NEW YORK – For Greeks worldwide, it is no surprise that the cuisine and traditional way of eating in Greece captivates anyone who visits the homeland. The ‘Glorious Way of Eating in Greece’ was highlighted by CNN Travel as health journalist Sandee LaMotte traveled to the Greek islands on “a bucket list trip” and was enthralled by what she saw and tasted.
LaMotte wrote: “To sweeten the trip, I would get to dine on the Mediterranean diet in one of its home countries. It’s an award-winning style of healthy eating I had been covering for years as a health journalist. I was going to see, smell, taste, and take pictures of many of the foods I was writing about, based on recipes handed down over the centuries from Greek yiayiás to their grandchildren. Would the meals look and taste that healthy in person?”
“The answer to both – yes,” LaMotte noted.
“On the island of Milos, my fiancé and I dined at a low-key café called Nostos Sea Food, one of many eateries along the waterfront,” LaMotte continued, noting that “our taxi driver told us it was a favorite of the locals, and when our meal arrived, we could immediately see why. Dolmades, stuffed grape leaves typically served in rolls, had been transformed into tasty, shrimp-filled bites covered in lemon foam.”
“Galatopita, a classic ruffled milk pie, was an eye-catching feast of buttery phyllo and custard, artfully decorated with pistachios,” LaMotte wrote, adding that “despite what looked like a tiny kitchen, the chef had managed to create an experience worthy of a four-star restaurant,” and “throughout Greece, every meal we ate was prepared with pride. Creamy, rich Greek yogurt topped with walnuts and honey was more like a beautiful dessert than a classic breakfast.”
“On Santorini, we kept coming back to one restaurant that served traditional Greek cuisine – but on steroids,” LaMotte wrote, noting that “at 218 Degrees Cafe, a freshly created version of spanakopita, the beloved Greek spinach pie, was like nothing I’d experienced in the United States.”
She also enjoyed zucchini fritters served with tzatziki, and “traditional Greek salad, called horiatiki (which means village)… another revelation,” LaMotte wrote, “for one, there was no lettuce, just lots of plump, juicy tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers and onions, laced with several of the many varieties of Greek olives, and topped with large slabs of fresh feta and a sprinkle of olive oil.”
Of feta, LaMotte wrote: “This cheese melted in my mouth, rich, creamy and delicious. No wonder Greeks say feta can go with anything.”
“Of course, It didn’t hurt that we were eating these foods over a vista of the cliffs of Santorini,” LaMotte noted.
Of Greek olive oil, LaMotte wrote: “Speaking of olive oil, I can confirm it’s the king of the Mediterranean diet. It’s such a part of Greek life that if natives think someone is a bit crazy, they say they are ‘choris ládi’ or ‘losing oil.’”
“Scientists think olive oil could be one of the reasons that meals from the Mediterranean are so very good for us,” LaMotte wrote, adding that “study after study has found eating the Mediterranean way can reduce the risk for diabetes, high cholesterol, dementia, memory loss, depression, and breast cancer and has been linked to stronger bones, a healthier heart, and longer life. Oh, and don’t forget weight loss!”
“While the Mediterranean way of eating is based on traditional foods from the 21 countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea, they share a common theme,” LaMotte continued, “the focus is on simple, plant-based cooking, featuring fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, beans, seeds and nuts, and a heavy emphasis on extra-virgin olive oil.”
Refined sugar, white flour, butter and red meat are also rarely eaten in the Mediterranean diet, “instead, meals may include eggs, dairy, and poultry, but in much smaller portions than in the traditional American diet,” LaMotte noted, adding that “fish, however, are a staple.”
“At one local restaurant, we watched three young men feast on a huge, freshly caught fish, leaving nothing but a few bones and a head,” LaMotte wrote, pointing out that “most seafood I saw in Greece was served whole, eyeballs and all” and “for someone used to fish fillets and ready-to-eat shrimp, it took a bit of getting used to.”
Fresh fruit is also “the foundation of dessert here,” LaMotte found, noting that “while you could easily buy the traditional baklava or loukoumades (Greek doughnuts) at most tourist-based restaurants, that’s not what the locals eat every day.”
“At a restaurant one night, I saw a family order a fruit platter topped with watermelon as a birthday cake,” LaMotte wrote, adding that “orange, lemon, and fig trees grow in backyards, ready to be plucked with a quick walk outside. I even saw orange trees growing along an Athens sidewalk.”
“Unlike the sodium-heavy Western diet, herbs and spices take precedence over salt and pepper to flavor Mediterranean dishes,” LaMotte continued, “fresh herbs are so important that Greeks grow them in every nook and cranny.”
“But the Mediterranean ‘diet’ is so much more than food,” LaMotte wrote, noting that “it’s based on movement, such as walking, biking, and gardening, as well as mindful eating and the gathering of friends and family.”
“Watching the connection happen was a highlight of the trip. We can’t wait to go back,” LaMotte concluded.