Dining Out Greek

Eating out in Greece! So, there you are, in a beautiful restaurant with an ocean view and a few temple ruins nearby thrown in for good measure. You fling open the menu, and surprise! It’s in four languages, including English, but what does it mean? “Barbs of Meat” – okay, probably skewers of, well, meat. “Sauteed Sea Creature” – maybe a little alarming, but still definitely seafood. But “moussaka”? Relax. It’s not moosemeat. And “pastitsio” is made out of pasta, not paste. And while “galactobouriko” may sound like something from outside our local galaxy, this custard dessert merely tastes heavenly.

Cover Charge for A Cover-up

While most people are familiar with the term “cover charge”, it’s usually applied to trendy nightclubs. Right? Wrong. In Greece, the “Cover Charge” is exactly that – you pay for the table to be covered, i.e. prepared for your use. As soon as the waiter sweeps up to the table with paper placemats or a tablecloth (or even if they arrive less dramatically, or are already placed on the table) you owe the cover charge, which includes that nice basket of bread. Technically, this practice is now illegal, but as far as I can tell, it is proceeding along unabated in most places catering to tourists.

And is this charge exorbitant? I recall one companion of mine who practically had to be revived at the thought of paying what was then 100 drachmas for the privilege of a placemat and bread sticks


– but hold on, everyone -that was only about fifty cents, depending on the exchange rate. Most places the charge runs about a Euro. Don’t bother trying to dispute it. It’s just the way things are in Greek restaurants.

Tipping in Greece

Now, on to tipping. Greek restaurants include a service charge, and this is in fact just that, a charge for the service. Additional tipping is not “necessary” -but change from the bill is usually left on the table. By the by, it’s not customary for Greeks to tip taxi drivers, but tourists are sneered at if they don’t and your luggage may bounce a bit as it’s thrown at the curb.

Safe Bets on Food in Greece

Soup – Avgolemono. This is a pleasant chicken soup with lemon and rice.

Mezes or Mezedes – Assorted appetizers, such as a selection of olives, and some taramosalata (caviar spread, generally pretty mild flavored), tzaziki (a cool, creamy cucumber and garlic dip), and/or hummous (flavorful mashed garbanzo bean dip). You may also find cold dolmadakia, stuffed grape leaves filled with rice and tomato, which as meat-filled dolmades do double duty as an entree. Tyropita and spanakopita are cheese and spinach pies.

Souvlaki – Skewers of chicken, lamb, beef, or, most commonly, pork, grilled and often served with tzatziki sauce. Simple fare, generally delicious, occasionally tough. Better places have it roasting on a huge skewer, and that’s usually a tender delight.

Moussaka– A layered primarily vegetable casserole, often made with eggplant, sometimes with the addition or substitution of squash or potatoes or other vegetables. Topped with Bechamel sauce, a rich fluffy cheese flavored custardy sauce usually forming a high-calorie layer about an inch thick. But it is delicious.

Pastitsio – Similar to the above, only made with macaroni and ground beef, vaguely similar to lasagna, but without the tomatoes. Usually a safe bet for kids.

Briam or Imam – Generally a baked, all-vegetable dish.

Stuffed Tomatoes or Stuffed Bell Peppers – Nearly universal dish, especially savory in Greece, great for the timid eater. It will taste pretty much like home no matter where you come from. The plain little cafes directly across from the gate to Knossos on the islanf od Crete offer excellent examples of this simple standby.

Tacos, Dakos, Dacos – Nothing to do with a Mexican taco! This Cretan specialty is a baked barley rusk bread topped with fresh tomatoes and feta, a simple delight though the rusk is too crunchy for some.

Coffee – If you want something like American coffee, ask for a filtered coffee or Nescafe. Nescafe is greatly respected in Greece, as it was the first widely-available coffee after the Second World War, and restaurants may even ceremoniously bring out an empty cup, a small silver pot of water, and the precious single packet of Nescafe in response to a request for a cup of coffee after dinner. Now, genuine Greek coffee is delicious and can be ordered in a variety of ways – give it a try!

Baklava – Honey- or sugar-syrup drenched pastry with nuts. Delicious if a bit sticky and chewy. Not good for those with sensitive teeth! Given the choice, I’ll take the galactobouiko, a filo-wrapped custard also drenched in syrup, but the custard cuts the sweetness.

If you are a vegetarian travelling in Greece, you may be surprised at the relative scarcity of purely vegetarian restaurant meals in Greece except at specifically vegetarian restaurants. But in Greece, people go to restaurants largely to dine on cooked meats that they may not get every day. Worse, vegetables are often cooked in chicken broth, and it is very difficult to get trustworthy information on this point from the restaurant staff. Salads are a safe bet, but cooked vegetable dishes may be cooked in chicken broth and contain meat or animal products.

Many restaurants still allow or even encourage diners to wander into the kitchen to see what’s cooking. Bring your camera for a great “action shot” you’ll treasure

Enjoy your exploration of Greek cuisine!