The anxiety I felt leading up to my holiday in Greece was crazy. I often think of my mother travelling in a boat for a month to come to Australia with an 18-month child and a 3 year old on her own. My father came 2 years ahead of his family to set up a house and establish himself before they came. My younger brother and I were born 12 years later in what my older brother called more prosperous times for our family.
I went without many of the luxuries my generation of friends had. But I was also aware of my parent’s efforts to provide for us. This imparted a strong drive to do well in my life as a way of honoring my parent’s sacrifice for me.
So let me share my experience of food and culture as I travel back to Greece as a 44 year old. As always, I research the best restaurants for the areas I will be visiting. I also consider plenty of activities to do while I’m away; in this case walking and hiking. Always ask for low fat/low cholesterol meals for the plane trip. The feeling that the calories have been controlled over the 24-hour period is a great feeling and start to the holiday. Keep fluids up. This stops fluid retention and also decreases food intake.
Flying into Athens, over the islands was really an emotional time for me. Tears welled up in my eyes. Here lay before me my heritage and ancestors.
My holiday in Greece
My holiday to Greece was a trip 32 years in the making, almost the same time it took my parents to visit their homeland after they migrated from Rhodes. My father arrived in Australia on his own in 1959 then my mother followed in 1961. Money was their biggest obstacle in returning to Greece to see their family again and perhaps some apprehension to the changes that may have occurred while they were away.
I was 12 years old when I arrived in Rhodes for the first time in 1981. I left Greece with my heart warmed with family connections and at the same time with a confused mindset in regard to my Greek and Australian heritage. I think feeling a sense of displacement, as to not knowing where I actually fit in, kept me from visiting Greece again for all these years.
Stayed at Syntagma Square, which was central to everything we wanted to do in Athens and approx. 5-20 minutes walking distance to all activities.
We were quite tired on arrival and crashed for 1 hr. Woke up… took a look from the balcony … and thought we didn’t get a view of the Parthenon as requested. I was too tired to worry about it. Dressed to eat at Cookavaya. Walking there and back was essential to building up an appetite (and to help balance caloric intake).
Amazing restaurant. Bread arrived, disappointingly with butter, not olive oil. Bottled water was also left on the table, which is a clear trend to do across Europe. Great selection of Greek wines. We ordered chargrilled octopus served with warm fava beans (split pea soup – Fava… recipe in our ‘Mediterranean Eating’ book). I have never seen octopus served with that accompaniment. It was a taste sensation; in fact this statement encompasses all the meals we consumed. The combination of legumes and seafood was a brilliant idea. This beautiful synergy aligned well with the Mediterranean diet. My husband ordered the pork brisola (chargrilled pork- Greek style). You just cannot go to Greece and not have a pork brisola. It melted in his mouth and was served with puréed potato that had been cooked in a broth. We started with a green bean salad, an interesting variation of the traditional Greek salad. The green beans were boiled and potato pieces also featured… tossed with red onion, cucumber and served on a basil puree and topped with fried feta. This was incredible.
We could have stopped eating after the bread and the salad. Thank goodness we had a lovely walk back to the hotel! After arriving back at the hotel and walking out to the balcony for some fresh air, there to the left of me was a direct view of the Parthenon perched on the Acropolis. Wow! It was surreal. At that moment, the donkey bells rang in my head…I was in an ancient city, with plenty of rich history and my heritage awaiting to be discovered.
The meal serves are large in Greece and lend themselves to being shared. My food suggestions in Athens: Try and opt for ‘no bread’ as a starter. Choose a salad – popular salads in Athens included Greek salad, Quinoa salads and many varieties of Lentil salads. The prices were very affordable and even top end restaurant prices were cheaper than Brisbane prices. When we started sharing dishes, the cost of dining averaged $30 (Aus) for 2 of us (including drinks) and a maximum of $70 (Aus) for high-end restaurants including drinks.
My food suggestions in Athens
The meal serves are large in Greece and lend themselves to being shared.
Try and opt for ‘no bread’ as a starter. Choose a salad – popular salads in Athens included Greek salad, Quinoa salads and many varieties of Lentil salads. The prices were very affordable and even top end restaurant prices were cheaper than Brisbane prices. When we started sharing dishes, the cost of dining averaged $30 (Aus) for 2 of us (including drinks) and a maximum of $70 (Aus) for high-end restaurants including drinks.
The Greek coffee is sensational and unbeatable. I started with 1/2 tsp sugar but gladly enjoyed sugar free (‘sketo’) after day 1. There were some incredible Greek coffee shops that were making Greek coffee in the briki on hot coals. Worth trying! Then there was the frappe… in a multitude of versions. Coffee (usually Nescafe), iced water and ice blended. You had the option to add sugar to be blended into the frappe. I must say it was a fascinating alternative and could see why most Athenians preferred this option. I dare say they would be adding sugar. Most were ordering ‘metrio’ which is 1 tsp of sugar per drink. Frappe or Greek coffee were milk free options for an afternoon pick me up.
I chose to start the day with Greek yoghurt, walnuts and mixed seasonal fruit. It was a great beginning to my day. Traditionally Greeks are not big on breakfast but a Greek coffee and koulouri (large circular bread-like structure with sesame seeds). Very delicious! Koulouria were also sold with Philadelphia cheese or feta.
Next on the agenda was a walk to the Acropolis, one of the greatest attractions of Athens and the world. Well worth the 20 euro and the lineup in the extreme heat to get the tickets. The Greeks have no availability for pre-ordering tickets. Different, but acceptable I suppose. Take a hat! Take water! It was certainly an amazing experience seeing these ancient ruins and walking amongst them. Allocate a good 2-3 hours. Visiting the Acropolis is an excellent exertion of energy, climbing and walking the landscape up to the Acropolis and the many stairs.
The Athens Acropolis
The Acropolis museum is one of the best museums I have ever seen. The excavation of the ancient ruins showcased below through glass. floors, with the museum built above, is ingenious.
Thirst leading to dehydration is a real concern with the high heat and humidity during peak tourist season. Be mindful to drink plenty of bottled water, which is available everywhere for 50c.
Greek beer choices include Alpha, Fix and Mythos, all of which were refreshing and of high quality. Remember to drink sparkling or still water before drinking alcohol and keep drinking water between each alcoholic drink.
Dionysius restaurant with its breathtaking night views to the Acropolis is a must try. The service was incredible and the food exceptionally good. The eggplant with goat cheese risotto offered a comforting, familiar smoke taste and the bite of the goat cheese was a brilliant addition to make this risotto, Greek-style.
Walking through the Agora and ancient housing district we were introduced to amazing home wares, gifts and art works.
My favourite breakfast venue was Zonders, which served fantastic Greek coffee, an amazing fair of breakfast delights and options for every day of the week, if required.
We could not leave Greece without visiting a Greek bakery (artopeio) and a souvlaki shop. I was on a mission to find and have my first Athenian bougatsa (a creamy custard moderate sugar sweet enclosed within filo pastry, baked and sprinkled with cinnamon and icing sugar). Success. Most good bakeries in Athens sold bougatsa. We tried Attika bakeries. We don’t see bougatsa in Australia. It is not a common Greek sweet, but is my favoured choice for Greek dessert.
We went in search of Thanassi’s gyros in the Plaka area. Beautiful soft thick Greek pita lightly grilled on the outside with a choice of pork, chicken or lamb gyros meat or kebab (minced meat alternative), which was quite popular. The gyros pita also included tomato, onion, cucumber, tzatziki and hot chips. A must try when in Athens.
I would recommend as final calorie expenditure the hike up Lycabettus Hill. Twilight is the best time to venture up this abrupt peak. At 277 metres, Lycabettus stands high above Athens, commanding a clear view across the Attica basin and the Aegean. Facing the viewing platform is Agios Georgios, a tiny white-stucco chapel of St. George. Take water and wear comfortable shoes.
In summing up the Athenians I would say they are very polite and helpful. The streets were surprisingly clean. The drivers were crazy. And sadly the graffiti everywhere was gut wrenching.
Our next stop was to Rhodes the birthplace of our parents. Rhodes is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the Dodecanese Islands.
Rhodes is a beautiful island with picturesque white washed houses and beautiful Aegean beaches. When I think Mediterranean I think of Rhodes (I might be biased though). Our first stop was the quaint, quiet village of Asklipio, nestled amongst the mountain ranges with breathtaking views of the sea and mountain ranges.
Every village has their own museum to showcase artifacts from that village. Asklipio had an amazing display of machinery used in its bygone era for olive oil and wheat extraction. It was an amazing historical journey. An era where olives were manually beaten off the trees and collected then extracted in the village communally. Modern machinery has made light work of this and only certain villages possess the factories to extract oil for surrounding villages.
It was lovely to see small plots of fertile land divided up between the villagers and various citrus trees, vegetable, herb and fruit gardens sustaining individual households. It is clear to see how my immigrant parents brought their skills and home gardening techniques to Australia. Most Australian-Greek families in my mum’s generation grew tomatoes, spinach, lettuce, eggplants, beans, shallots and more in their backyard, enough for their families and neighbours too.
The Kiotari is the seaside sister village of Asklipio and is perfect for swimming and relaxing with its crystal blue Aegean water and pebbled seashore.
Much Greek food fare is available at the restaurants that adorn the seaside. All the restaurants are wonderful in their own right.One of my favourite restaurants was La Strada, which offered grilled whole fish, whole calamari, octopus and many Greek foods such as moussaka and Greek salad. As a side note the traditional Greek salad that the world has come to know and love in Greece is called a Horiatiki Salata.
Lighthouse restaurant at Kiotari is a hot spot for the youth during the peak tourist season. It offers both bar and restaurant, which was exceptional. The lighthouse restaurant served one of the best Greek salads I had in Greece. It came with a variety of extras such as a fermented green called Kapari (Caper leaves), capers, pickled green peppers, green table olives, capsicum and capers. Incredibly tasty! I love that they let me dress their salad with a high quality robust local extra virgin olive oil. The olive oil was soooo good! I thoroughly enjoyed dipping the ‘Horiatiko’ (Sourdough village) bread into the leftover oil and juices at the bottom of the salad bowl.
I must say I avoided the bread in Athens, but could not avoid the ‘Horiatiko bread’ in Rhodes. Sourdough bread cooked traditionally in outside wood fired ovens in the villages. The bread is a dense consistency, filling and a perfect texture for soaking up all the oil on the bottom of my Greek salad.
At our time in Asklipio we managed to visit in our little hire car Lindos Castle and Acropolis, Kalypso restaurant, Genadi and Prasonisi. All these destinations were seaside villages with exceptional food fare. The basis of the food on offer at the seaside restaurants was similar, but they all had their different serving style and unique tastes. So I can say with 100% confidence that I did not get sick of the Greek food on offer.
Our next stop was my parent’s village of Apollona, which is located in the central part of Rhodes in the mountains. One of my wonderful first cousins Chrys arrived in Asklipio to pick us up. Driving on the other side of the road seemed fine on long stretches of seaside road, but navigating through narrow mountain ranges another matter. It was good to have my cousin, a local of Rhodes, driving us safely to our destination. Chrys took us on a lovely road trip along the beautiful coastal regions from high and then through the luscious rainforest Profitilias, which nestles high in the mountains above Apollona.
We arrived to a wonderful Trapezi (hosted table of food) at the local tavern. My uncles and cousins were very hospitable and the food that adorned the table included goat cooked in a wood fired oven with potatoes, dolmathes, loukanika (greek sausage), beeftekia (Greek rissoles), brisoles (grilled pork), tirokeftethes (mediterranean cheese balls), pitaroudia (chickpea fritters) and tirokafteri (spicy feta cheese dip).
During our meal we were introduced to Souma served chilled. The high alcohol content of this product could raise someone from the dead!
Souma is a traditional drink, like Ouzo or Raki. In Rhodes Island it is mainly made from grape marc and wine, which makes the Rhodian Souma so special.
Santorini is the island of love and most popular island destination in Greece…here we come!
Arriving at the port of Rhodes we came across a quaint restaurant that was good enough to let us eat and drink while we waited for our ferry to depart for Santorini. I couldn’t go past the grilled sardines on offer, bread and Greek salad. I never got sick of Greek salad and fish/seafood. It was important to ask what the fresh fish of the day was. The variety of fish available and the way it was cooked and presented was always exceptional and varied.
It is an 8 hour trip by large ferry from Rhodes to Santorini. I suggest taking the last ferry and sleeping on the ferry as it arrives at midnight at Santorini. Or you could fly there! Be mindful to alert your hotel of your late arrival. It is impossible to get your bags up and down the thousands of stairs to your hotel without assistance, which the porters do with seemingly super human strength.
Santorini was as beautiful as every postcard portrays it. Santorini has 2 main small towns Oia and Fira. Oia by far was my pick of destinations for my age bracket. Stunning views, beautiful restaurants, great shopping and a quieter part of the island. Oh and the sunsets…incredible!
Fira was busy but exciting, which offered some healthy cheaper takeaway food options. Grilled meats, pita and salads were always available.
Santorini is a relaxing island with plenty of food options. I suggest organising the 2.5 – 3 hour moderate walk along the coast line from Fira to Oia. Well worth doing for the beautiful views along the way. Wear plenty of sunscreen, walking shoes, a hat and plenty of water. Set out in the morning to arrive at Oia for a well-deserved lunch. It made having the dessert (galactoburiko) and coffee after lunch so much more acceptable and enjoyable.
Old Rhodes Town has a rich history and is well known for Mandraki Harbour where the famous Colossus once stood.
Koykos in Old Rhodes town is situated within a lovely courtyard atmosphere. Here we tried Sypies in black ink sauce (Cuttlefish), Green Salad with octopus, cod and radish dressed with dill, lemon and olive oil; Slow cooked lamb roast and oven baked lemon potatoes. Sensational food, wonderful flavours and probably the best meal I tried in old Rhodes Town. inks.
Most bars and restaurants in Rhodes served either unsalted roasted nuts or homemade potato crisps with alcoholic drinks. My favourite bar region in Rhodes was Barres Tres in the Mandraki region at Dimitriou Theodoraki Street (mall) and also worth a visit for drinks, Ronda Restaurant Beach.
I hope you fall in love with Greece, its people, food and culture. I did! Kalo Taxidi (happy travels) and Kali Orexi (bon appetite).
There is a trick to preparing the perfect soft grilled octopus…
The Greeks favourite way to eat octopus (Ktapothi me salsa) is in red wine tomato sauce. See our Mediterranean cook book for the recipe.
Fish is best grilled and served with Lemon and Oil Sauce (Ladolemono). See our Mediterranean cook book for the recipe.
Greek Spicy Feta Cheese Dip:
- 250g fat reduced feta
- ¾ cup reduced fat Greek yogurt
- 1-2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- 1 hot pepper (can be fresh or canned)
- Mash the feta with the yogurt until you make a grainy paste.
- Add the olive oil and vinegar and mix well.
- In a food processor mince the hot pepper (without the seeds), add to the feta mixture and blend well.
- Let it sit in the refrigerator for about an hour before serving.
- Garnish with paprika and kalamata olives. Serve with crusty sourdough bread.
Thank you to Fish Kitchen at Dutton Park, our favourite fishmonger, for supplying the following tips…
A great grilling fish is Barramundi. Put a pan on a medium-high heat and add a splash of rice bran oil (our preference for fish). Put the barramundi in the pan presentation side first – if the fish is skinless, face the flesh side down, if you are leaving the skin on and want it to crisp up, sprinkle the skin with a little sea salt and place skin side down first.
Cook until the first side has desired colour (about 3 minutes) or until the skin is crisp, then turn and cook until the fish is just cooked through. You can tell by slicing with a knife – if the fish is not ready it will have a bit of resistance – when cooked the knife with slip straight through easily.
Fresh fish smells of the sea – not fishy, and the fillet should not feel slimy (except Salmon).
Fresh octopus is firm and shiny and should smell of the sea – for your function we used fresh octopus and just followed your recipe from the book exactly – and it came out beautiful.