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Learn and Travel Through Greece by Eating its Cuisine


Beets with yogurt
Beets with Yogurt

Food is a reflection of a country’s geography, history and culture. Enjoy Greece by tasting its diverse cuisine.

One can understand mainland Greece and the islands through its gastronomy. Eating is about understanding the country’s local customs. Despina Siolas Md. /Ph.D. and her friend Susan kept a diary of a two week tour of Thessaloniki, Veria, Lesvos, Chios, Arcadia and Athens. Research on food by educated Greeks added to their appreciation of Greece.  They enjoyed the local cuisine of each area, gaining an insight of whom and where the local Greeks came from.

Thessaloniki! The unofficial capital of the Balkans. Macedonian cuisine was influenced by the arrival of the Asia Minor refugees. “These are the things I ate in Greece,” said Despina. “We will learn to make them when I come back to New York.” Soutzoukakia are Greek meatballs from Smyrna. The word soutzoukakia (soo-tzoo-KAH-kyah) comes from the Turkish “soutzouk” meaning “sausage”. These meatballs are shaped like little kebabs. They are lightly fried and then bathed in a wine-sweetened tomato sauce. Other dishes that made an impression on us included Marathopita (fennel pie), Rebythada (chickpeas), Pantzarosalata (beetroot salad) and Anthopita (zucchini flowers).”

“When you find a good restaurant, you must keep going to it,” said the tourist. “To Ellinikon is an ouzomezedopolio (ouzo and appetizers restaurant). According to the menu, Thessaloniki is the second largest city of Greece and the capital of Central Macedonia, as well as the de facto administrative capital of the Greek regions of Macedonia and Thrace. Its honorific title is ‘Symprotevousa’, literally co-capital, a reference to its historical status as ‘Symvasilevousa’, the co-reigning city of the Byzantine Empire, alongside Constantinople. Thessaloniki is full of Byzantine monuments and is a UNESCO heritage site. Visitors have a unique opportunity to taste and learn about…what else…food! Everyone will be impressed by the history and the tastes dating back to the Byzantine times. Walk along the paved alleys of the open air markets of the city center. Visit the ouzeris (ouzo cafes) where you will drink ouzo or tsipouro and taste ouzomezedes (ouzo appetizers) that will stay in your memory forever!” Quite an informative historical lesson from a restaurant.

- Eggplantwith Feta
Eggplant with Feta

“Thessaloniki’s traditional dishes include beets and yogurt salad, dill onions, marathopita and stuffed squid,” said Despina. “We visited ‘To Ellinikon’ and its sister restaurant ‘Tiganies and Schares’ to eat meat with coriander, eggplants with feta, chick peas, frappe, tzatziki, goat, pork, cheese salad, stuffed peppers and tomatoes, beefsteak with potatoes.” These dishes were the basic diet in Veria, Chios and Lesvos.

Mezzes, according to the “To Elliniko” menu, has its roots in the ancient symposiums. The word comes from the Persian word “maza”, meaning taste. Greek traditional cheese dates back millenniums. The fact that many forms of cheese are copied without success, confirms the dominance of Greek cheese all over the world.

stuffed squid
Stuffed Squid

In the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle, the cuisine is explained in a historical context. “Soutzoukakia ….just because it has a Turkish name does not mean it has Turkish origins. Naturally, after five hundred years of slavery, Turkish words entered the vocabulary. Soutzoukakia are called Smyrneika because they cooked them in Smyrna. At the beginning of the 20th century, Smyrna was a cosmopolitan city with the majority of the population being Greek. They were involved in business, mostly tobacco, and were known for their famous cuisine…The tragic wave of refugees reached its peak in 1922. The uprooted ancient Greek communities of Asia Minor reached Thessaloniki, tortured from the hardships of war and settled in shacks…. The displaced Smyrnaioi Mikrasiates brought not only their ethics and customs with them, but also their delicious cuisine. Soutzoukakia is one of the many unique foods that are well liked by the community and cooked in their homes and taverns.”

“We met a wonderful couple from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,” said tourists Despina and Susan. “Antonios and Thalia Parisiou are from Veria.  We will meet up with them there, following in the footsteps of St. Paul.” Their day in Veria began with a visit to the Bema, where St. Paul preached. Veria is part of the “11 Footsteps of St. Paul” from 50-53 A.D.

The Bereans stood out to the apostles because of the eagerness with which they received the Gospel. Berea, which is now called Veria, was a Greek city located approximately 73 km from Thessaloniki.

A colorful Verian personality was a local merchant called “O Manolis o Veriotis” (Manolis the Verian). He was selling watermelons and cantaloupes, calling to everyone “Elate pedia, o Manolis o Veriotis” (Come to me friends, Manolis the Verian). An amazing array of cigarettes for 3.7 euros was displayed to a public that has a positive attitude about this recreational pastime.

Their enjoyable day ended at a lavish luncheon in “Elaias Gi” restaurant at the corner of Anoixeos and Kountourioti streets. The cuisine included green salad with potatoes, wild pig with rice and carrots, gemista (stuffed peppers and tomatoes), soutzoukakia and chocolate desserts with masticha (mastic) ice cream. They enjoyed their luncheon inside the main room, next to the wooden oven, where daily bread roasts and even some of our desserts are baked.

photo8stuffedpeppers_tomatoes - Copy (250x187)
Stuffed Peppers and Tomatoes

“Everything was made of the finest seasonal ingredients so that the nature itself can dine with you,” according to their website. “We proudly offer you Greece at your plate. Through a delicate travel in time, the Greek land and its products, the customs and its habits, but also through creative interventions in our traditional cuisine, which have as a priority to freshen, underline and highlight even more our taste references to the Greek traditional cooking, we serve you dishes with the finest seasonal ingredients available combined with a variety of excellent flavors so that you can enjoy nothing but the very best.”

The website explains that “At Eleas Gi everything is cooked only with olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil is always added at the end, so we can offer you the authenticity of the Greek cuisine where indisputably, the leafy-green spirit of our honored olive tree has the leading role.”

Their trip continued to Lesvos, where olive trees number 12,000. They enjoyed ladotyri (cheese from olive oil) and ouzo Barbayanni, in addition to the basic cuisine of Thessaloniki’s restaurants. Ouzo is known as “Plomari’s treasure”. The “Ouzo Barbayanni Brochure Since 1860” explains “this fertile land with its exquisite climate, gives forth a superior variety of anise, from the seed of which the basic flavoring ingredient of ouzo is distilled.” Lesvos became the refuge of displaced people from Aivali and Mosconisi in 1922. The northeastern Aegean islands and Macedonia have been influenced by the upholders of these ancient Greek cultures. In “Karini” tavern, they enjoyed kolokythakia (stuffed zucchini), mpourekakia me tyri (ham and cheese), kolokythoanthi (stuffed blossoms of zucchini) and melitsa (honey dessert). Rural, close to nature, Lesvos is a natural paradise.

Horiatiki salad
Horiatiki Salad

Lesvos and Chios were dotted with ouzeris, a reflection of the island drink. Masticha (mastic), only cultivated uniquely in Chios, is made into ouzo, mastic desserts and ice creams. Masticha ouzo was often served to the tourists with calamaris (squids), octapodi (octopus) and grilled fish. They had the unique honor of visiting the Ieron Parthenon of St. Constantine and St. Helen monastery on the hills of Kambos. Unforgettable Byzantine architecture and iconography depicting island religious customs. Many islanders have a personal chapel on their lands for religious services. “The nuns made loucoumathes,” said Despina. “They were the best loucoumathes.” The monastery must have a secret recipe made from natural grain and local honey.

Their trip through Arcadia was a footstep into a beauty celebrated by the poets. The famous Latin phrase “Et in Arcadia ego” refers to the beauty of the Arcadian landscape that makes one feel that he too was born in Arcadia. The Arcadian tradition was spoken in Plato’s Symposium. It is the basic love of creation that evolves into the human mind’s pursuit of truth, beauty and good. These lessons have shaped the Arcadian Mission. Nothing touched the Soul of Arcadia. The Arcadian people proved that the love of freedom is as strong as the magic song of Pan (god of shepherds and flocks, mountain wilds, hunting and rustic music).

Arcadia has a special boutique liqueur called “Tipota”, meaning “Nothing”. For more than a half a century, Tipota is produced by the Biris family business using an old recipe which began in 1947, in Tripolis. The liqueur is mixed in cocktails or served with crushed ice. They toured Arcadia with Dr. Vardouniotis, Pitsa and Christo Macarounis, sharing dinners in the local diet. “Times Café” in the heart of the central square of Tripoli, is a local gathering place to meet people. Coffees, fruit drinks, sodas, beers, wines, alcohol and snacks are served while one has an outdoor conversation. Organic vegetables and fruits are the basis of their diet. The tourists sampled the finest feta, cheesecroquets, loukaniko (sausage), traditional chicken, beef and pork souvlaki with fried potatoes and natural honey. At the Tegea Fair, they saw pigs roasted on the spit, fried loucoumathes as in New York City and donkey’s milk. The garden vegetables and fruits of Arcadia are known throughout Greece.


Athenian cuisine represents universal foods such as souvlaki, gyro, pastitsio and Greek salad, well known in the global community. An evening dinner with the Tsakonas family at Kessariani, Athens, gave them an insight of how Athenian middle class families entertain their guests. Pitsa Tsakonas prepared tiropites, horiatiki salad (traditional Greek salad), patates (fried potatoes), kima with macaronia (chop meat with pasta), souvlaki and other Greek dishes. A multi course dinner that everyone was expected to finish. No chemicals, just natural food. Their final evening was with our old friends Erica Haralambithou, Doris and Dr. Ioli Christopoulou. They had an exceptional dinner at “Strofi“, overlooking the Acropolis. The menu had a food representative from all Greek regions. Trying to please the tourists with Athenian cuisine shaped the hospitality, graciousness and cheerfulness of their hosts.

“In hospitality, the chief thing is good will,” says a Greek proverb. Hospitality came from the Gods, according to the Ancient Greeks. The host was expected to make sure the needs of his guests were satisfied. In Greek society, a person’s ability to offer hospitality, determined nobility and social standing.  This concept has been woven into Greek culture for thousands of years. Hospitality is shown by offering the finest cuisine to one’s guests. The public’s imagination is captured by the Mediterranean Diet. The tourists experienced the cuisine of the Greek mainland and the islands. They took many photos of their culinary dishes so they could prepare them in their kitchens. Enjoy Greece this summer. Enjoy cuisine that helps the tourist understand the culture.

roasted pig
Roasted Pig

All photos by Despina Siolas M.D./Ph.D.


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