If you’ve been planning a trip to Greece but have hesitated over food concerns, don’t worry there is a huge selection of food for you! Instead, bookmark this list we’ve put together of the best vegetarian and vegan Greek food you can find all over the country.
With clean eating and sustainable food practices on the rise in the western world, animal-free foods are more accessible than ever. But eating abroad can be a different story, especially when European cuisine is still so traditional, and so much of it is meat, egg, and dairy-based.
There is a myth that Greeks eat a lot of meat, lamb in particular. The reality is many Greeks only eat meat on special occasions like Easter, when they may fire up a spit-roast for family and community gatherings. Meat is expensive for the average household and lamb is not easily available. Let’s face it if you have been to the Greek Islands its unlikely you have seen rolling green pastures for grazing! Instead, Goats are more common and also pork is a cheaper alternative these days.
Aside from the economic and geographic challenges many Greeks prefer a high degree of plant-based meals. In fact, the Greeks and Japanese enjoy the longest life expectancies, even as migrants in other countries, and their diet is a big part of that.
The main reason is because they almost all grow their own food, particularly fruit and vegetables. Tending to those gardens also provides regular, gentle exercise, another vital health benefit. Add to this a diet high in dairy, olive oil and seafood, extended family units and strong community connections and the result is a healthy, happy aging population that we can all learn a lot from.
There is even an island in the Aegean called Ikaria, which is a designated ‘Blue Zone’. This means it is officially one of the worlds longest-lived cultures.
So when in Greece do as the Greeks and try these wonderful dishes in the local tavernas and cafes. They are also the cheapest things on the menu so your wallet will thank you too!
Popular Greek Vegetarian Dishes
The word ‘Saganaki’ actually means ‘little pan’ and really refers to the pan this cheese is fried in as well as the cheese.
The cheeses which are used in Greece to make traditional Greek Saganaki are Graviera, Kefalograviera and Kefalotyri. They are all medium hardness yellow cheeses with a mild, creamy flavour and a little nutty. They are similar to Haloumi and thought to be more traditionally Greek. I personally find they can be a bit salty which is why they are often served with sweet things like figs or honey.
It will also crumble and can be used to top casseroles in dishes such as Mussels and Shrimp Saganaki.
Mezedes (or Meze)
Mezedes is an assortment of small dishes usually eaten at the beginning of a meal or on their own. Similar to Spanish tapas or Italian antipasto. In some parts of the world we would call them ‘nibbles’.
Typical inclusion in Meze might be any or all of the following;
- sardines or anchovies
- small cheese pies
- tomato keftedes (fried tomato balls)
- fresh figs/tomato/cucumber
- other specialites of a region or island
There are many dips in Greece and they are commonly eaten at the beginning of a meal and sometimes as an accompaniment.
The most famous is probably Tzatziki ( silent T!) which is thick natural yoghurt, lemon juice, garlic, cucumber, vinegar and olive oil. Other excellent ones – far better than anything you’ve had back home, are;
- Taramasalata – made from fish roe and pink in colour we find the paler the pink the better.
- Skordalia – potato and garlic
- Fava dip – yellow split peas
- Feta dip – you’ll never guess what this is made from
- Melitzanosalata – made from eggplant and common throughout the Mediterranean (see more below).
Haloumi is a semi-hard, unripened, brined cheese from Cyprus made from a mixture of goat’s and sheep’s milk, and sometimes also cow’s milk.
It is fried and served hot with fresh lemon juice. It has a squeaky texture but is very delicious.
Horiatiki (Greek salad)
What kind of vegetarian Greek foods list would this be without mentioning the quintessential Greek salad? Though that’s what you might call it at home, in its own country it’s widely known as Horiataki.
This simple vegetable-based salad is vegetarian, but it can easily be made to be vegan (hold the feta, please!). It’s crisp, refreshing, flavourful, and the best lead-in to your meal.
This salad combines just a few basic ingredients: chopped tomatoes, feta cheese ( or Myzithra) cucumber, onions, and Kalamata olives. The dressing is simple: salt, pepper, Oregano, and olive oil!
If you’ve ever had this before, you’re probably used to seeing the feta cheese crumbled on top and mixed in, but traditionally, the feta is actually served as a whole (very thick) slice on the side or on the top, so it’s very easy to have this dish on a vegan diet too.
Learn how to make authentic Greek salad at home HERE
Spanakopita is probably among one of the better-known Greek foods, and you’ll find it everywhere in Greece (something for which you’ll come to be grateful, because it’s extremely tasty).
In simple terms, it’s a savoury spinach pie, but what this simple definition doesn’t immediately give away is the burst of flavour you’ll get from your first bite.
Wrapped inside of crispy, flaky phyllo pastry is a warm, seasoned filling made of a mixture of chopped spinach, melty feta cheese, onions (or scallions), and egg.
The entire pie is baked for maximum crispiness, and served warm. There are sometimes minor differences between varieties; some are much of basic and made without cheese; some use Kefalotiri cheese instead of feta (or both!), and some are made with a much thicker, more crumbly pastry exterior known as Horiatiko.
This is a must-taste while in Greece, and it can be found sold by street vendors everywhere you go.
See our delicious, easy recipe for Spanakopita HERE
Cabbage Rolls (Lahanodolmades)
Cabbage rolls may not sound inherently Greek, but they are full of flavours that are an integral part of national cuisine. It’s a pretty simple assembly: cabbage leaves stuffed with a mix of flavoured rice, herbs, and a creamy lemon sauce.
You can order them on their own or with a delicious Lemon Sauce called Avgolemno which is made with eggs so then it is a vegetarian dish rather than a vegan one. Even then, be wary when when you order as traditional cabbage rolls are often stuffed with pork mince along with the other ingredients. So be sure to ask first!
These are soft, chewy, and with a little accompanying tang thanks to the lemon egg sauce that you top these with. Bonus: don’t forget to add some liberal cracked pepper for the full effect.
You might see this written elsewhere as pilaf or pilau, but the true Greek dish is known as Pilafi. Now, this isn’t the most vegetarian-friendly dish, but if you are a bit more casual on your diet and just refuse to eat actual meat, you might be ok with this dish. Traditionally, Pilafi is prepared by boiling rice in a meat-based stock or broth (in Crete, goat or lamb).
The meat-boiled rice (with a healthy dose of lemon juice, as you do) is pretty much the core of this dish, but you’ll see it topped with a variety of herbs and usually a whole lemon slice or two.
If you’re eating out at a restaurant, many dishes will come with a side of Pilafi, pita, and Greek lemony potatoes.
Fried Artichokes and eggs ( Aginares)
Simply freshly fried artichokes with eggs, onions, and dill. Commonly served at breakfast.
We came across this a fair bit on Milos and were hooked!
These little cheese pies are sold by street vendors and bakeries particularly in Corfu and the other Ionian islands.
There are many variations across the country that have to do with the pastry used and how it is styled, for example in the Sporades islands the cheese-filled pastry is often formed into a spiral.
A delicious snack or appetizer these can be highly addictive!
Typically a street food usually eaten at breakfast these delicious sweet pies are full of custard and are served warm, sprinkled with icing sugar.
These parcels of deliciousness are thought to have originated from Macedonia which in turn got the idea from Constantinople ( Istanbul). There are variations of them across Greece with different types of filling and they can vary in size too. Traditionally they are filled with a sweet semolina custard but sometimes it may be a sweet type of cheese filling too.
Learn how to make ( and devour) Bougatsa at home HERE
Gala means ‘milk’ in Greece and this is the Greek version of the custard slice.
Thick semolina custard is set on layers or crispy filo pastry and left to cool before covered in syrup and then cut into individual pieces. This is a lot more involved than Bougatsa but it still a relatively simple dish and bursting with flavour and goodness.
Absolutely divine and my alltime favourite.
Thought to be originally from the palaces of Istanbul Baklava is found throughout the Mediterranean, the Balkans and Asian Minor.
The main variation between them all is in the nuts used ( the Turks love pistachios) and the number of layers.
The dish is made from many layers of filo pastry then nuts then drizzled with syrup. It is also really delicious served with ice-cream.
The Greek version is supposed to have 33 layers, representing the number of years of Jesus Christ’s life.
Loukamades ( honey puffs)
Loukamades are deep fried balls of dough traditionally covered in honey and often known as ‘honey puffs’.
They are also now popular covered in many things such as chocolate sauce, Nutella and caramel.
You can often find them sold by street vendors and they are a great late night snack.
Vegan Greek Food
You will see that some of these dishes are very similar to the Vegetarian ones, they just often require the omission or substitution of the cheese or dairy component much of the time to become great vegan greek food for your trip.
A very simple dish and basically the vegetarian version of Yahni (see above)
Served alone or as a side dish.
You might look at Skordalia and think it looks like Hummus (a dip that has become quite mainstream in Western grocery stores in recent years), but appearance is where the similarities end.
Skordalia is a thick, creamy dip made out of one main ingredient: potatoes (so you just know it’s going to be good). But its flavourful taste comes from the other ingredients puréed with the potatoes – garlic, nuts, olive oil, and vinegar.
The version mentioned above is vegan, but be wary that sometimes eggs can be added as an emulsifier.
However, if you’re a non-strict vegetarian you can get away with either version.
For visitors of the Ionian islands, the version often uses cod fish stock, as this helps to pair the dip even better with batter-fried cod. For a vegan food to eat it with try lemon or orange boiled beets!
Melitzanosalata ( Eggplant dip)
Melitzanosalata (try saying that ten times fast) is a Greek roasted eggplant dip, and we promise simply looking at this will have you salivating.
This dip is remarkably simple but packs a potent punch, blending roasted eggplant, whole garlic cloves, oil, and lemon juice.
It’s often served as part of Meze (see above), and when plated it will often have a small hollow carved into the middle, filled with a little olive oil, whole Greek olives, and sprinkled with chopped parsley or other green herbs.
Honestly, give us Melitzanosalata and some pita bread, and we don’t need much else to be happy. However, this also pairs pretty well with any vegetables, roasted or raw, adding just the right amount of flavour.
What kind of vegetarian Greek foods list would this be without mentioning pita bread?
If there’s one thing that every culture, every ethnicity, every country has in their cuisine, it’s bread – even if it varies! Greek pita bread is one of many cornerstones in Greek cuisine. You’ll find it sold from street carts, sold in Greek food shops, and served on the side of every platter in restaurants.
Simply put, pita is a round flatbread made from wheat flour, and baked (sometimes then grilled too).
Some varieties include an interior pocket (where the inside is literally hollow) and this is helpful for putting things like souvlaki inside and eating like a wrap. Get it hot and fresh, and dip it in some sauce (see above for just three delicious options).
Bursting with colour and flavour, Yemista (sometimes spelled Gemista) is a vegetarian Greek recipe where plump tomatoes are stuffed and baked until soft and juicy.
The word literally translates to “ones that are filled”, so it’s a pretty straightforward dish – the raw tomatoes are hollowed out, filled with rice and herbs, and drizzled with olive oil before being whisked away into the oven.
Once they come out, moist and piping hot and just bursting with flavour, they are often served with a small brick of feta which becomes melty atop the hot tomato.
It might be hot, but this is just as much a summer dish as a winter one (though in Greece the temperature doesn’t really drop enough to tell the difference). And even when it’s steaming hot, it’s a savoury, delicious meal packed full of all the best flavours of Greek cuisine.
ps. These are often stuffed with meat fillings too so be sure to ask!
See our recipe for Yemista HERE
‘Dolma’ is a family of stuffed dishes found across the Mediterranean and one of the best known is Dolmades.
While this food isn’t native to Greece alone, and has near-endless variants all over the Middle East and Mediterranean regions, you’ll certainly find it all over Greece.
Many versions use meat, but just as with the cabbage rolls, it’s totally possible to find vegetarian versions, though vegans may have a harder time finding one that’s entirely plant-based. Hold the yoghurt, obviously!
Sometimes they will be vegetables stuffed with rice & herbs (and sometimes feta too), and sometimes they will be savoury rice mixtures wrapping in vine or cabbage leaves.
The closer you get to ethnic borders, the more blurred lines become in dolman cuisine. In nearby Turkey the filling is often mixed with more fragrant spices like cinnamon and allspice.
Literally meaning ‘giant’ these big beans are generally cooked in a tomato sauce and can be found freshly made in tavernas across Greece or even the tinned ones are excellent.
Tomato Keftedes ( Fritters)
Before Santorini became a tourist mecca for people chasing the famous sunsets and blue church domes it was actually famous for its tomatoes.
These fritters take pride and place on most menus on the island to this day and are considered the local ‘dish’ there but are also found on other Greek Islands as well. After all, tomatoes are a staple in the Greek diet!
Made from diced tomato, grated zucchini, onion, seasoning and fried in olive oil these are a delicious light meal or snack and one of the most popular vegan greek food.
Ps. If visiting Santorini be sure to visit the Santorini Arts Factory which used to be a Tomato canning factory and they conduct tours in the Tomato Industrial Museum. Read more here : Things to do in Santorini
Revithia sto Fourno ( baked chick peas)
*image Hellenic Farms
This popular dish is great for vegans who are looking for a dish rich in protein and fibre. Its made by baking chickpeas, caramelized onions and herbs in vegetable stock and olive oil and is great on its own or as a side.
There is a similar popular dish found in some small tavernas and in locals homes using Lentils instead of Chickpeas.
Who would think something so simple could be so delicious.
If you are looking for a change from Greek ‘salad’ then this very affordable dish is often our go-to. Usually made from just lettuce, spring onions, olive oil and vinegar and sometimes grated cheese is added too. We have been known to devour this all on its own at times!
If you would also like to know more about the best dishes to order in Greece that include meat be sure to check out:
As you can see there is no shortage of delicious food in Greece and its one cuisine that you never really tire of. Wherever you go it pays to ask about whats fresh and made that day. Some of our favourite places don’t even have menus and only sell the catch of the day or whats in the oven.
Whatever you order you cant go wrong!