Greek food – a backpacker’s perspective

As backpackers, when my wife and I travel we aim for three things with our food choices: 1) to experience as much of the local cuisine as possible, 2) to eat as healthy as realistically possible and 3) low cost.  We found that Greece was a little more challenging with the “low cost” objective than other countries, however, for the most part I think we managed pretty well as we were able to buy a lot of our food at markets and from street vendors.

Breakfasts

When booking hotel/hostel accommodations I always try to find places that offer free breakfasts.  In some countries, breakfast is virtually always included in the price, whereas with others this is rarely the case.  Keep in mind that as backpackers we’re always staying at the most budget friendly accommodations we can find, so we’re not expecting fancy meals.  That said, when we visited Turkey last year, the hotels always came with incredible continental breakfasts, including spreads of fresh bread, yogurt, fruit, tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese, olives, juices and tea.

Unfortunately in Greece the hotel breakfasts were pretty basic.  The few hotels we stayed at that offered free continental breakfasts only included bread, watermelon, tea and maybe hard-boiled eggs.  As such, we often went to a bakery and/or market to pick up our own.  The hotel we stayed at in Perissa, Santorini was right across the street from a great 24 hr bakery and supermarket where we were able to pick up a pastry, cheese pie or spanakopita, fruit and pomegranate juice/tea for only a few euros each.  This pattern would be a recurring theme throughout the trip.

Typical breakfast - Santorini-style

Typical breakfast – Santorini-style

Cheese pie for breakfast on ferry to Santorini

Cheese pie for breakfast on ferry to Santorini

Lunches

In order to stay within our budget and to eat as healthy as possible, we tried our best to avoid restaurant meals at lunch as well.  We found this was a little trickier here than in our previous travels because of the heat (makes it tougher to pack a lunch in the morning and it still be good by the time you’re ready to eat it) and the fact that we seemed to move around quite a bit on this trip, often only staying in one town for a 1-2 days.  Whenever possible though we would pick up foods for lunch at the supermarket (things like bread, cheese, lunch meat, fruit, olives, nuts or other snacks) to eat while we were out.  Other times we would rely on gyros or souvlaki on a pita (1.50 to 3 euros each) and supplement that with fruit and water.  These gyros certainly weren’t the healthiest of options, but they sure were delicious.

Standard gyro - complete with shaved pork, tomatoes, onions, tzatziki & "fried potatoes" aka french fries

Standard gyro – complete with shaved pork, tomatoes, onions, tzatziki & “fried potatoes” (aka french fries)

Sandwich I bought from street vendor in Athens for 1.50 euros - french baguette, with meat, feta and tomatoes

Sandwich I bought from street vendor in Athens for 1.50 euros – french baguette, with meat, feta and tomatoes.

Hania Saturday street market

Hania Saturday street market on Crete

Dinners

Dinner is where we often splurged.  In addition to our rather extravagant dinner/cooking class at Nichteri restaurant on Santorini, dinner time was our opportunity to really try the local cuisine.  And to do this we had to eat at restaurants.  I was able to sample many traditional greek dishes including – greek salad, fried saganaki cheese, moussaka, briam (potatoes, zucchini, eggplant and cheese baked as a casserole), stuffed tomatoes, pastitsio (baked pasta dish), grilled lamb and souvlaki.  Of course these meals were a little more expensive, but we tried to alternate cheaper and more upscale restaurants, so we didn’t completely blow our food budget.  We also often had wine with our meals, as it was so cheap (and good) – only 3 euros for half a litre in some places!

Aside from Nichteri, our other favorite restaurants on this trip were, Ntomatini (Perissa, Santorini), Portes (Hania Crete) and Taverna To Paramithi (Kalampaka).  All highly recommended if you are in the area.

Here are a few pics of the foods that we sampled:

Fried saganaki

Fried saganaki

Santorini Salad - similar to Greek salad, except also comes with crutons, capers, caper berries and caper leaves

Santorini Salad – similar to Greek salad, except also comes with crutons, capers, caper berries and caper leaves

Cold meze plate, with stuffed vine leaves, and various spreads, veggies & olives

Cold meze plate, with stuffed vine leaves, and various spreads, veggies & olives

Stuffed tomatoes & zucchini

Stuffed tomatoes & zucchini

Briam

Briam

Pork Cutlets with Vinsanto sauce and Fava Bean puree

Pork Cutlets with Vinsanto sauce and Fava Bean puree

Most dinners also came with complementary ouzo or desert wine and sometimes even a small desert afterwards.  With our first meal, I mistakenly did the ouzo as a shot, rather than sip it, which is custom.  The server got a kick out of that!  It did seem that the further we got from Athens, the stronger the ouzo got.  I’ve never been that big on straight liquor, but there were a couple of places where we found the ouzo to be undrinkable – it must me an acquired taste!

After dinner ouzo with small custard tart

After dinner ouzo with small custard tart

….And of course, you can’t visit a new country without trying the local brews, in this case Alfa, Mythos & Fix.

AlfaMythosFix

Overall impressions

So I think we ate pretty well on this trip.  Aside from the gyros, which we both tired of by the end of the trip, we never got sick of eating the food in Greece as we have in some other countries we’ve visited.  A few things that surprised me was how common french fries were (basically served with every meat or fish dish + on gyros) and the lack of beans and fish/seafood (although perhaps this was because these were often the priciest options on the menus, so I ended up chosing other foods).

Food ended up costing us about 30-40 euros/day on most days.  Definitely not what I’d consider cheap (more expensive than Egypt anyways!), but about the best we could have done.

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