The previously simple, traditional pleasure of eating out became unaffordable for many Greeks when the recession hit six years ago. Even the price of a simple Greek salad was too much for some. But things are looking up and some prices are coming down, even if unemployment isn’t yet. It was a matter of sheer economic survival.
I lived in Greece for years and still visit regularly. I’m proud to be an Athenian. My tips for Greek cheap eats:
- Cheese pie and its many variations
- Yeero and/or souvlaki with pita including chips and salad
- Sweet bougatsa (custard pastry) for breakfast
- Shop at the produce markets where locals go.
More on the tastiest, best
cheap eats in Greece
1. By far the most inexpensive street treat is the koulouri, a crunchy bread ring liberally coated with toasted sesame seeds, baked fresh and sold daily on the streets of Athens and almost everywhere else. Priced at about 60 euro cents or maybe a little more in some places. 2. Buy a cheese pie, cheese and ham, or custard-filled pie for 2 euros – equally as delicious, and like the koulouria, they are baked fresh daily. Greeks wouldn’t have it any other way!
Souvlaki and yeero on the go
3. A whole new swag of souvlaki bars have opened up. They’re the recession busters. The best value for just 2 euros: souvlaki with pita and everything. If you want to order in Greek: Souvlaki me pita kai ola, parakalo. Souvlaki is a skewer of chicken, pork or lamb cooked over a coal-fired grill, although meat cooked on huge round skewers, called yeero, is just as popular. Lamb is more pricy. Chicken and pork seem to be the most commonly used meats. The pita bread is heated and lightly toasted, and then salad – tomato and lettuce and onions – is added, and chips, of course! You can also ask for tsatziki (yogurt, garlic, cucumber dip), or bog standard tomato sauce (of which almost 50% is sugar!). A dusting of paprika is authentic. The one pictured below is from Monastiraki, down the road from Syntagma Square in central Athens. Amazingly, it doesn’t cost any extra to sit and eat the souvlaki at a table, although many people simply chow down on the go. Some islands just know how to do it better than others. The bottom souvlaki picture is taken at a corner eatery in a Fira back street on Santorini where they cost 10.5 euros for three.
4. For taverna food, particularly in tourist areas, expect to pay at least 10 euros a head if you’re ordering starters, salads and a main. Any place with a view on Santorini, for example, will be much more expensive. Tavernas in back streets are generally cheaper. But not always. Pictured below is my lunch on the street known as Beeftaki or Meat Street, in the upmarket coastal Athens suburb of Glyfada. My meal is without any meat, which cost 17 euros. I didn’t eat it all and I’m sure that would be enough food for two people. Some tavernas now also add a free dessert as a sweetener to attract repeat business. The trend started in the recession and lets hope it continues!
Cheap eats in Greece include
home style cooking
5. Excellent value at mayirefta, restaurants serving slow-cooked foods. If you’ve never eaten a meal in a Greek home, this is about as close as you’ll get. Dishes include arni youvetsi (baked lamb with rice-shaped pasta), pastitsio (layers of pasta, meat and béchamel sauce pictured below). I ate at Omorfo (which means beautiful), at 50 Xenokratous Street in the central Athens suburb of Kolonaki, with fellow Athenian, Jenny, where this dish cost about 9 euros. Family-owned, Omorfo evolved from a 1930s cafe for the intellectual elite to an eatery in the 1980s, and is still favoured by many Athenians.
Stuffed peppers with avgolemeno (egg and lemon sauce) is also highly recommended at Omorfo. Although I didn’t like their homemade pita – the pastry was tough and it was too oily.
6. A breakfast bougatsa (custard filled pastry) and cafe freddo (espresso-based iced coffee) will be under 5 euros in total. I recently ate mine at Piccole Delicatezze Cafe, on the corner of Tzamadou and Kolokotroni in the side streets of Piraeus. Exploring side streets is one of the joys of visiting Athens and its surrounds.
7. Splash out! Yet this elegant orange chocolate mousse cake was under 4 euros at the well-known bakery chain A. Georgiadou. For the most inexpensive sweet treats, try the many bakeries all over Greece, which produce their own breads as well as simple pastries and more elaborate cakes and biscuits. You will pay as little as .90 euro cents and easily less than 4 euros for many sweets.
8. Lychnarakia (sweet cheese pies, pictured below) are a specialty of the island of Tinos. About 2 euros each. The pastry is fluted, and the more fluted it is, the better quality the pastry is considered to be. Tinos, in the Cyclades and about half an hour by ferry from cosmopolitan Mykonos, is the island of churches and doesn’t have a lot of foreign tourists. Religious Greeks consider it a pilgrimage. The beaches are pristine. My Australian friend Kate and I had an entire beach to ourselves one early autumn morning. The lychnarakia and Greek coffee, with grapes from the garden, was one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had in Greece. Or maybe it was just the purity of the fresh air on Tinos working its magic.
9. Go to the markets! Weekly produce markets are held in every town all over the country, and fresh seasonal produce is hard to beat for value. Don’t waste your time bargaining. It’s an insult to the stallholders, who offer quality fruit, veges, oils, olives, fish and cheeses. They’re not rich folk, and many are still doing it tough.
More on Greek markets: Tasting Glyfada’s produce