If you are interested in how the Greeks wined and dined in ancient times, you have come to the right place. There are many things Greece is famous for, from its culture to its food, especially ancient greek food. The civilisations in ancient Greece loved to eat and drink wine. They consumed wine more than water; it was always wine o’clock in Greece. I found their ancient diet quite interesting, especially since dinner was the heaviest of all three meals. They possibly perceived it to be the fruits of their all-day hard work.
When you come across greek recipes, you can see the mastery over simple and delicious dishes by using organically grown vegetables and fruits. Thanks to the ancient greek culture, and their natural way of eating, which is quite different from ours, we learn that less is more, especially when it comes to food.
The greeks in ancient times ate three meals a day, and wine was a part of all those meals. The diet followed by people in ancient Greece was balanced and high in nutritional value. So let’s pour a glass of wine or three and get started.
Three Meals A Day In Ancient Greece
As mentioned above, Greece’s people had three meals a day. Let us dive into the details that followed in each of their meals.
They started their morning with bread dipped in wine and figs. The wine they consumed was diluted with water. They have a famous breakfast dish with wheat flour, honey, olive oil, and cuddled milk. Milk was a staple in many places in the world but a big no-no for the Greece people and was perceived as an act of barbarism. The milk for their cheese was from a domestic goat. Back then, every household had a pet goat.
A very popular drink greek had for breakfast was kykeon consisting of barley, water, and naturally occurring substances.
Let’s have more wine and bread for lunch, said the ancient greeks. Lunchtime was filled with snacks and appetisers instead of a proper meal (possibly avoiding a food coma). Ancient greeks liked small plates for lunch consisting of cheese, olives, nuts, seasonal fruits, and fresh fish like sardines, mullets, and eels. Tuna was seen as a delicacy.
Here comes the biggest and most looked-out meal for the day, dinnertime! Dinner was thoroughly enjoyed in ancient Greece, especially with friends and colleagues. The wine was consumed in large quantities during dinnertime, even by women and children.
Dinner is the day’s meal consisting of fish, legumes, bread, olives, cheese, figs, and eggs (quail and hens). Seasonal vegetables like carrots, arugula, cabbage, asparagus, mushrooms, and many more were a big part of their evening feast.
Red meat was mostly consumed by the wealthy. Though meats were not often consumed in Greece, pork, veal, and small birds like quail were served during ceremonial feasts.
Men and women used to eat separately. Women always ate after men were done, and some enslaved people ate last. As some households didn’t enslave people, women looked after and served dinner. Due to the lack of cutlery, loaves of bread were used as plates; some greeks used them to eat soups and broths while others whipped their hand off them. In some households, terracotta bowls were used for dinner.
Symposiums (ritualistic drinking parties) were held after dinner, where people would enjoy art, music, poetry, and other forms of entertainment. However, drinking in limited and enjoying yourself was the purpose of these banquets; heavy drinking and rowdy behaviour were frowned upon.
Delicacies, Salads, And Desserts
In ancient Athens, many forms of fish were considered delicacies, like eels, conger eels, and sea perch. Some fishes like sea bass, swordfish, red mullet, and sturgeon were enjoyed when salted.
The concept of eating salads before meals or as a whole meal was put forward by Hippocrates. He believed that it would give the right nutrition, especially fibre which would help digestion and prevent eating unnecessary carbs and protein. You must have eaten or heard about the greek salad. Also called “Horiatiki” in ancient times and even in some rural areas of Greece today. It contains many seasonal vegetables like tomatoes, onions, cucumber, green pepper, feta cheese, olive oil, and oregano.
Greeks weren’t big on desserts in ancient times. However, honey was a big part of their daily meals and was used on figs and olives. Despite the transformation in desserts today, natives of Greece still enjoy their traditional desserts.
The Journey Of Food And First Cooks In Ancient Greece
Residing In Sicily, the land of prosperity, around the 5th century BC, Maithaecus, the first ancient greek cook and the author of the first greek cookbook, came to fame. He is known to have brought the knowledge of Sicilian gastronomy to Greece. His recipe “serpent fish” was cited by Athenaeus in his “Deipnosophists”.
If you come across recipes from ancient Greece, it would feel like your doctor told you to go on a diet. Before the concept of cooks came in Greece, women and household enslaved people were cooks. Even without the label, they were considered to be a prize. Food was and is still seen as a work of art in Greece. After all, food is not just about meals and eating; it is about an experience that the ancient greeks would love to indulge in three times every day. Families, friends, and colleagues would come to break bread and enjoy wine.
Some Ancient Greek Food To Enjoy Today
Natives of Greece today have still preserved their style of eating. Carried forward from ancient Greece, staples like bread, olive oil, and cheese are mostly consumed in balance with fruits and vegetables. Meat is still less popular, except lamb.
Fancy some greek almond cookies? Greek almond cookies are nutty, crunchy, and melt right in your mouth. Made with almond flour, sugar, almond bits, egg whites, and a pinch of salt. It can be perfectly partnered and enjoyed with a cup of your favourite coffee.
One of my favourites, baklava, is a layered pastry filled with nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey. It’s warm, crunchy, and gooey at the same time. It is one of the most popular and heard of desserts in Greece and is such a delight.
Grapes are enjoyed in Greece and perfectly utilised in the wine, feasts, and even their leaves. Dolmadakis, also known as Sarma, are stuffed grape leaves traditionally eaten during lunch or served as appetisers. You can fill the stuffing with your choice, beef, lamb, or rice.
Semolina is a custard-based dessert baked in filo. It is generally known to be crispy on the outside and juicy inside. The fun thing about this delicacy is choosing your custard flavour from rose, orange, and lemon.
Have you ever tried lasagna? Moussaka is somewhat similar to it. An eggplant or potato-based dish, Moussaka is served at almost every family gathering. It’s a layered casserole with your choice of meat or vegetables, tomato sauce, onions, and seasoning.
Greek honey sesame bars, the world knows of pasteli to a be one of the oldest greek food recipes. It is made with sesame seeds, honey, and lemon. It is then made into balls or square candy. A perfect and healthy snack for those afternoon pangs of hunger.
7. Retsina Wine
By now, we already know how much greeks love their wine, may they be the ancient greeks or the recent ones. Retsina is one of the traditional greek wines, made from sap in Aleppo pine tree, perfectly balanced and mild in taste.
Otherwise known as “Greek cheese Pie”, it is quite popular and is mostly eaten as a mid-day lunch or snack. When I say love me some cheese, the greek says Tiropita. Made with many kinds of cheeses like feta (mostly), parmesan, cottage cheese, and ricotta mixed with egg. What a mouth-watering delicacy.
Have you ever tried Courgette Balls? In Greece, they call them Kolokithokeftedes. It is a veggie starter and one of the greeks’ favourite appetisers. Made from seasonal vegetables, they taste like summer in your mouth. A flavorful combination of crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside.
Another one of my favourites is Tzatziki. Not only in Greece, but the world enjoys this classic dip. It is a lot of things to many greeks, a kind of cold soup for summer and sauce to dip those fresh-cut carrots and asparagus. Made from yoghurt, cucumber, parsley, dill, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and perfectly seasoned, Tzatziki is the perfect combination of fresh and tangy. A delight in my mouth.
Here is a simple greek recipe for you to try.
Tigana (Greek Pancakes)
Pancake obsessed? It is interesting to know that greeks had the type of craze for pancakes even in ancient times. So were the ancient greeks, as they might have invented them. Tigana is thicker than a crepe and mouth-watering. And you can enjoy this ancient food creation by yourself as it is easy to make and delicious to eat.
Tablespoons of honey for the mixture
Extra honey for topping
A pinch of salt
Olive oil for the pan
How To Make Them
Mix flour, honey, a pinch of salt, and water in a bowl. (Tip: Tiganita batter is likely more watery than a usual batter mixture; if you find them to be more watery, add more flour to balance the consistency of the batter.) Whisk it until it’s lump free.
Take a pan, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil, and add the batter. (Tip: Make sure the pan is on medium heat and not high.)
After the side facing the pan starts turning golden brown, flip the pancake. You will shape to do this step a couple of times until the Tiganita is perfectly cooked.
Once the Tiganita is cooked, drizzle some honey or maple syrup to experience traditional Tiganita. In case you want to change it up, you can spread some feta cheese on top to enjoy savoury Tiganita.
If you want more fun with Tiganita, you can top them with nuts, seeds, or fruits.
Kid’s Meals In Ancient Greece
Kids in Ancient Greece ate three to four highly nutritious meals daily. The bread was a part of their every meal. Fruits and vegetables were eaten more often than meat because they thought the meat was like eating domestic animals. The kids would also drink water-diluted wine once in a wine.
Popular fruits like apples, figs, grapes, and pears were fed to the children. Summer was filled with bright and vibrant vegetables like onions, beans, lentils, and radishes. Over the winter, they were usually fed lots of seeds and nuts, a great energy source and micronutrients.
Kids back then didn’t drink milk but took them in the form of cheese. The cheese was derived from domesticated goat milk.
The most important food in ancient greek culture was olives. Consumed as both a snack and in the form of olive oil, rich in Healthy Monounsaturated Fats and low in calories.
The best thing about the greeks is that they fed their children all the things available naturally. Not only was their greek diet healthy then, but it still is.
Fun Facts About The Ancient Greeks
Here are some fun facts or lesser-known facts about Greeks.
1. God Of Wine
An ancient wine-drinking culture had a god, Dionysus, also called Bacchus was worshipped as a God of Wine and Ecstacy, later called Patreon of the arts. The greeks even have a festival for Dionysus, held in the spring when vines would start bearing leaves.
2. The Ancient Greeks Ate White Bread
The ancient greeks loved white bread as white bread was considered high quality and commonly consumed by the wealthy. More common and less wealthy greeks consumed dark or brown bread.
3. Cake Tradition Of The Ancient Greeks
Every new year in Greece, Vasilopita greeks new year cake is served at midnight with a coin hidden, and whoever finds the coin is said to have a lucky year. This tradition is a way to celebrate St Basil, archbishop of Caesarea in Cappodocia. Based on the story of St Basil (Greek Santa Claus).
Due to serious famine, the emperor decided to impose great taxes, and the common people suffered. During this time, people had to give away coins and heavy jewellery when St Basil came to their rescue ad the emperor backed down.
4. How Was Potato Served In Greece
In the earth, 19th century Ioannis Kapodistrias, Greece’s governor, wanted to bring potatoes and everything to do with the potatoes in the country. He decided to give them away for free, but not a single customer came. So he devised a plan and put some armed guards around a couple of bags of potatoes. The guards were instructed to lets anyone who wished to take the potatoes, even thieves, pass by. Guess what? by giving value to the potatoes, his plan worked, and potatoes became a part of the Mediterranean culture.
5. Olive Oil: An Ancient Hero Of The Mediterranean
Olive oil is a jack of all trades in ancient greek culture. The Greek people used olive oil not only for food but for fuel, lamps, and barter systems. Some even call it “liquid gold”. Sophocles called olives” Our silvered wet nurse.” Greeks used them for health and longevity while women used them for beauty.
6. They Ate And Smashed Plates
Have you ever seen a greek celebrate their weddings or birthday and see them smashing or breaking plates? How intriguing! Greece has a plate-smashing custom to mark the end of life or a cycle and welcome abundance and a new beginning.
7. Milk And Meat Was The Act Of Barbarism
Drinking raw milk and consuming meat regularly is atrocious or barbaric. The cheese was made from goat’s and cow’s milk, but drinking it or having its butter was highly frowned upon.
As we look upon ancient greek food, which is now ruled by art, philosophy, and culture.; we see that the greeks ate simple foods like bread, wine, cheese, and olive oil.
Their simplicity towards their food and how the meals were celebrated is lost in many parts of the world today. Foods sustain us and deserve to be celebrated, like taking time to smell and see the beauty on our plate.
So what changes can we bring in our diet today to live a wholesome life? As in ancient greek culture, the right food, especially from organic and simple sources, can help us regain our natural energy and, in some cases, even longevity.