What Greeks Eat

greek salad kytheraThe traditional Greek diet served as the prototype of the Mediterranean Food Pyramid (along with Southern Italy) as it is known today. Olive oil is the main ingredient, present in almost every single dish. Greeks consume large amounts of olive oil and have the highest consumption per person in the world. The traditional Greek diet was mostly vegetarian, it was most likely due to the fact that the average Greek couldn’t afford to eat meat very often. One other factor was religion; there are over 180 days of fasting a year for Greek Orthodox Christians.

Here I share what the Greeks ate traditionally, however while many Greeks still eat like this (I am one of them), many do not (see last paragraph).

The majority of traditional meals are vegetable stews/casseroles that are called lathera (or ladera), which translates to “with oil” from the Greek word for oil lathi (ladi). Vegetables such as green beans, eggplant, okra, and peas are prepared with tomato, onion, garlic, and various herbs and spices, consumed as a main dish together with feta cheese and bread. Salads are always seasonal. In the summer a simple tomato-cucumber salad that may also include onions and green peppers and in the winter cabbage with carrot or seasonal horta, wild greens, boiled and consumed with olive oil, lemon, feta cheese, and bread.

Legumes are also a popular dish traditionally consumed at least twice a week. Beans such as lentils or broad beans are prepared with tomato, onion, and olive oil, and also accompanied with cheese and bread.

Olive oil is a main ingredient in the Greek kitchen. It is used in cooked dishes from casseroles to meat to salads as well as desserts.  Butter traditionally was used by the more affluent.

Savory Pies.
Pites, vegetable pies are also popular, especially in northern Greece, because they lasted a long time without refrigeration and provided a way to use any leftover vegetables or other ingredients. The most popular are spinach pies, cheese pies, and leek pies, which are very popular snacks for the modern Greek.

Bread and cheese are present at every single meal. An alternative to bread is the paximadi, which originally was old bread rebaked.

Μeat was not consumed very often, usually only during celebrations. Popular choices include lamb, goat, chicken, pork, and veal in northern Greece. The meat is usually prepared roasted in the oven with lemon, garlic, and oregano, or as a stew in tomato sauce. Meat is almost always accompanied by roasted potatoes.

For mainland Greece, fish was mainly consumed in a cured or salted form, whereas on the islands there were more fresh fish available.

Dairy was mainly consumed in the form of yogurt or cheese.  Greeks are among the highest consumers of cheese, thanks to feta cheese, which accompanies almost every dish.

Traditional sweets include Greek spoon sweets (a type of fruit preserve), olive oil based cakes and cookies, as well as sweets with syrup and honey. Fruits were also consumed as a snack or after a meal.

Herbs and Spices
It is important to note that the herbs and spices play a very important role in the traditional foods and dishes of Greece, the most commonly used are garlic, lemon, onion, oregano, parsley, laurel, mint, dill, cinnamon, cumin, and allspice.

What are Greeks eating today?
The current Greek diet has drastically changed in the past 30 years. Reports are noting that Greeks are consuming more calories and saturated fat. The overall prevalence of obesity is 22.5%, while that of overweight is 35.2%. This may be due to several factors: increased income, rise in the number of supermarkets, working women having less time to cook, eating out more often in fast-food restaurants, less exercise. Urbanization and economic growth led Greeks away from the traditional Mediterranean diet adapting a more westernized style of eating. Today highly processed food and fast food has unfortunately become a very important element in the Greek diet. The good news is that even with these new dietary habits, Greeks are once agin embracing their traditional diet and cuisine and there is a strong movement of promoting these traditional eating habits.

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  1. I have just recently joined Olive Tomato and purchased the book and looking forward to implementing the Mediterranean diet for my health and wellness. One question is what is the best tahini to purchase, brand and type? (hulled, not hulled, roared etc). Thank you

  2. Are those caper leaves in the salad photo? Sooo good! Wish we could get them in the states. Spent months in Rhodes, Greece. Love your website. I have changes to this way of life the past year and feel healthier and lost 60#! Thank you for the help!

  3. Hi Elena! I love your cookbook! In the front it talks about Greeks eating at least 4 cups of veggies a day then says they eat about 2/3 servings of greens a week. In these counts do you count greens in the 4 cups of vegetables?

    Also if the serving of eggs is up to 4 times per week does this include the eggs that most put in their pies? Thanks!

  4. My husband and I are empty-nesters (we brought up five!) and have discovered that we love Greek food. I’m fascinated by horta, and enjoy the stories people tell of their yiayia making them stop the car so she could go out in a field and gather wild greens. It strikes me that knowing what plants to pick is probably a thing one learns at home from one’s mother, and it’s not a good idea for an inexperienced person to prowl the roadside pulling up weeds to eat. Can you tell me, please, where I could learn about the right kinds of horta to collect? Not that my husband would touch it if I put it on the table and said it was wild greens I’d picked in a vacant lot. He’s from a lovely, kind, cultured family but quite conventional, and has always regarded my experiments with a doubtful eye. Would braising or sauteeing a mixture of strongly-flavored greens like kale and escarole yield the same kind of taste, do you think? He’d be happier if they came from a store or a garden.

  5. I have heard that olive oil needs to come from one place as some of the fake ones have multiple countries of origin. Hope that helps.

  6. Elena,
    I’m 72 years old this month and am in one of those get better half way houses after open heart surgery where they replaced a heart valve. I’ve been subscriber to Olive Tomato for a while now and was slowly implementing the Greek diet into my life style (better late than never I guess) and plan on continuing once they let me out of this place on the 12th. My question is, I’ve done some tests to determine what the best olive oil I can purchase at my local grocery stores. I’m by far not wealthy, so my options are limited. I shop at Safeway and Fry’s in the US plus I have purchased some foods on Amazon. Is there a brand of Olive Oil that you could recommend due to my limited resources?
    Thank You

    1. Hi there Dominick,
      California Olive Ranch is a good brand and available from Fry’s. Watch out for Amazon. My first COR oil was from them and significantly more than at Fry’s. Also Lucini. Look fir the “everyday” type for both. They are good for cooking, vinaigrette and even a drizzle over your soup and humuus.

  7. Thank you for such helpful information for a beginner! I was wondering where rabbit fits in to the mediterranean diet? I know when I visited Greece, many of the tavernas had rabbit on offer but it isn’t really mentioned on any sites as far as foods that fit into this diet. Would it be considered a red meat, to be eaten sparingly?

    1. Hi Lynne, You are welcome! Actually yes rabbit is a meat prepared in the Mediterranean diet. Many areas of Greece have specialty dishes using rabbit or hare, although it was not consumed often. It is considered a white meat, it is fairly low in fat and also a source of omega-3 fatty acids.

  8. Could I ask you please about the photo? Are those pickled olive leaves on the top of the food? I know they are supposed to be healthy but I’ve never seen them as part of a meal, though I’ve seen them sold to be made into a tea or as a supplement.

    1. Hi Norma,
      No it it is not olive leaves, it is called kritamo in Greek, they grow near the sea and in between cliffs and they are pickled here. In english it is called rock samphire or sea fennel.

  9. I can’t seem to find information on the website about what type of potatoes to use for the potato dishes. In my opinion the taste drastically changes depending on what type is used. Just curious. Happy to be trying the traditional diet, and happy to have found a great source of information!
    Thank you!

    1. My Yaiyai used brown potatoes so I am unsure if it really matters. They potato takes on the flavors of the juices usually. How I miss her cooking!!