country is their snack food. There’s something fun about seeing which flavors appeal to different international palates, and I have to say, these oregano flavored chips are a MUST TRY for any Athens foodie. They reminded me a bit of my personal favorite chip flavor – sour cream and onion, but these were even better. We ended up buying another bag.
Bekri meze was my husband’s favorite dish in all of Athens. This stewed dish consists of hunks of pork braised in wine with vegetables and potatoes. It’s full of flavor and delicious served over grilled bread. It’s well spiced and seasoned, and a traditional Greek food served at parties or after hours at the bar. This dish definitely belongs on your Athens foodie “must eat” list.
Ok, so real talk. The gyros in Greece are amazing and super affordable. We pretty much ate them daily. Here’s what surprised me though – in the USA, gyro meat is typically lamb or a mix of beef and lamb. That’s just not a thing in Greece. All over Athens and the islands, I noticed that beef and lamb were never options for the meat. Instead, you could choose between pork and chicken gyro meat, or a vegetarian option. I fell in love with chicken gyros, my husband with the pork, and my six year old would ONLY eat the vegetarian gyros (likely because of the giant slab of feta cheese offered in the veggie ones.) You can’t go to the Athens and not sample a gyro. So delicious and affordable!
Another option for gyros is the “gyro plate”. Sometimes I didn’t want all that pita bread, so I’d opt instead for a platter. Basically a “deconstructed” gryo, with everything served on the side. Equally delicious and affordable!
Another traditional Greek dish is moussaka. You can find both vegetarian and meat varieties of this dish, and both were fantastic! This is a layered dish – similar to lasagna. It consists of thinly sliced eggplant and potato, with a crushed tomato and garlic sauce, minced meat (optional) and a creamy bechamel sauce and sometimes topped with cheese.
Yogurt and Honey:
I’ve never been a huge fan of American yogurt. I blame this on my mom, whose homemade yogurt was what I was used to. Indian style yogurt reminds me of of what I tasted in Athens. It’s a different mouthfeel – creamier, sweeter, and just generally different than what you can get find in the little plastic cups in the refrigerator cases in the US. My daughter ordered this at breakfast daily and I have to say – a bowl of fresh Greek yogurt, drizzled with some local honey, feels more like a dessert than the nutritious meal it is.
This frozen dessert is fantastic! In Greece, you will often be treated to a complimentary dessert after a nice meal. Which is such a sweet gesture and gives you a taste of Greek hospitality. One of my favorite complimentary desserts was kormos. I was intrigued about this dish so I asked a lot of questions. Kormos translates into “tree trunk” or “log” and the dessert is called this because all the ingredients are shaped into a log, frozen, and then sliced off to plate. It has chunks of cookie, walnuts, chocolate, butter, and other yummy bits. We saw it listed on nearly every menu, and even saw it offered as a flavor of ice cream!
And finally, another traditional Greek dish that belongs on every Athens food guide is karydopita. This yummy cake is made from ground walnuts, and soaked in a spiced syrup. Sometimes, you’ll find it also soaked in cognac or rum. I love this dessert because the flavor is so unique – nutty and caramelized, and not overly sweet like many other cakes. It’s perfect to nibble with a steaming cup of coffee.
I hope you enjoyed my Athens Food Guide and found some delicious things to add to your “what to eat in Athens” list. Did I miss listing your favorite dish? Leave me a comment and let me know.
The food scene in Athens is strong and I know you’ll have a delicious time. Happy dining!