What distinguishes traditional Greek cuisine is a combination of the following factors: unique ingredients, the Greek philosophy regarding eating and sharing meals, as well as the country itself and the atmosphere in general.
The basic ingredients: Greek cuisine has four secrets: fresh ingredients of good quality, proper use of herbs and spices, the famous Greek olive oil and its basic simplicity. Greek olive oil deserves a special mention. Present in almost all Greek dishes, and in most of them in abundant quantities, it is of excellent quality and very good for health. Then there are the vegetables and herbs. Due to the mild Greek climate, greenhouse cultivation of vegetables is not widespread. Therefore, most vegetables are grown outdoors and are very tasty and full of aroma. You will be delighted with the taste of Greek tomatoes, lettuces, carrots, onions, parsley and garlic, not to mention the rich flavour and aroma of fresh fruit: grapes, apricots, peaches, cherries, melons, watermelons, to name but a few. The herbs collected by most Greeks on the mountains and in the countryside are renowned for their taste, scent and healing properties.
When eating one of the many different Greek dishes, the aroma of oregano, thyme, spearmint or rosemary will inebriate you. Do not forget also to try the Greek cheeses and particularly feta. As lambs and goats in Greece are free-grazing and pastures are very rich in herbs, meats have a unique taste not to be found anywhere else in the world. Seafood from the Mediterranean Sea is far more tasty than that from the oceans. In the Aegean and the Ionian Seas, the waters are crystal clear and abound with fish. Charbroiled fresh fish is considered a treat.
The Greek philosophy: The time of day when the Greeks gather around a table to enjoy a meal, or some appetizers (mezedes) with ouzo, is a time held in reverence by all the inhabitants of this country. For the Greeks, sharing a meal with friends, either at home, at a restaurant or a taverna, is a deeply rooted social affair. The Greek word symposium, a word as ancient as the country itself, if translated literally, means drinking with company. The atmosphere in typically Greek restaurants and tavernas is very relaxed, informal and unpretentious. Food preparation, on the other hand, has its own sacred rules. Good amateur cooks are held in great esteem in their social circles. A good housewife, in Greece, means a good cook. And a good cook can spend days preparing a meal for his or her friends.
The atmosphere: Try having a glass of ouzo or wine, accompanied by barbecued octopus or any other Greek dish, while sitting beneath the shadow of a tree, at a small tavern by the sea, on one of the Aegean islands. Then, when you go back home, try repeating that experience by preparing the same dish and serving the same drink. No matter where you decide to have it, you will soon discover that it does not taste the same. Do not try again. There is nothing wrong with the delicacy of your palate or your cooking skills. The Greek meal experience, namely the combination of what you eat and where you eat it, cannot be repeated, exported or duplicated. It is something you can only find, taste and enjoy in Greece, like the blue of the Aegean Sea.