We’re all well acquainted with Greek cooking: gyros, skewers, pita. Dippable items with tzatziki even appear on menus where the Greek influence is non-existent. But have you tried Cretan food yet?
Crete is the largest of the Greek islands and, with its abundance of history and culture (you’ve likely heard stories about the Minotaur), could be mistaken for its own country. When it comes to cooking, these guys are serious about fresh flavors, herby concoctions, and home cooked goodness.
These items are the most likely, and most delicious, to appear on any good Greek restaurant menu: (more…)
So you have an adventurous spirit when it comes to food and you especially have an interest in trying out cuisines from other countries; however, there are those times when you walk into a restaurant, sit down and read menu that literally is in a foreign language. Yikes, what do you do?
Well, the first thing that usually helps is to do a little bit of research beforehand so that you don’t go in blind. Today, you’re getting a jump start on Greek Cuisine because below, you’ll be getting a list of some common dishes and ingredients you may find on a Greek restaurant menu. So are you ready to increase your foodie vocabulary?
Note: Variations in spelling may be noted, especially the interchange of “d” and “th.”
Anginares: artichokes. Jerusalem or root artichokes are not known in the Greek kitchen; this term refers to the small globe variety.
Arni: lamb, the favorite Greek meat and highlight of feasts.
Avgolemono: egg-lemon sauce prepared by adding fresh lemon juice to whisked eggs. This frothing tangy sauce may then be used to flavor any white stock (made from either fish, veal, or chicken) by carefully adding a little hot stock to the egg-lemon mixture, then returning all to the hot but boiling stock. Or the egg-lemon mixture may be used for fish, vegetables, or casseroles.
Barbouni: red mullet, a favorite fish usually served grilled or fried. The cheeks and liver are considered special delicacies.
Bourekakia: a Turkish name covering all the tiny appetizer pastries made from Phyllo pastry and filled with many different savory fillings – vegetable, meat, cheese, etc. In Greece they commonly take their name from the filling, for instance Kotopitakia, chicken; Tiropitakia, Feta cheese, etc.
Dolmadakia: with akia being the diminutive, and dolma meaning any stuffed food, this term refers to tiny stuffed foods such as small rolls of cabbage, spinach, or vine leaves or tiny scooped-out vegetables. These are filled with savory mixtures such as bechamel sauce and cheese or rice with seasonings.
Fakki: meatless brown lentil soup, a standby for fast days and a staple soup when meat is scarce.
Fasolada: a meatless bean soup.
Fava: a yellow lentil soup served hot and thick and garnished with a little olive oil and lemon juice and a sprinkling of chopped raw onions.
Feta: most widely known of all Greek cheeses, firm and white and made from goat’s or sheep’s milk, usually stored in a salt brine.
Galactoboureko: Phyllo pastry with a rich custard filling.
Halvas: the homemade version is a simple egg and semolina cake over which is poured a sizzle of hot syrup. The commercial version is a firm paste of pureed nuts and seeds, predominantly almond and sesame, and may be colored and/or flavored with chocolate or pistachio.
Horta: general name given to assorted cultivated and wild greens enjoyed by simply boiling, draining, and serving at room temperature with olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
Imam Bayaldi: slowly baked eggplants stuffed with tomatoes and sliced onions and flavored with garlic. Literally “the caliph fainted.” So named because the dish was exquisitely delicious, and the priest was said to have fainted – here the stories differ – either when he tasted it or when he was denied a taste.
Kafes: coffee. Turkish coffee introduced into Greece and brewed in a long-handled pot called a briki. In Greece it is called Greek coffee, but it is still made in thirty-three variations, as is the Turkish.
Kalamarakia: baby squid.
Kataifia: very fine shreds of a wheat flour pastry rolled up with chopped nuts and served with a spicy sweet syrup.
Kefalotiri and Kasseri: names of two Greek cheeses that are aged and hard and suited to grating. Very similar to the Italian Romano or Parmesan.
Kefthedes or Keftethes: tiny meatballs prepared with finely minced meat (any kind) blended with bread crumbs and eggs then seasoned with garlic, mint, oregano, and salt and pepper. The mixture is formed into tiny balls and fried in oil till brown. Usually a part of appetizers.
Kolokythia: called baby marrows in England, courgettes in France, and zucchini in Italy. Greeks enjoy the flowers freshly picked, stuffed, and fried.
Kouloura: one of many Greek breads. This one is made from white wheat flour and baked in a ring shape, light and crusty.
Kourabiedes: rich buttery shortbread-type of cookie baked in round halls then liberally sprinkled with rosewater or orange flower water and dusted with icing sugar. Piled in a mound, these are a Christmas specialty.
Latholemono: oil and lemon sauce.
Lathoxitho: a vinaigrette sauce of oil, lemon juice, or wine vinegar plus seasonings.
Mastica: the powdered resin from a small evergreen grown mostly on the Greek isle of Chios. Used for flavoring yeast dough. There is also a liqueur by the same name.
Mayeritsa: the eagerly anticipated soup of lamb entrails finished with avgolemono sauce and enjoyed after the midnight services of Easter Sunday.
Melitzanosalata: a popular Mediterranean appetizer of pureed eggplant seasoned liberally with onion and vinegar and garnished with black olives and tomato wedges.
Melomakarona or Finikia: traditional Christmas cookies similar to Kourabiedes but flattened and finished with a drenching of honey syrup and a dusting of nuts.
Moussakas: browned eggplant slices layered with tomatoes, cheese, onions, and ground meat finished with a bechamel sauce. Typically Greek, there is a faint taste of cinnamon.
Meze: a simple term to cover the complex array of delicious small nibbles that may accompany drinks.
Octapothi: octopus. Ancient technique of rubbing the fresh-caught greenish octopus with a rock until it is a pearly gray color and well tenderized was long ago perfected by Greek fishermen.
Pastizzio: a baked layered casserole of cooked pasta sprinkled with cheese and a layer of seasoned minced meat. The casserole is finished with cheese and bechamel sauce then cut in squares to serve.
Phyllo or Filo: another food whose origin is difficult to pinpoint but this paper-thin pastry is usually made commercially of egg, flour, and water. Sold in packages of many sheets, it is the basis of many Greek appetizers (bourekakia), pies (pita), and sweet nut-rich pastries. The Greek word phyllo means leaf. The thin sheets are brushed with butter or oil then layered, filled and stacked, flipped into triangles, or rolled and twisted.
Pilaf: cooked rice with melted butter poured over then pressed into a mold. Unmolded, it is then served with any variety of sauces, seasonings, and garnishes as may occur to the imaginative cook, and named according to the ingredients.
Saganaki or Tiraki: any firm cheese cut in squares, dusted with flour, and quickly fried in hot oil and served as an appetizer.
Skordalia or Skorthalia: a smooth thick sauce made with oil and lemon juice and soft white bread and as much garlic as desired.
Souvla: the name of the spit used to roast Iamb.
Souvlakia: skewered cubes of lamb with onions, green peppers, and tomato wedges, all marinated then broiled.
Spanakopita: baked in a rectangular pan, this “pie” is matte of buttery layers of phyllo with a center portion of chopped cooked spinach and Feta mixed with bechamel. The pie is cut into squares to serve, and may be a light main dish or one of many dishes accompanying a feast.
Spanakorizo: spinach and rice. A favorite Lenten dish of browned onions, tomatoes, and chopped spinach with water and rice added, then the whole cooked till dry and fluffy.
Stefado: a method of cooking used for any meats or game. Literally a stew. Cut-up pieces of meats are marinated overnight in a bowl with cut-up vegetables and seasonings, white wine, vinegar and oil. The next day the pieces of meat are browned then simmered slowly with the strained marinade. Most traditional accompaniment is onions. The dish is eaten with bread and wine.
Tahini: smooth puree of sesame seeds.
Tarama: fish roe, usually referring to carp roe.
Taramosalata: smooth creamy dip made of roe, white bread or potato, garlic, oil, and lemon juice.
Tyropita: layered phyllo pastry (or otherwise shaped), filled with cheese.
Tzatziki: a tangy dip of plain yogurt, minced cucumber, and garlic, salt and pepper.
Vasilopita: made especially for Saint Basil’s Day, this sweet yeast bread is perfumed with grated orange rind, cinnamon and mastica.
Yaourti: plain natural yogurt.
Now you’ve got the lingo down, here’s a list of Greek restaurants to practice your newly found skill.
620 NE 78th St
Miami, FL 33138
Greek Islands Restaurant
200 S Halsted St
Chicago, IL 60661
200 Jackson St
San Francisco, CA 94111
2520 Montrose Blvd
Houston, TX 77006
Papa Cristos C & K Importing
2771 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90006
Pizza, like so many other foods, did not originate in the country for which it is now famous and in fact, the idea for pizza is older than Italy itself. In its most basic form, pizza in ancient times was more similar to a seasoned flatbread and enjoyed by several cultures including the Greeks and the Phoenicians. Made from flour and water, the dough would be formed into round flat shapes, seasoned with herbs and then cooked by placing it on a hot stone. Referred to as plankuntos, the Greeks would use this flatbread as an edible plate that would be topped by anything from stews and a thick broth to meats and fruits.
Eventually, these plankuntos made its way to Italy and were renamed “pizzas.” The word pizza is thought to have come from the Latin word “pinsa”, which means flatbread. There’s still an ongoing debate as to whether this is true or not. Pizzas were sold on the streets and in the markets as street food to the poor all over Naples. The street vendors (typically young boys) would walk around the city with small tin stoves on their heads, calling out to attract customers. Cheap to make, these pizzas were only topped with olive oil and herbs and yet, they were tasty and filling. Before these pizzas would become more similar to modern day pizzas, two ingredients had to come into play: tomatoes and cheese.
Tomatoes were introduced to Italy in the 16th century by the Spaniards who brought them from Mexico and Peru, but they were thought to be poisonous and were originally grown only for decoration. It wasn’t until the 18th and early 19th centuries that fears were overcome and tomatoes started having more of a presence in Italian cuisine. When mozzarella cheese, which was made from the milk of Indian water buffalo, came to Italy also in the 18th century, pizza with tomato sauce and cheese was truly born.
Eventually, this peasant food started tantalizing the taste buds of the aristocracy which meant that the street vendors gave way to actual shops where people could order a custom pizza with a variety of toppings. By 1830 the “Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba” of Naples had become the first true pizzeria and is still in business today. In the 1800’s, the tools of the typical pizzerias included shelves lined with ingredients, a marble counter where the pizza crust was prepared and a large brick oven to cook the pizza in. Pizzaioli (makers of pizza) often assemble the entire pizza on a marble counter right before the customer’s eyes.
When it comes to the pizza known as the Margherita, it actually owes its name to Italy’s Queen Margherita. In the late 1800s, the Italian monarch King Umberto and his wife, Queen Margherita were touring the Naples area and decided to make a stop at Pizzeria Brandi. On duty for that visit was Rafaele Esposito and to show his patriotism created a pizza that best represented the colors of the Italian flag: red tomato, white mozzarella cheese and green basil. This pizza became such a favorite of the queen that it was named after her. Pizzeria Brandi, now more than 200 years old, still proudly displays a royal thank-you note signed by Galli Camillo, “head of the table of the royal household”, dated June 1889.
By the beginning of the 1900’s pizza made its way to the inner cities of the United States due to Italian immigrants, most notably New York and Chicago, which already had large Italian populations. Pizza was also sold as street food, similar to what was done in Naples and than small cafes began offering the Italian favorite. In 1905, Gennaro Lombardi, is thought to have opened the first US pizzeria in New York simply called Lombardi’s, which were followed by other pizzerias in other parts of New York, New Jersey and even Connecticut, but it wasn’t until after World War II ended that pizza really came into its own. Returning American soldiers having been exposed to pizza while serving on the Italian front were hooked and they were the ones who really drove up the popularity of this one time Italian only known and eaten food.
In 1943, Ric Riccardo and Ike Sewell opened up Pizzeria Uno in Chicago and in 1948, the first commercial pizza-pie mix called “Roman Pizza Mix” was produced in Worcester, Massachusetts by Frank A. Fiorillo. Chain pizza restaurants were soon on the rise as well. Leading early pizza chains were Shakey’s Pizza, founded in 1954 in Sacramento, California and Pizza Hut founded in 1958 in Wichita, Kansas. Both are now national companies.
While the American pizza business is dominated by companies that specialize in pizza delivery, such as Domino’s, Papa John’s Pizza and Pizza Hut, don’t discount your local pizzerias. Whether take-out only, a Mom and Pop joint or even a gourmet restaurant, pizza is truly a food for the masses and is versatile enough for any palate. So be sure to enjoy a slice or two tonight and below are pizza joints you may want to check out.
Bollini’s Pizzeria Napolitana
2315 S Garfield Ave
Monterey Park, CA 91754
Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana
157 Wooster Street
New Haven, CT 06511
730 N Rush Street
Chicago, IL 60611
32 Spring Street
New York, NY 10012
641 N Highland Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90036