Food and Travels in Greece
Author & Photographer: Ella Andersen
As soon as I wrapped up my last exam this June, I hopped on a plane to Greece to see ancient ruins, Cycladian art, and of course, to eat Greek food for five days. Deciding to forgo the most popular summer vacation islands of Mykonos and Santorini on this trip, I went to Nafplio, the old capital of Greece turned sleepy fishing town, and Athens, instead.
Our first night in Nafplio, fighting jet lag and deciding to eat at a very un-Greek hour (early – Greeks eat late), we stopped in at the nearest taverna and filled ourselves with Greek salad, tzatziki, and beet dip-- all refreshing and delicious after 10 hours of travel. Greek salad, known in Greece as horiatiki salad (“peasant” salad), is a staple summer food because all of the ingredients - tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, olives, and onions - are in season. It doesn’t ever include lettuce, a winter vegetable, and it’s so easy to throw together (toss with olive oil and top with fresh feta and it’s ready to serve) that it pops up everywhere from the most casual cafe to acclaimed restaurants.
At lunch the next day, we realized that Greek food does not come in small portions and unintentionally had an enormous meal. Everything was once again delicious – eggplant with tomatoes, fried zucchini, grilled halloumi cheese, and of course, more Greek salad and tzatziki. Greek food is heavy in nightshade vegetables, mostly because the climate is perfect for them to grow. Tzatziki, made from yogurt, dill, cucumbers, and garlic, is the ideal 98 degree weather food because it’s light and cool at all hours of the day.
Nafplio is an important seaport in Greece, so naturally, there’s a lot of seafood. Nearly every restaurant has its own family recipes for classics – mussels cooked in wine, whole fish baked in salt, grilled sardines, and – my personal favorite – marinated anchovies. The best, in my opinion, are anchovies marinated in oil and vinegar with some red chili tossed in for a bit of a kick. There’s nothing better than a plate of cold anchovies to snack on by the water while watching the boats come in and out of the harbor.
After having fish for nearly every meal in Nafplio, Athens was full of souvlaki. I decided I preferred the Cretian rendition of it, with a spicy red tomato sauce instead of normal yogurt sauce. Souvlaki is usually made with either lamb or pork, and the meat is wrapped in a pita with french fries, onions, peppers, and tomatoes. Traditionally, it has a tzatziki-like sauce, but in Crete, it’s served with a tomato-based sauce.
The highlight of Athens for me was the Cycladic Art Museum. It’s a wonderful collection in a beautiful building and is truly unlike any museum I have ever been to. The museum also features a lovely café which is designed to perfectly complement the works inside. Don’t miss the freshly baked cake at the café after a long day of looking at art.
The best meal I had was probably at the King George Hotel – perfect octopus orzo and watermelon soup – but unfortunately I was too hungry so I forgot to take pictures of it. I’ll leave you with a picture of the view from the hotel restaurant instead – looking right out at the Acropolis.