Greek Food is probably not what you think

Most everyone has had Greek food. Sharp feta, tangy black olives, crisp sheets of filo all come to mind, with lots of olive oil. I found all of those things in both Athens and Santorini, but they were not at all what I expected. First of all, I encountered none of the heavy cream sauces that characterize so many Greek dishes in American restaurants. Secondly, everything was exceptionally fresh and simple because the ingredients were so good.

They brought us this at the end of an hours long meal featuring what seemed like thousands of local delicacies. Most of my companions were so stuffed that they had to forgo this delicious ending to the meal. That only meant that there was more for me to eat as they watched on with a mixture of horror and envy.
Another difference was the in way that olive oil is utilized. It is seemingly omnipresent, but is never heavy or dominates. Almost everything seems light and gives the impression that eating all day long is a possibility. In fact, if our group’s experiences were anywhere close to typical, it very well may be possible. Considering how much I ate in Greece, plus the utter garbage that were our only options on our travel days there and back, and the fact that I didn’t hit a gym the whole time that I was gone, I feel lucky to have only put on 5 pounds. Maybe I will get lucky and find that the total is even lower due to all the salt ingested in the almost 20 hour trip home. Regardless, the amount of food and wine consumed should have resulted in a 10 pound gain, and would have if I had eaten the same amount in a typical American Greek dining establishment.

During our first real meal in Greece I was seated next to Sofia, one of our hosts from Wines of Santorini, who told me that I was about to discover all of the things described above. It wasn’t that I did not believe her, but some things just have to be experienced to be believed. Two more things that fall under that heading are the tomatoes of Santorini and the wines made from the island’s Assyrtiko grape. Much more on the wines will be forthcoming, but I will try to describe the tomatoes knowing full well that it is an entirely futile exercise.

The soil of Santorini is rocky and dusty, the result of the volcano that has both created and destroyed the entire region. The weather is hot and it rarely rains. As a result, just like the vines that produce the grapes, the tomato vines struggle for existence. This results in fruit that is truly remarkable. Small and intensely flavored, these tomatoes are sweet and tangy, and completely unlike the tasteless, mealy varieties available in most supermarkets. We were even served a delicious desert made by baking them down to caramelize and intensify the natural sugars. I suspect that it will be a long time before I enjoy a supermarket tomato again, if ever.

At the risk of appearing to becoming a photoblog, here are some of the amazing things we were served in Greece. No photo can do this incredible food justice, but I hope they can give you at least an inkling of what real Greek cuisine is all about. Kali Orexi!

Click on any of the photos to see the full-sized images. I suggest donning a bib or apron first if you are prone to drooling.

Tomato Salad

A tomato salad with delicious, tangy, fresh feta cheese, onions, green peppers and olives.

Amazingly fresh shrimp, simply grilled with vegetables and a little lemon.

These are some delicious sautéed local greens with a little olive oil and lemon. Since I can’t find the name of them in my notes they shall remain “sautéed greens” unless Sofia reads this and tells me what her favorite dish is called again. If not, they were delicious with or without a name.

I had never eaten caper leaves prior to this trip. They are very delicious, as are the fresh capers that grow all over the island. In this salad they are joined by fresh, creamy, tangy goat cheese, cucumbers, and the aforementioned Santorini tomatoes. This is the kind of dish that could almost make being a vegetarian tolerable. Not quite, but close. I’ve already tried to describe to tomatoes, but the cucumbers also deserve mentioning. Try to remember what watermelon tasted like on the Fourth of July when you were a kid. That comes fairly close.

I had to kill and eat this poor little thing right after this photo was taken. Oh please, quit judging, you would have done the same damn thing if you were in my shoes.

The restaurant makes this spectacular cinnamon-flavored ice cream in-house. It is covered with a caramel sauce and served with the delicious local Vinsanto, which will be discusses in great detail later. They brought us this at the end of an hours long meal featuring what seemed like thousands of local delicacies. Most of my companions were so stuffed that they had to forgo this delicious ending to the meal. That only meant that there was more for me to eat as they watched on with a mixture of horror and envy. I did my best not to make too many piggy noises.

And finally, our new friend Tammy demonstrates the look that real Greek food will put on your face. I wish my face was doing that right now.

  • Greekfoodlover

    Horta is probably the unnamed green dish you describe, very tasty and healthy!

    • Thanks! I believe that is what it was called. :)

  • Yes, the unnamed green dish is horta (for the English speaking community), χόρτα (or αγριόχορτα for the Greeks) or chorta (for the rest of the world). The initial consonant is pronounced as the “J” in the Spanish Jerez. It is not one particular type of (wild) greens, but made from whatever grows on mountain slopes or road sides at the time of the year. Very tasty and healthy indeed.

    • Thanks! It was my first time having it and I thought it was delicious.

    • Well, “hórta” is a generic term for greens, and it means just that: greens. But, when you want to buy or order a specific variety, you have to know the name of the particular “hórta”. In this case, and judging by the look of the plate, I guess it is “vlíta” (as mentioned above). Take the word of a Greek native!

  • hahahahaha love love love this photo of tammy.

    and the 5 pounds of weight was definitely worth it – don't worry, once we stop over stuffing ourselves three times a day we should be able to get back in the swing.

    I bought some tomatoes from the store… ya they just aren't the same, and these were the gourmet tomatoes.

    good thing I've got lots of caper leaves and capers here in the office for my salads ;)

    • I had a tomato here on Saturday. It was disgusting! I'm glad George gave us some capers and leaves before we left, I had some of those last night. Not disgusting at all! ;)

  • Sofia Perpera

    The general term for the greens we so like to eat is horta and there are different kinds of horta. What you had the first night you were in Athens were called Vlyta.

    • Thank you, Sofia! Do you know if those were sautéed or steamed? I should have paid more attention, and I can't tell from the photo.

      • Sofia Perpera

        You are very welcome!
        They were actually boiled. When they serve them they just add olive oil and lemon or vinegar.

  • Tammy :)

    As the girl making that ridiculous face in this photo, I would too wish I was still making it. Even if it meant further photos being taken of said ridiculous face.

    • That is not a ridiculous face at all! You just look like you were very intently enjoying your food. That food deserved that face. Anyone NOT making such a face would be ridiculous in my book! ;)

  • I assume you got to try some wines in Greece? Did you stop by any Wineries on Santorini? I think I was at Santo Wines, but I can not really tell you much other than the view was great, because I was not fully awake when the tour took us there (8 am!).

    • Hi Adam,

      We did indeed try some wine. In fact, we tried wine from about 10 a.m. until past midnight just about every day that we were there. By the time we eventually finish talking about all of the wine we tasted in Greece you are going to be as exhausted as we were when we got home on Friday. Better rest up now! ;)

      We visited Santo too, so keep an eye out for some of their wines being discussed later.

  • Wow, what a great culinary tour, and the shrimp does look great!

    Bon appetit!

  • Wow, what a great culinary tour, and the shrimp does look great!

    Bon appetit!

  • About the “sautéed greens”: I suspect you ate “vlíta”. They are mild-tasting, in contrast to more often than not bitter (still delicious) wild-grown greens.

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