How did your holiday taste? When I travel to a foreign country, I always love to bring home food souvenirs. It helps me to keep the happy memories and the holiday feeling alive! And what could be better than cooking an exotic dinner for your friends from the place you’ve been while sharing tales of your travel adventures?
These are the 10 Greek food souvenirs I would bring home, if I lived in another country:
1. Feta Cheese. Feta cheese is very popular. So, you will probably be able to find it back home. But, if you buy feta in Greece, you can choose from a wide variety of different types and for a much better price. Feta can be used in many Greek dishes both hot and cold, or to make a delicious Greek salad!
2. Yellow split peas that in Greek are called Fava. Fava is also the name of the dip that is made from these peas. (Not to be confused with what are called fava (broad) beans in English). The recipe of the fava dip is ridiculously easy – you boil the peas, along with a potato and an onion and then simply mash them to a puree. The final result somewhat resembles the world famous hummus dip. Also, it won’t cost you more than 2 euros per 500 grams if you buy it in the supermarket.
3. Kritharaki – Orzo pasta. Kritharaki is a type of Greek pasta that is cooked along with meat and/or vegetables in their juices. The most typical dish made with kritharaki is the Greek Giouvetsi. Giouvetsi is dish of beef (sometimes lamb) in a tomato sauce, slow-baked with the Kritharaki in the oven. It’s usually served with grated cheese on top. The cost of Kritharaki is as low as 1 euro per 500 grams.
4. Graviera cheese, is a yellow semi-hard cheese that is made out of sheep or cow milk. It has a great flavour and just as typically Greek as feta. There are several types of Graviera, so if you’re buying it “unpacked” over the counter, don’t be shy to taste a few before choosing which one to buy. The best Graviera is produced on the islands of Crete and Naxos. Personally, I prefer the “sweet Graviera” – which is not sweet, it’s just less salty. A very interesting combination that you should try is Graviera with honey, which you’ll often find on tables in Crete, especially at wedding receptions. Graviera may be a little pricier compared to other Greek cheeses, but it is rather special.
5. Myzithra cheese. This is my favorite cheese. It’s white, creamy and mouthwatering! You’ll easily find it if you visit the city of Chania, in Crete. However, it may be tricky to find “fresh” myzithra in Athens or other parts of Greece instead you’ll find what’s called “dry” myzithra, which is a whole different cheese! The fresh stuff goes very well with fresh mint. If you’re lucky enough to find it fresh, you can prepare a Ntako (Dako) salad: which is barley rusk topped with grated tomato, myzithra cheese and oregano. You can also make a fantastic spinach pie with fresh mint, myzithra cheese and pepper.
6. Olives. I don’t want to brag about Greek olives, but if you haven’t tasted them, you probably don’t know what an olive is supposed to taste like! There are so many different types of olives – green or black and big or small – and even more recipes to make with them. They are especially good with vinegar, lemon juice, and sea salt. A typical thing when you’re buying olives in Greece is to try several and then choose which ones you prefer In fact, I’d say it’s impossible that you won’t find an olive that you love!
7. Honey! While in Greece, you can find some really high quality honey. Honey has been consumed since ancient times and is considered to be a ‘superfood’. In Greece, you can even buy it directly from local producers – people who actually go and visit their bees once a week to check on them! Keep an eye out for thyme honey; it has a light golden colour and a fantastic floral aroma. A very common Greek dessert is yogurt with honey and walnuts.
8. Tarama. Taramas is preserved, salted fish roe that is used to make a delicious dip called Taramasalata. The recipe is very easy, you blend the tarama with boiled potatoes or bread and add some lemon and olive oil to taste. Ask for white Tarama (not red) and you won’t need to buy more than 100 grams to make one dip of Taramasalata.
9. Halloumi cheese. This is a semi-hard white cheese that originates from Cyprus. It has an exquisite taste when fried or grilled and I love it with just a little bit of lemon juice squeezed on top. As it has a very high melting point, it stays firm and chewy and has a wonderful texture.
10. Vine leaves. In every supermarket, you will see vine leaves preserved in glass jars. They are used to make the very famous Greek dish Dolmadakia, which is vine leaves stuffed with rice and herbs in a lemon sauce. It’s very easy to make, almost as easy as frying some cheese! If you do decide to prepare Ntolmadakia, a good tip is to be careful not to overload each vine leaf with rice, and look online to see how to wrap them so they don’t open up during cooking.
Tip: All of the above products are available from ordinary supermarkets in Greece, and you really won’t have to spend much to fill your suitcase with traditional Greek treats!