Greek cuisine. It feels funny even using such a term because Greek food is distinctly unfussy. After spending nine days in Greece, here are my observations about restaurants and dining over there.
Let me cut right to the chase. Eating in a country like Italy or France is a huge part of the travel experience. This is not the case in Greece. Don't get me wrong -- there are plenty of good meals to be eaten in Greece, but it isn't about the food over there. You don't get the same vibe about mealtime as you get when you're traveling in France or Italy.
Greek salad is the backbone of the country's cuisine. One interesting note: a Greek salad here in the U.S. is served with small, crumbled pieces of Feta cheese. (Feta is to Greek cuisine what parmesan is to Italian.) In Greece, a Greek salad is served with a rectangular block of Feta, sprinkled liberally with oregano, resting atop the tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion.
The quality of a Greek salad generally rests on the quality and freshness of the tomatoes and cucumbers. My friends and I found that in Greece, this is hit or miss -- tomato and cucumber quality depends on where your restaurant happens to get its produce.
Tomatoes on the island of Santorini are supposed to be the absolute best in all of Greece, but we generally ate better tomatoes on the island of Crete.
Greece's "Can't Miss" Foods
1. The thyme-scented honey in Crete (and just about any other honey in Greece) is marvelous. You might even want to consider buying some to bring back home with you.
2. The olive oil is very good in Greece, although I wouldn't say that it was quite as good as the olive oils I've tasted in Italy or Spain. If you are one of those persons who likes to dip bread in olive oil, beware: this is not something that Greeks seem to do when dining out. If you're so inclined, just ask your server to bring some olive oil to the table. They'll be happy to do so.
3. If you like stuffed peppers or stuffed tomatoes, you're in luck. They are standard items on the menus of most Greek restaurants in Athens and the various islands. And they are generally well done.
Like Asian cuisines, Greek cuisine does not take dessert to great heights. The sweet salute to a meal in Greece is usually something pretty simple -- maybe a cake made of crushed walnuts and honey. Or maybe a baklava. Ice cream is also fairly popular among Greeks.
One word of warning. The quality of a dessert in Greece seems to be directly proportionately to what you paid for it. Many restaurants in touristy areas give diners a gratis dessert -- sometimes it's a scoop of ice cream or maybe a piece of walnut cake. These freebie desserts are generally not worth touching.
We had free ice cream served to us at a restaurant on Crete, and one of my fellow diners said it all: "No fruit was harmed in the making of this ice cream."
Having said that, I bought a wonderful piece of walnut cake from a bakery. It was made with honey and chocolate chips. It sounded like a strange mix of ingredients, but it was really good.