10 ways to eat vegan in Greece

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Jenny Edwards draws on her recent experience of Greek cuisine to provide 10 ways you can eat vegan in the beautiful Hellenic Republic.

The land of picturesque white villages atop high cliff tops, crystal blue waters, and beautiful temples everywhere you look, Greece is the perfect holiday destination for many. Brits in particular love Greece’s party get-aways, as well its relaxing coves away from the noise. But can you get a decent vegan meal while there? 

ZakynthosAlthough veganism is not common, or even well known in Greece, their food can be surprisingly vegan friendly. This is because Christian Orthodoxy is the main religion in Greece, a religion which involves ‘fasting’ periods at certain times of the year, such as Lent. During this time, animal products are not included in dishes. And even when Greeks aren't fasting, there are still many ways to eat vegan in Greece.

1) Re-purpose traditional dishes in restaurants

There are many traditional dishes that can be made vegan, such as domladakia – vine leaves habitually stuffed with ground beef and rice. You can try the vegan version, which is called Dolmadakia yalantzi, but ask the restaurant whether they use meat broth. 

Gemista is another favourite of mine. Their meat version involves tomatoes and peppers stuffed with ground beef and rice. Luckily they also have a vegan version of this, sometimes called orfana style. 

Spanakopita (savoury pies filled with spinach and cheese) is popular in Greece, but you can also find it as a delicious, flaky spinach pie, minus the dairy.

2) Embrace the gyro 

Although perhaps not the healthiest option, you can easily order a touristiko gyro, which means without meat, remembering to ask for no tzatziki. If you are lucky, you may come across a place that has falafel on their menu, so you could substitute the meat for that instead; however, you must ask whether they use eggs as a binder. 

3) Look for other cuisines

When I travelled to Greece I stayed on the island of Zakynthos in Tsilivi, which is fast becoming one of the main tourist resorts on the whole island. I was blessed with the choice of many different cuisines, Indian, Chinese, Mexican, and Italian. Walking further out of the centre of the restaurants and bars, I even managed to find a restaurant that advertised simple, but delicious vegan options. And of course, if you’re visiting a mainland city such as Athens, you’ll be bowled over with the amount of tasty vegan food options there are on offer.

4) Stock up on fresh fruit

Assuming that you have a fridge wherever you are staying, I would suggest buying a load of fresh fruit each day to snack on: it’ll also keep you well hydrated under the hot Greek sun, assuming you’re visiting in season. If you are lucky you may have a supermarket close to you, which (from my experience) usually sell appealing looking fruit in bulk – one of the supermarkets I went to even sold Alpro milk!

5) Learn the basics of the language 

In my opinion, it’s polite to at least learn the basics of the language where you are visiting such as hello, goodbye and thank yo. It will particularly work in your favour to learn some food related phrases. 

• “I am vegetarian – Emeh hortofágos”

• “Greek salad with no feta cheese please – Horiátiki saláta horís tirí féta parakaló”

6) Be prepared to search

Although there were definitely options in the most popular area for restaurants and bars, I tended to find the best gems when I walked further out. Don’t let this discourage you though: I had no form of transport and still managed to find plenty of options within the surrounding area. 

Aubergine pasta

7) Research restaurants in advance

Vegetarian food is widely advertised on the menus of restaurants, and so I can assure you that you won’t be living on morsels during your stay in Greece. In Zakynthos, there is a restaurant called Calypso that has a chef trained in allergy law, and their food is also of fantastic quality. Athens is possibly one of the easiest places to be vegan, with solely veggie cafes, several falafel places, and plenty of street vendors that sell nuts and fresh fruits. Be sure to use Happy Cow whilst you’re abroad as it’s a fantastic tool when researching where to eat.

8) Fill up on breakfast 

In my experience,  their restaurants do not open particularly early (about 10am), but the majority of them did sell affordable breakfasts that they are happy to customise for you. I was able to order toast (without butter), beans, mushrooms and hash browns in every place that offered breakfast. The popular destinations also advertise vegetarian breakfasts, which are easy to adapt. 

9) ...And on carbs!

My lunch for the majority of the time I was in Greece was tomato penne pasta, chips and fresh fruit from the supermarket – you can’t go wrong with carbs! Of course you need to check if the pasta is made from egg, but I had no trouble finding it without.

10) Ask for fasting food

As previously mentioned, Greeks often participate in fasting: if you want to be extra cautious about the ingredients, simply ask if your dish is “nistisimo” (fasting food).

Happy hunting for great vegan food in the beautiful country of Greece!

By Jenny Edwards

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Some comments re your article per bullet point: 1) Dolmadakia are traditionally stuffed with rice only. It is 'Lachanodolmades' that are stuffed with rice and minced meat. 2) Re souvlaki (meaning the wrapped one), it is also common in most sophisticated souvlatzidika that one may find wrapped souvlaki with vegetables; the wonderfully marinated mushrooms make you forget that you do not eat meat. 3) Why to look for other cuisines once in Greece? Try 'Ladera', i.e. food in olive oil such as meaning peas, okras, beans, spinach with rice, leek with rice, all above cooked in pure virgin olive oil and fresh tomatoes among others. Alternatively, one could try soups like lentils (with vinegar) served with olive olives and chickpeas served with freshly cut lemon. All of these plates, one can find either in quite sophisticated modern tavernas but also in more touristic places not focused only on the traditional mousaka. 5) Choriatiki salada xwris feta parakalo, which means ultimately cucumber, tomatoes (agourodomata) with olives.Alternatively one could go for 'fava' with freshly cut fresh onions. 8) Tachini with honey is also very nutritional. Other than this, koulouri Thessalonikis with olives paste could be an alternative just because one is in Greece. 9) One may try kouskous; very nutritional as well. Even better wheat; food which was eaten by Ancient Greeks as well. Last but not least, ευχαριστώ θερμά που επισκεφτήκαμε την πατρίδα μου. Congratulations for the wonderful article. Despoina / Chiswick

You can also order briam (baked veggies) and fava dip (made from split yellow peas and onions), in addition to other mezedes like dolmadakia and olives etc.

Hello, It might be better to change the word "me" in the phrase -“Greek salad with no feta cheese please – Ellinikí saláta me féta den parakaloúme”, because "me" actually means "with", after that the word "den" is a negative/negation but few Greeks will get it phrased like this. Instead of "me" the right word is "horis" (-ris pronounced like -rees) which means precisely "without". So the phrase becomes -“Greek salad with no feta cheese please – Ellinikí saláta horis féta parakaloúme”. I hope I could be of help. Take care and be well.

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