Greece: What makes Greek food authentic

Last of three parts.

We all make presumptions based on our limited exposure to people whose culture, heritage or religion seem foreign to us. That applies to assumptions about food and drink too. Here are 10 shattered misconceptions about Greece:

Parthenon Gyros ( in Madison is, hands down, my favorite choice for close-to-home gyros because the lamb-beef mix is beautifully spiced and reasonably priced. In Greece, the typical gyro is made with seasoned pork or chicken because lamb is more often reserved for a special holiday meal.

The yogurt-based sauce – tzatziki – that accompanies the U.S. gyro is ubiquitous in Greece. It is not just for gyros but is a classic condiment, bread spread, eaten on its own or as a side dish. (Recipe below.)

We put together our own little gyros at a lunch buffet, but also had them served as an open-face entrée, and as street food with a few fries rolled inside with the meat (that gyro was held like an ice cream cone, with a paper wrapper to peel back while eating).

The U.S. version of a Greek salad likely has feta cheese and olives tossed into the greens. In Greece, it’s a mix of tomato chunks, green pepper, feta and olives. Maybe cucumber and red onion too, but not lettuce.

Both here and there, dolmadaki is grape leaves wrapped around a filling that typically is a mix of rice and herbs, served hot or cold. Another popular option in Greece is a filling of minced beef in cabbage leaves that simmer in a creamy egg-lemon sauce.

Greece is the world’s third top leader in olive oil production, after Spain and Italy, and our guide said the average Greek consumes 20 liters per year. So it was a surprise to see restaurant servers routinely bring bread to the table, but no dip or spread for it. To get olive oil, we had to ask for it.

The olive harvest is October to January in Greece. There are 30-plus varieties, so Kalamata is just a start of it.

A favorite coffee beverage in Greece is the frappé, served cold and made with instant coffee and sugar, topped with condensed milk. It was the accident invention of a Nescafe rep in 1957.

Ouzo is popular too, but not by the harsh shot. Bartenders serve ouzo on ice and add a little water, which makes the licorice-flavored liquor turn milky.

A Greek version of the mojito cocktail uses mastika, a liqueur flavored with the resin of a mastic evergreen tree. It is purported to help maintain digestive health.

The 50th anniversary of Tosa Greek Fest is June 7-9 at Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, 2160 Wauwatosa Ave., Milwaukee. The event is known for its charcoal-roasted chicken and lamb, made-to-order loukoumades (honey dumplings), flaming cheese appetizers, costumed dance troupes and other immersions into Greek culture.

Touris Club in Olympia, Greece, feeds tourists and introduces basic Greek traditions. That includes group dance lessons, plate breaking (as a symbol of good luck and friendship) and cooking lessons.

Here is the recipe for what is arguably the country’s most-loved meal accompaniment, a traditional Greek dip or sauce. Use whole-milk yogurt, not low-fat.


(Makes two cups)

1 cucumber, peeled and seeds removed

1 carrot, peeled

4 cloves garlic, peeled

1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt

5 teaspoons vinegar

5 teaspoons olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

Grate cucumber and carrot. Mince garlic. Add all to yogurt and mix. Add vinegar and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Chefs for Celestyal Cruises occasionally conduct onboard cooking classes and share recipes. This one is similar to hummus. Greeks serve it as a side to seafood or grilled meat, but it also works as a dip for bread or crackers.


(Serves 4-6)

For fava:

1 cup yellow split peas

4 cups water

1 medium onion

2 carrots

1 bay leaf

1/4 cup olive oil

Salt, to taste

For garnish:

2 onions, sliced thin

1 tablespoon olive oil, or more

2 teaspoons tomato paste

1 1/2 teaspoons capers

2 tomatoes, chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

Place fava ingredients in saucepan, cover and bring to a boil over medium heat. Continue boiling for 30 to 40 minutes, or until liquids are absorbed by other ingredients, stirring occasionally and skimming off foam as it forms.

Remove bay leaf. Blend remaining mixture until it is a loose puree. Set aside.

For garnish, sauté onions in olive oil and add tomato paste. When onions are soft, add capers. Reduce heat. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook for 20 minutes, or until ingredients seem glazed.

Move fava to serving dish and top with garnish. Serve.

This trip to Greece was one part Aegean Sea cruise (compliments of Celestyal Cruises), one part anonymous touring with Gate 1 Travel and one part independent travel.,