7 Essential Greek Dishes Everyone Needs to Try

You have not lived until you've eaten loukoumades.

<p>Oksana Kiian / Getty Images</p>

Oksana Kiian / Getty Images

There are a plethora of reasons to travel to Greece (we’re looking at you, azure waters, white sand beaches, and ancient monuments), but the best, and perhaps most important, is to try the nation’s incredible food.

As a kid growing up in a Greek American household, I knew I had something special going. When my friends were eating plain mashed potatoes during the holidays, we got to indulge in homemade spanakopita, buttered to perfection with each crispy layer. Feta and stuffed dolmades (made with grape leaves my mother harvested straight from our garden) were a regular feature on our table. I’d happily invite you all over for a taste, but really, you should plot your own trip to either the mainland or the islands to try each delicious bite.

Even if you can’t fly all the way there, you could attempt to make some at home, or visit your local Greek restaurant and order like a pro. Here are seven delicious Greek foods to try at least once in your life.

Souvlaki

There are sandwiches, and then there’s souvlaki. As one of the more popular Greek dishes, it’s something you’ll easily find no matter where in the nation you visit, and it's pretty easy to recreate yourself. The wrap is typically made with a marinated meat like pork, chicken, beef, or lamb grilled on a skewer, then placed in a warm pita or over a salad, smothered in tzatziki sauce, and if you’d like, it can come stacked with a few French fries, too.

Related: 24 Greek Recipes to Master

It’s often considered fast food, so it’s an easy one to grab and go. But just because it’s a low-brow dish doesn’t mean it's basic. As researcher George Katsos, the managing director of the DoitinAthens, shared with the Greek Reporter, the food may date back some 4,000 years. “According to [archeological] finds, the inhabitants of Greece are one of the first people in the world who sliced and roasted several types of meats almost four millennia ago, applying a new cooking method to the traditional boiling process of the Neolithic Age,” Katsos said.

Saganaki

Photo by Cedric Angeles / Prop Styling by Stephanie Bohn
Photo by Cedric Angeles / Prop Styling by Stephanie Bohn

Saganaki could rank among the best appetizers on Earth, and it’s super easy to make yourself. "Saganaki" is an all-encompassing word for foods made in a specific kind of dish (and actually comes from the Turkish word sahan, which translates to “copper dish”), but its most delicious iteration is certainly the fried cheese. It typically begins with a sturdy cheese (think halloumi, graviera, kefalograviera, or goat’s milk feta cheese) dredged in flour, then fried in a small frying pan to ensure crispy brown edges. Then, the rest is up to you. Some restaurants in Greece serve it topped with honey and nuts, and others leave it plain, but no matter which way you slice it, it’s fried cheese, so it’s obviously delicious.

Spanakopita

<p>Denis Karpenkov / Getty Images</p>

Denis Karpenkov / Getty Images

Another throwback classic in Greek cuisine is spanakopita, that delicious, flaky treat you may know as spinach pie. Greeks have been making the dish for centuries, layering phyllo dough with butter or olive oil and intermittently filling the layers with a mixture of spinach, scallions, feta cheese, and eggs before browning it all in the oven. It’s usually served as an appetizer, but you won't get in trouble for making it your entire meal.

Dolmades

Photo by Eva Kolenko / Food Styling by Carrie Purcell / Prop Styling by Jillian Knox
Photo by Eva Kolenko / Food Styling by Carrie Purcell / Prop Styling by Jillian Knox

Just writing out the word “dolmades” made my mouth water; it's a true Greek delight. The dish usually begins with grape leaves, laid flat and ready to be stuffed. The stuffing typically includes rice and herbs, and sometimes can include minced meat, so be careful if you’re a vegetarian ordering the dish. Though people can get inventive with their dolma recipes, just check out this halibut-stuffed version or this stuffed kale with bulgur tabbouleh option.

Moussaka

<p>Vladan Milisavljevic / Getty Images</p>

Vladan Milisavljevic / Getty Images

Moussaka is the go-to when you need a heartier Greek meal. It’s an ultra-traditional dish, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a restaurant in Greece that doesn’t serve some iteration of it. Usually, moussaka is made with eggplant and potatoes, along with either beef or lamb. It’s then usually finished with a creamy béchamel sauce, but you can also find plenty of vegetarian versions of it around the country, or easily make it sans-meat at home, too. Think of it like a casserole. Go ahead and play around with the ingredients to add or subtract whatever you wish.

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Avgolemono

Avgolemono is a soup that gives me mixed emotions. Happy, because it’s delicious. Sad, because it was always the thing my mom made when I wasn’t feeling well as a kid. It's rather like chicken soup, made with chicken broth, egg yolks, and lemon juice, as well as rice and sometimes shredded chicken. The soup is easy to make, super satisfying on a cold day, and ideal if you have the sniffles.

Loukoumades

Don’t worry. Greece has plenty of sweet treats too, including its best option, loukoumades. Just like the other dishes on this list, this dessert treat dates back, well, forever, because ancient Greeks loved a good sugar rush, too. They are super simple to make; think of them as the center of a donut hole. It’s just a bit of fried dough, which is then smothered in honey and sometimes topped with cinnamon, nuts, or even more sugar. BRB, going to call my mom for the recipe right now.