What to eat on a Greek Island

Zucchini sticks, beets and tzatziki (garlic -greek yogurt dip)
Zucchini sticks, beets and tzatziki (garlic -greek yogurt dip)

As promised I am sharing my dining experiences while vacationing with my family on the Cycladic island of Paros. Generally I am against rules that dictate what you should eat while on vacation, heck you are on vacation, you should be able to enjoy things you like and try foods you may never have a chance to try again! Unfortunately, many people place rigid rules on themselves even when on vacation. For example, at the hotel we were staying, a  young couple, obviously very fit, would come to breakfast with their big protein shakes every morning, have a couple of fruit and that was it. Too bad because they missed out on some wonderful local Greek breakfast foods.

On the other hand, many vacations are centered around food: hotels and cruises with all inclusive buffets, the whole vacation appears to be just about eating, not very healthy or fun either. So make sure you enjoy the food, especially if you are visiting Greece, because it is truly a unique experience. Just don’t waste your calories on average foods you can find anywhere like soft drinks, ice cream, crackers, chocolate bars, grilled meats etc.

Having said this, when I am on vacation, I will try and choose things I won’t find easily somewhere else or things I most likely will not make on my own. I certainly do not go on a diet when I am on vacation. In Greece, it isn’t too hard to eat healthy and delicious at the same time. And you can see why: nothing is boring, even the most bland vegetable can be transformed into a delicious meal.

Tomatokeftedes-Tomato patties made with tomato and feta, served with greek yogurt
Tomatokeftedes-Tomato patties made with tomato and feta, served with greek yogurt

Basically, when I order, I try to balance things out: lots of vegetables, maybe a fried appetizer and some dips. With Greek food this is easy; plenty of vegetables to choose from, some are raw, some are cooked and some are fried. Yes fried. For example, we very much enjoyed tomato patties –tomatokeftedes, a traditional dish on the islands, although it was fried, the filling was mostly tomato with some feta cheese and since I don’t fry that much at home, this was a good opportunity to try them. I also want to note that a Spanish study that was published earlier this year showed that heart health is not affected when frying with olive oil as long as it is done within a Mediterranean style diet and the olive oil has not been re-used.

Protein rich dish: Octopus cooked in wine sauce with fava (yellow split pea puree)
Grilled whole fish served with olive oil and lemon dressing

Protein: Since we were on an island we chose seafood and fish. We asked around, did some homework and visited a couple of taverns that had their own fishing boats, which meant that they could offer fresh fish seafood. The fish though was not the center of our meal, but more of a side dish. When we talk about fish, it doesn’t have to be some huge expensive fish, a few medium sized fish is just fine. And remember, the cheap sardines and anchovies are the ones that have all the omega-3 fatty acids. If you are looking to get some souvlaki, ask around, just because you are in Greece doesn’t mean that every single souvlatzidiko has good meat.

Dessert in Greece: Seasonal fruit, on the house

Dessert: We had fruit that was usually offered on the house at most restaurants we went to. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, traditionally Greeks do not eat dessert after a meal but rather on a separate occasion. So a good idea is to go ahead and eat the fruit that is offered and have a dessert another time, but make it special; for example when I did spot a good zaharoplasteio (patisserie) we grabbed some warm rice pudding and bought some wonderful Parian almond sweets and cinnamon cookies made with olive oil to take back home.

Local Sweets

Snacks: Since we spent most of the time on the beach, I would grab some peaches from the breakfast buffet, cut them and take them with. I also made some sort of trail mix with dried fruit and cereal. Of course we would order the occasional grilled cheese or tost as they call it here in Greece. On some occasions we stopped by a bakery and bought some local pites or breads. In Paros we sampled some olive bread made with whole wheat flour.

Marinated anchovies with zucchini

Alcohol: Depending on the mood and the place we would mostly drink wine. The house wine at most restaurants is decent and cheap, and you can taste it first and order as much as you want 1/2 a liter, 1/4 of a liter etc.  If you decide to order ouzo, please do not just drink it like you would a beer or a cocktail, it needs food to go with it; order some small marinated fish, some dips and a bit of bread.

Photos by Elena Paravantes

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