You are in Greece and you must take the opportunity to have food at a Greek Taverna like a local! There are many types of eating places in Greece, but the most iconic and traditional is the taverna.
What is a Taverna?
There is a big difference between a“taverna” and a “restaurant”. Taverna is a lot more than a “traditional Greek restaurant”. The truth is, Greeks make a distinction between a restaurant and a taverna.
Tavernas are mostly enjoyed in the evening and is a way of entertainment, sometimes dancing, and alcoholic beverages, such as local wine or tsipouro and ouzo. While a restaurant is simply a place that you eat, a taverna provides not only food, but also a good time.
Depending on where you are in Greece, tavernas may serve different types of foods. They also have limited menus and serve what they have available. For instance, areas that are by the sea may specialize in seafood. These are the Psaro Tavernas, or Fish Tavernas. This is also a great choice to have food at Greek Taverna.
The basic characteristics of the simple taverna are still in place but the main fishes revolve around seafood. The taverna serves grilled meats, simple seafood dishes, and various mezedes. There’s also more than enough bread to go around!
There is no print menu in a in a traditional taverna. The people working there tell you what food is available that day and you can choose to order it or not. If you do choose to eat it, however, you will be treated to some of the freshest and delicious food available in Greece!
The authentic taverna is a place without class distinctions and no expensive options. Everyone drinks the same, choosing only between white, red and maybe rosé house wine. Wooden barrels are a common motif as wine is at the core of the taverna experience. Tavernas where found in the basements up until the 1950s. Outsiders, blue-collar workers, artists and outlaws used them everyday. When middle class intellectualls discovered the taverna it became fashionable. Since then you can find them at the ground floors and courtyards of houses and apartment blocks.
Some tavernas started out as grocery stores, selling cheeses, cured meats and wine, and also serving blue-collar workers after a day on the job.
Greece may be famous for archaeological sites, statues, Museums but above all we are all about food and drink! This is the core of Greek culture. We get some friends or family and we go for some wine or tsipouro and ouzo to have a lunch or dinner. This usually takes many hours! Food is fresh, rich, satisfying and packed full of flavour. But it is not easy to find it these days. As usual in many holiday destinations, it can be challenging to avoid the tourist traps. Even if you make it then you must know what to get! Find out how to order like a local!
Once you understand that meals are social events to Greeks you are ready to start! Greek food must be shared at taverns. This is exteremly helpful to be able to taste many different plates. The food will start coming as soon it is ready! So it will come in stages and if you like something a lot you have the chance to order it again. After all you eat in a slow pace, the is no pressure to leave or eat fast. In some home cooking taverns it is common to invite you at the kitchen in order to see on your own what they have cooked and make your choice.
The appetizers will be pretty much the same no matter where you are. Tzatziki, Feta, Tirokafteri (spicy feta spread), melitzanosalata (aubergine spread). Above all the star horiatiki salata (Greek Salad). A much-loved favourite and usually comes in an enormous bowl! You can also try other salads, Cretan Dakos salad is truly delicious, rusk dakos bread (that softens with moisture) mixed with olive oil, tomato, olives, capers, herbs, and feta or mizithra cheese in Crete. You will probably find keftedes (meatballs), cheese saganaki (fried cheese), spanakopita (spinach pie) or tyropita (cheesepie with feta). If you are close to the sea you will find anchovy marinated in vinegard and octopus to the coals. This is great for ouzo or tsipouro.
For main course usually there will be available the classics:
- Pastichio (Pasta with minced beef and béchamel sauce.
- Moussaka- Sautéed aubergine, tomato with minced beef and a béchamel sauce.
- Kokkinisto with pasta (usually this is beef with tomato sause)
- Arnaki sti gastra (lamb slow cooked covered at the oven with garlic)
- Fried squibb
- Small shrimps fried
- Anchovy fried
- Sardines grilled
You must have some traditional ouzo or tsipouro. Tsipouro is like Vodka but it is great with mezedes, you must try it. As you understand, Greeks eat a lot and for long hours talking, laughing and having a good time over food and drinks. Are you ready to have food at Greek Taverna like a local? We have the perfect Athens Private food tour just for you! Book now a private food tour!
Learn everything about Greek Food in our articles in Greek Food Guide!