The Greek diet is rich in tasty Mediterranean flavours – think garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, herbs and tomatoes. Meals are built around freshly-caught fish and seafood, tender grilled or barbecued meats – and cheese. (Did we mention the cheese?)
You may not know it, but Greek wine is also on the way up, and there are some fine bottles just waiting to be uncorked over a leisurely lunch or dinner. And of course, there’s ouzo. Lots and lots of ouzo – although we’d steer clear of sinking too many shots if you want to remember your holiday.
Here’s our pick of what to eat on whichever of these captivating Greek islands you find yourself…
Crete is Greece’s biggest island and its status as a foodie haven is rock solid. Lamb is a staple dish, and Cretans typically roast it in olive oil and oregano, with a generous twist of lemon. You’ll also find lamb broth used as a meaty stock in ‘gamopilafo’ – a creamy rice dish often served at celebrations. Cretan goats’ milk cheeses are renowned too, with most villages having their own variety. Try ‘graviera’, a delicious hard cheese, or herby feta – typically served alongside the fattest, juiciest olives, or stuffed in spicy bell peppers. Cheese pies – ‘kaltsounia’ – are a popular treat, too, especially when finished off with local honey.
If you want to stay in Crete, the pretty harbour town of Elounda makes a good foodie base with its selection of little tavernas. It’s also home to the award-winning Blue Palace Resort and Spa, which has four great restaurants. One of the most popular is the Blue Door tavern, a converted former fisherman’s house which has a beachfront setting. Specialities include fresh fish cooked over an open grill, served with classic meze – like tzatziki and hummus.
A jewel in the Ionian sea, Corfu is one of the larger Greek islands, and it has a varied eating scene to match. Just as it is all over Greece, ‘souvlaki’ is a big deal here, and you’ll find these meaty skewers wherever you go. Pork and lamb are most popular, but you’ll often find versions crammed with veggies too.
Another must-eat in Corfu is ‘sofrito’ – tender beef or veal cooked in garlic, parsley and wine. Then there’s ‘stifado’ a meaty stew with baby onions and tomatoes, which is mopped up with chunky bread. You might encounter the local fish soup too, which sometimes packs a spicy punch.
If you’re searching for a hotel with a strong foodie set-up, check out the adults-only Sensimar Grand Mediterraneo Resort and Spa by Atlantica, which wins rave reviews for its culinary offering. Vertigo restaurant offers gourmet dining on a stunning cliffside, while beachfront option Kulinarium wows with its Greek fusion food.
What Santorini lacks in size, it more than makes up for in food. The chic little Aegean island has carved out its own kind of cuisine, with specialities including ‘domatokefedes’ – small parcels of deep-fried feta (or ‘chloro’ as it’s known here) with cherry tomatoes and a minty tang which will have you reaching for seconds. Fava beans grow in plentiful supply here too, and Santorini folk love to serve them mashed up with onion, olives, butter and a sprinkle of paprika.
Rapidly gaining momentum is Santorini’s reputation as a quality wine producer. One of the most popular tipples is Assirtiko, a dry, citrussy white number that’s a superb match for both meat and fish dishes. If red grapes are more your bag, try Mavrotragano, another local vine which produces rich redcurrant flavours. If you’re interested in wines, don’t miss the Boutari winery, one of the most highly prized estates on the island.
Moussaka is the best known of all Greek foods and you’ll find it at tavernas on every island.
A classic mixture of lamb, aubergine, potato and tomato encased in a bechamel sauce, the dish reportedly goes back as far as the 10th century when it was first said to have been eaten by the rulers of Baghdad. Many restaurants serve it with chips, though a green salad and some fresh mint work just as well!
As the most visited island in Greece, Rhodes feeds a heck of a lot of Brit holidaymakers. Around 270,000 per year, in fact.
Meze is hugely popular here, and you’ll find an overwhelming choice at tavernas across the isle. ‘Pitaroudia’ is one famed dish, made by frying up chickpeas, potato, onions and mint. Featuring on any decent meze menu, ‘dolmades’ perfectly sum up the freshness of Greek food – and you’ll find a diverse range of fillings stuffed into these rolled cabbage leaves. Minced meat, aubergine, peppers, tomatoes are often the starring ingredients, and on Rhodes they’re often accompanied with an egg and lemon sauce.
Wild asparagus grows in abundance too, and the excellent local Rhodian honey is said to have healing properties. Meanwhile, seafood fans can tuck into a bounty of octopus, while lots of restaurants serve up fresh fish marinated in oil, vinegar and rosemary.
If you fancy renting a villa on Rhodes, you could don an apron and try your hand at cooking the local produce yourself.
Also known as Zakynthos, the beautiful island of Zante blends lush, green landscape with rocky coves and vibrant resorts. Its inhabitants are proud of their signature dish, a rabbit concoction called ‘spetsofai.’ Although not to everyone’s taste, the meat is stuffed with creamy cheese and cooked in red wine and herbs.
Locals may also insist you try ‘ladotyri’, a tangy oily cheese often served as meze or in casseroles. In addition, sardines, red mullet, bream, bass and swordfish make up the island’s fish quota. Although dessert does not feature very highly on most Greek menus, Zante is known for ‘baklava,’ a rich pastry that’s layered with filo and stuffed with chopped nuts, all held together with oozy syrup or honey.
Author: Ali Jacobs
A steakhouse and a Greek taverna account for half of the à la carte restaurants at the Blue Palace, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa in Crete.
A Mediterranean cliffside à la carte is the standout restaurant at the TUI BLUE Atlantica Grand Med Resort.
Atrium Platinum Spa & Resort in Rhodes comes with four à la carte restaurants, including a Greek and an Italian place.
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