MEET THE MEDITERRANEAN CUISINE
The most characteristic and ancient element of Greek cuisine is olive oil, which is used in most dishes. It is produced from the olive trees prominent throughout the region, and adds to the distinctive taste of Greek food. The most representative Greek dishes that can be found throughout the country, and also in Spetses are :
A mainstay of any Greek meal are classic dips such as tzatziki (yogurt, cucumber and garlic), melitzanosalata (aubergine), and fava (creamy split pea purée). But the delectable taramasalata (fish roe dip) is a must. This creamy blend of pink or white fish roe, with either a potato or bread base, is best with a drizzle of virgin olive oil or a squeeze of lemon.
Olives and olive oil
Greeks have been cultivating olives for millennia – some even say that Athena gave an olive tree to the city of Athens, thus winning its favour. Greek meals are accompanied by local olives, some cured in a hearty sea salt brine, others like wrinkly throubes, eaten uncured from the tree. Similarly, olive oil, the elixir of Greece, is used liberally in cooking and salads, and drizzled over most dips and dishes. Many tavernas use their own oil.
Each region in Greece – in fact, each household – has its variation on dolmades, whether it’s the classic vine leaf parcel, or hollowed out vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers and courgettes, stuffed and baked in the oven. The stuffing often consists of minced meat with long-grain rice, or vegetarian versions boast rice flavoured with heady combinations of herbs like thyme, dill, fennel and oregano.
Variations on moussaka are found throughout the Mediterranean and the Balkans, but the iconic Greek oven-bake is based on layers of sautéed aubergine, minced lamb, fried puréed tomato, onion, garlic and spices like cinnamon and allspice, a bit of potato, then a final fluffy topping of béchamel sauce and cheese.
Settle down at a seaside taverna and eat as locals have since ancient times. Fish and calamari fresh from the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas are incredibly tasty and cooked with minimum fuss – grilled whole and drizzled with ladholemono (a lemon and oil dressing). Flavoursome smaller fish such as barbouni (red mullet) and marida (whitebait) are ideal lightly fried.
Along harbours, octopuses are hung out to dry like washing – one of the iconic images of Greece. Grilled or marinated, they make a fine meze (appetiser), or main course stewed in wine.
Feta & cheeses
When in Greece, fresh cheese is a joy. Ask behind market counters for creamy and delicious feta kept in big barrels of brine (nothing like the type that comes in plastic tubs in markets outside of Greece). Or, sample graviera, a hard golden-white cheese, perfect eaten cubed, or fried as saganaki. At bakeries you’ll find tyropita (cheese pie) while at tavernas, try salads like Cretan dakos, topped with a crumbling of mizithra, a soft, white cheese.
Greeks are master of charcoal-grilled and spit-roasted meats. Souvlaki, chunks of skewered pork, is still Greece’s favourite fast food, served on chopped tomatoes and onions in pitta bread with lashings of tzatziki. Gyros, too, is popular served in the same way. At the taverna, local free-range lamb and pork dominate, though kid goat is also a favourite.