Greece – a dream holiday destination for many. Rich in history, culture and breathtaking landscapes, this land attracts travellers from all over the world. Including Vilda’s Giulia and Jessica, who both ventured to different parts of the country to enjoy its magical scenery – and experiment with its plant-based food offerings.
Giulia Panna, Innovation Officer:
I used to look at Greece as a travel destination paradise, long golden sand beaches, crystalline waters and unique architecture. After a week spent island-hopping on a small boat, I now look at Greece as a vegetarian and vegan blessing!
What else can you expect from the homeland of democracy, philosophy, literature, if not a wide range of cruelty-free options when it comes to food?
Athens is double-face city, where antique and metropolitan blend naturally. Strolling through the streets of the historical centre, you will be stopped by a lot of waiters asking you to take a seat, enjoy the live folk music and the view over the ancient acropolis from one of their balconies. And it won’t be an easy choice.
I went for Efxaris a greek taverna (near Monastiraki) well ranked on TripAdvisor. The setting was unique, live music, blue doors, an indoor country-yard and the food fresh and rustic at the same time.
To my surprise, I found a traditional Cretan dish that you can also find in the South of Italy, where I was born and grew up. We call it “frisella”. Greeks call it Dakos (Koukouvayia). It is a sort of bruschetta [pronounced “brus-ketta”] made of wheat flour and typically topped with chopped tomatoes, feta (ask for it to be taken off if you’re vegan) lots of oregano and olive oil.
I also tried fava (yellow split peas of Santorini) with chopped onion and olive oil, Flogeres (spring rolls stuffed with eggplant) courgette balls and homemade wine leaves dolmadhes stuffed with rice! What else could have I possibly asked for?
If you are fancying a veggie Moussaka, another great restaurant in the Greek capital was “Dia Tauta” that is the Greek of “the meaning of life” encouraging everyone to strive for creativity. I simply cannot recommend it enough!
My “island-hopping” brought me to 6 different islands in 7 days and Folegandros (named after Pholegandros, son of King Minos of Crete) was definitely the least expected and most appreciated of all. I was enchanted by its narrow streets, whitewashed courtyards and squares.
The small picturesque village of Chora hosts a traditional tavern called “To Spitiko” (from the word homemade), this is where all the locals go, it feels like having dinner in your family yard.
The menu has an entire vegan section, including lentil soup, lentil with greens, giant bean soup, stuffed zucchini or eggplants, oven baked vegetables. I tried the rice-stuffed tomatoes paired with a locally produced organic beer. It was delicious and I wanted more!
Streets covered in marbles, stairs running on top of the hills towards a stunning church, local entrepreneurs producing cool handmade goods like wooden sunglasses. Syros is the island where you would happily stay ever after – or was that just me?
We decided to explore it on two wells, and this is how we reached the fabulous Delfini beach. We decided to have launch with a view in Dioskouroi Bar.
Here at enjoyed a rich salad with croutons, tomatoes, cucumbers, capers (capers are very commonly used in the Cyclades), olives and oregano with some fried zucchini balls while listening to the sounds of waves.
Jessica Sjoholm, Beauty & Lifestyle Writer:
When my boyfriend and I decided to book a last-minute holiday this summer, we considered a few different countries, including Greece, Cyprus, Portugal and Spain. While he was up for visiting any of them, I began researching vegan and gluten-free options in each of said countries, before I’d even looked at hotels and flights! I thought that Greece looked a pretty good option for my dietary requirements, and of course, the beaches didn’t look bad either.
We stayed in a seaside village called Kriopigi in Kassandra, a peninsula in Halkidiki. On the journey from the airport to the hotel, we passed through several towns and villages, and my first impression of the area was that it was not very vegan-friendly. Every other shop was boasting that it sold leather and fur. Our village was much nicer though, with tavernas, gift shops and supermarkets adorning the main area, while the road down to the sandy beach was lined with olive and pine trees. Whilst there aren’t any vegetarian or vegan restaurants in Halkidiki, there are a couple about 100 km away in Thessaloniki, where the airport is.
On the first night, we ate at the hotel. From my research, I knew that I could expect to eat lots of Greek salads (tomato, cucumber, olives and onion) without the feta cheese. The hotel’s Greek salad included egg as well as cheese, so I politely asked if I could order it without both. It arrived with cubes of feta on the top, but these were easily removed and thankfully not mixed in with the other ingredients. At least they understood no egg! I soon learned that most establishments also offered a tomato salad, which is essentially the same as a Greek salad without cheese. I also ordered a bowl of chips and they were delicious; the Greeks love to season their food with salt and oregano. The best Greek salad I had was at the beautiful Restaurant Bistrot.
The next night we ate at Akropolis, a family-run taverna. While my vegetarian boyfriend opted for a pizza (his first of many during our holiday), I decided to try melitzanosalata, a salad consisting of aubergine blended with garlic and olive oil. Pleased I’d picked a safe dish, I was disappointed when it arrived with a distinct cheesy appearance. Not wanting to make a fuss, I insisted I would just eat my chips, and my boyfriend said he would have my salad. The lovely chef must have overheard us because she came over and asked if I would prefer another salad without cheese. When I said it was my fault for not asking if the dish contained cheese, she apologised and said it doesn’t usually but she wanted to make it more special for me. My veganised aubergine salad was delicious and well worth waiting for!
Our next meal was at Adonis. Having a spotted a dish of fried Mediterranean vegetables on the menu that looked promising, I checked with the waiter that it didn’t have cheese in it before I ordered. It didn’t, although the courgettes arrived in a crispy batter that I surreptitiously peeled off, as I suspected it was made of wheat. Again, I probably should’ve checked that the dish was gluten-free when I ordered, but it was tasty nonetheless.
The best meal of our holiday was easily at Anthoulas Restaurant. Nestled away up a hill behind the main village road, it was like we were in a different part of Greece altogether, far more authentic and unspoiled. Looking at the menu, I was excited to find that they clearly labelled gluten-free dishes, and there was even a vegetarian section. I opted for the roasted vegetables and patates fournou – potatoes baked with olive oil, lemon juice, mustard and oregano. It really was delicious, and it was a shame we only discovered the place at the end of our holiday, as we could have easily eaten there every night! Other options included dolmathakia – vine leaves stuffed with rice and herbs (minus the yoghurt) – and pureed fava beans.
I discovered some vegan treats in the local supermarkets, so I stocked up on a few goodies to bring home: lemon flavour Greek Delight (all other flavours seemed to contain carmine), halva, dark chocolate, and of course, olives and olive oil. For those who aren’t gluten-free, I also found some baklava that didn’t contain honey.
Overall, my culinary experience in Greece was not as difficult as I had anticipated. Although it was a little limited, I probably could’ve had some pasta dishes and bread had I been able to eat gluten. If you’re travelling to Greece as a vegan, enjoy trying the local cuisine, and don’t be afraid to check with the restaurants whether a dish you fancy contains animal products (and other ingredients if you have food intolerances or allergies). More often than not, they will be able to adapt it to make it suitable.