Greece is a beautiful country and a very popular travel destination for people from all over the world. When thinking about Greece in relation to food most people will picture traditional taverns serving seafood or grilled meat so as a vegan I get asked frequently:
“What do vegans eat in Greece?”
The answer is a lot!
What most people don’t know is that Greece is actually a very vegan friendly place. However, this is not done on purpose but it’s rather a result of the Greek cuisine traditionally having a lot of accidentally vegan dishes. Back in the day people were poor and vegetables and legumes made up a big part of the Greek diet.
So if you know what to look for you will have a really easy time finding delicious plant-based foods in Greece.
My top tips for traveling vegans in Greece
How to communicate with Greek locals
If you are in a bigger city like Athens or Thessaloniki, especially if you are talking to younger people, you can try and see if they understand the word vegan. Veganism is getting more popular so you might get what you’re looking for straight away. However, outside the big cities people, most older ones will not know the word vegan or confuse it with vegetarian. Instead, there is an alternative way to explain what you can and can’t eat.
The most important word you need to know if you are a vegan traveling in Greece is:
“Nistisimo” (νηστίσιμο) = fasting
Those are the foods the Greek Christian orthodox religion permits consuming during fasting. It is a vegetarian diet that excludes meat, dairy and eggs but NOT Honey, Fish Eggs, Clams and Cephalopods.
Typically, Greek people will fast 40 days before Easter so almost everyone in Greece will understand what you’re asking them if you look for something “nistisimo”. Just make sure you also ask if the product has honey in it or some sort of fish product (which is unlikely).
Also, almost everyone in the service industry speaks or understands English very well so if you politely ask them for foods without any animal products they will be happy to help you.
How to pick a restaurant
If you are explicitly looking for vegan restaurants you will find them in the big cities. The app “Happy Cow” can help you locate the best plant-based choices nearby. However, if you’re at a smaller place, vegan or vegetarian restaurants will be very hard to find. But don’t worry you can still go and eat out!
Since Greeks love food even the smallest Greek village will have a couple of taverns and in most cases you will find plant-based food on the menu. Since it is not always easy for travelers to spot the differences between the taverns, here is how you pick the right one as a vegan.
The most important thing you should try and find out before entering is what food the tavern specializes in:
“Tis oras” (τις ώρας) = this hour
The food of the hour literally means it is made after you order. So usually it is a tavern that specializes in grilled food mainly meat and sometimes fish. At those places people usually order a big plate of meat with french fries and salad so you won’t find a large variety of vegan options.
“Mageireuta” (μαγειρευτά) = cooked food
In a restaurant that makes cooked food it is the other way around. The cooked food usually takes hours to make and the taverns have it prepared before you arrive. In some more traditional places they won’t have a menu but you can go inside, have a look at the food and pick something. A lot of those traditional cooked food dishes are in fact vegan.
So, if you see a tavern advertising cooked food definitely choose that one.
Accidentally vegan options at Greek taverns
Greece is full of taverns and you definitely shouldn’t miss out on the traditional Greek food. However, most places won’t label anything as “vegan” on the menu so knowing what to order is essential.
Here are the most popular plant-based options you can choose from:
- Dolmadakia (Ντολμαδάκια)
A Greek classic: wine leaves stuffed with rice. This popular starter is mostly vegan, however in rare occasions it is made with meat so ask before ordering just to make sure you will get the vegan version.
- Gigantes (Γίγαντες)
This is one of my favorite foods. Baked giant beans with tomato sauce. Very nutritious and tasty you can find this starter at a lot of taverns.
- French fries (Πατάτες)
The obvious but always tasty choice. Every tavern will serve a plate of homemade french fries if you ask them.
- Fava (Φάβα)
Fava is made out of either mashed up fava beans or yellow peas. It’s like a very delicious oily paste and sometimes topped with tomatoes and caramelized onions.
- Greek salad without feta (Χωριάτικη)
A Greek salad always accompanies a good meal in Greece. It is usually made with tomato, cucumber, olives, peppers, onions and a lot of olive oil. Just ask your waiter to leave out the feta cheese and the salad will be vegan.
- Gemista (Γεμιστά)
One of the most famous Greek dishes is in fact vegan. When you order Gemista, you usually get a tomato, a pepper or an eggplant stuffed with rice and veggies and some potatoes on the side. Since a lot of tourists asked for meat in the past, some taverns (especially in touristy places) changed the recipe and now make Gemista with minced meat. So be sure to ask before you order if they serve the option without meat.
- Grilled vegetables (Λαχανικά σχάρας)
Vegetables just taste better in Greece. If you order the grilled veggies you will usually get a plate full of eggplant, zucchini, paprika and mushroom fresh from the grill. Sometimes taverns will serve it with a side of Tzatziki or some cheese sprinkled on top so just to be safe ask your waiter to serve it without any of that.
- Skordalia (Σκορδαλιά)
If you’re looking for a plant-based alternative to tzatziki, this is it. This garlic paste is ideal for dipping bread, fried zucchini or french fries in it. Traditionally it is made from garlic, olive oil, potatoes, herbs and sometimes bread or almonds. Just to be sure, also ask your waiter to serve it without cheese because some taverns do.
- Fried zucchini/courgette (Κολοκυθάκια τηγανιτά)
Almost like french fries the fried zucchini is a very popular starter in Greece. It is very oily so not as healthy as grilled vegetables but it tastes wonderful.
- Fasolakia (Φασολάκια)
This is also a very traditional Greek food. It’s a tasty and oily dish that usually includes cooked green beans with potatoes, carrots and tomato sauce. Not to be confused with “Fasolada” which are cooked white beans with carrots, which is also vegan (however rarely served in taverns).
- Briam (Μπριάμ)
Very oily but very delicious baked vegetables. Usually includes potatoes, eggplant and zucchini.
Vegan fast food and bakery options
Bakeries are very popular in Greece and you can find them on every street. Greeks love their bread and the traditional Greek pies. Whilst most breads are vegan a lot of pies have feta cheese or meat in them.
The most common vegan pie is “spanakopita” (σπανακόπιτα)
Spanakopita is a spinach pie but some bakeries will also have plant-based leek or potato pie. The easiest way is to ask for something “nistisimo” and you’ll get told your options.
Another very popular quick food in Greece is of course gyros. Usually most vegan people wouldn’t go and get one, however if you are with a group of non vegans or you get hungry on the road you can just order a “patatopita” (πατατόπιτα) in every gyros restaurant. You will get the traditional greek pita bread filled with french fries, onions and tomato and can ask them for ketchup and mustard. Especially in the south part of Greece those can be very small so if you are very hungry you will need to order two.
Supermarkets and farmers markets
When it comes to finding vegan food in Greek supermarkets “The bigger the better” is a good rule.
If you are in Athens or Thessaloniki you will find an abundance of plant-based products like plant milks, yogurts and cheeses. The smaller the place the fewer choices there are but it is safe to say that plant milks and vegan cheese have established themselves everywhere. Most of those products are labeled vegan but in some cases they will only say “nistisimo” so check the label for any fish.
Even if the products are not listed as “vegan” or “nistisimo” a lot of labels are also translated in English so you can check if you can eat a product.
If you want to find high quality fruits and vegetables for the best price ask for the next:
“laiki” (λαϊκή) = farmers market
In big cities you can find one almost every day in different areas. If you are in a village they are typically once a week, where a normal street is transformed into a market selling local and seasonal vegetables, fruits and legumes.
Veganism is becoming popular in Greece
One thing I have noticed in the past three years is that veganism is quickly becoming more and more popular in Greece. More vegan restaurants are opening and supermarkets have heavily increased the variety of plant-based products. The younger generation of Greek people are becoming more conscious about what they eat, so I expect Greece to become even more vegan friendly in the future!