What you need to know before ordering food in a Greek restaurant or tavern
A trip to Greece or any foreign country is an opportunity to get to know the local gastronomy. Greece has a really rich cuisine, and in taverns and restaurants you can try a variety of traditional and modern specialties.
In our opinion, a trip is not complete without trying the local specialties. And the best place to get to know the real Greece, to feel the flavors, atmosphere, culture, customs are taverns and restaurants.
In our text The best Greek dishes that you should not miss to try, get acquainted with description of the best traditional dishes.
What you can expect when enjoying taverns and restaurants in Greece?
Greeks are quite casual restaurateurs. Don’t expect them to come to you as soon as you sit down at the table. They often need a little more time. It is interesting that they will come to serve you sooner if there is a crowd and when they are in a hurry, than when the tavern is empty. For Greeks, going to a tavern is an opportunity to sit down, talk, and relax, and not just because of the food that should be ordered and received immediately :)
In Greek taverns, you have waiters who bring and take away utensils, plates and serve dishes, and waiters (often the owners) who take orders. So, first someone will come to set a disposable table cloth for you, to ask you if you want to order a drink and to bring you plates and a menu and he is not in charge of orders. After that, when you wave and show that you are ready to order, another waiter comes who is in charge of it.
It will often happen that they bring you bottled water and bread right away, which of course are paid for. If you don’t want bread or water, tell them right away so they don’t charge you in the end.
We love it when the Greeks grill bread and cover it with olive oil and oregano, and we often ask them to bring us just that kind of bread. In most cases, they do.
Greeks rarely consume soups and stews and are usually absent from menus. If there are, consider that they are different from usual soups and stews. Sometimes they are already prepared with lemon and eggs (the famous avgolemono sauce), or lemon will be served with the soup, so you can add it yourself.
Taverns in Greece usually have a short menu and very simple dishes on offer. If it is a fish tavern, it usually offers 4-5 types of fish and as many seafood specialties. Fish taverns also have meat on the grill. If the tavern is not a fish restaurant, the menu usually contains about 10 types of grilled meat. Salads and appetizers go without saying, but the selection is also limited to seasonal salads and classic appetizers.
The good thing about Greece is that in front of every tavern and restaurant in the resorts there is a menu with prices and you can look at it and decide whether to visit the tavern or restaurant or not.
Taverns usually do not offer cooked dishes, possibly one or two, one of which is almost always moussaka. If you want to try cooked dishes or some more modern specialties, you need to visit a restaurant, not a tavern.
In most taverns and restaurants, you will first be served a salad and an appetizer, and only then the main course. We really like that practice. If you want them to serve you dishes at the same time, you need to emphasize, because they usually bring them as they come out.
The size of salads in Greece is always for a minimum of two people, and usually for more than that. So, we recommend to never order two of the same salad for two people unless you plan to have them as your main meal.
What we like the most in Greek taverns and restaurants are appetizers and sometimes it happens that we don’t even get to the main course. Greeks have different and very tasty appetizers and make sure you try at least some of them. In this text you can read in more detail about them The best Greek dishes not to be missed
Souvlaki - skewers await you from the grill in every tavern. Skewers are the most popular grilled food for Greeks. It is little known that souvlaki has been consumed in Greece since early antiquity. In addition to them\, there are also Greek kebabs and burgers.
As guests of restaurants and taverns, Greeks usually order several different dishes, appetizers and salads and place them all in the middle of the table so that everyone at the table can try them. This practice is great if you want to try as many different specialties as possible.
In Greece, apart from taverns and restaurants, there are uzeria, tsipuradika, rakadika. These are taverns that primarily serve meze (mezedes) which is food on small plates that goes with ouzo, tsipuro or brandy. This concept is very popular in Greece. You don’t have to order one of these drinks, but you can enjoy the fantastic, varied, small portions of food. Main dishes are usually not ordered here, but a lot of different small appetizers.
Appearance of taverns
Greek taverns traditionally have the same look, simple: wooden tables and chairs and checkered tablecloths. There is no aspiration to modernize the taverns but to preserve their traditional appearance, that is Greece. When choosing a tavern or restaurant to sit down in, a fancy and modern look is not a guarantee of food quality. Often the best food is served in the simplest places.
In Greek restaurants and taverns (unless they are exclusive) there is a “folk” atmosphere. As guests, the Greeks are loud and cheerful, and sometimes spontaneously start singing. In many taverns, the tables are placed too close and if necessary, more tables and chairs are brought in, which are wedged between the already existing, densely arranged ones. But that’s Greece, people are spontaneous, communicative and don’t mind everyone “squeezing together” for the sake of enjoying good food and atmosphere. This is exactly what delights us in cities that are not purely touristic, such as Thessaloniki, Kavala and others - spontaneous, relaxed and without snobbery.
In most taverns and restaurants, apart from the standard menu, there are also a couple of “dishes of the day”.
In Greek taverns and restaurants, you can always ask the waiter for advice on portion sizes or food choices.
When ordering wine, always ask if the restaurant has its own wine, which is usually served by carafe (unless you want something special). Such domestic wines are usually cheaper and of good quality.
In some taverns, after the meal you get dessert on the house. Such is the case in Thassos and in the region of Kavala, where in 99% of taverns you get a free dessert, while in Halkidiki there is no such practice.
Cats walking between tables is quite common, both in touristic and larger cities.. Greeks love cats, they feed them, so you can too. Any kind of rudeness towards animals is not welcome and the penalties are really big.
If you want some of your food to be packed, feel free to ask.
Finally, when you request an invoice, you shouldn’t be confused if the wait for it is long. Greeks believe that after eating you should rest a little before leaving the restaurant. This “casualness” can annoy tourists, but the only advice is to remind the waiter one more time.
Whenever you have the opportunity, visit restaurants and taverns recommended by locals.
For several destinations (Thessalonica, Thassos, Halkidiki, Kavala) you can also follow our recommendations.
Five restaurants you must not miss if you visit Thessaloniki
Best restaurants and specialities in Thassos (Potos and Limenaria)
Restaurants and cafes on Thassos with our recommendation
Local products and the best restaurants on Kassandra
The best restaurants in Sithonia
The best restaurants in Kavala, Nea Peramos, Nea Iraklitsa, Keramoti
Often, restaurants in attractive tourist locations are not so good and more expensive than those located in some side streets and frequented by locals.
And a recommendation for the end. Experiment and try something new, a local specialty. You will be surprised how delicious it is.
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