Sunday, June 9, 2019

Mediterranean Diet ~ A Taste of Greece

Okay, time to fess up. . .our time in Greece has seemed an almost non-stop Food Festival.

New flavors. New dishes. New settings. Far too many temptations. Our houseguests usually ask at some point during their visits, 'Do you ever eat at home?' as we race them from one eatery to another trying to show all of our favorites in a short span of time.

We do eat at home, but with so many good eats at affordable -- often ridiculously inexpensive -- prices, we've found ourselves eating out often and soaking up the spirit of dining here.

An array of mezes are offered BEFORE the main course at this taverna
That time honored ritual of eating - not the grab-a-bite-and-be-on-our-way kind-- but that which  makes dining an event is still very real in Greece. A 2015 article in The Atlantic magazine examining the rituals of eating could have been written about dining in Greece:

'How food is experienced has everything to do with the decor, 
with the rituals surrounding the meal, with the company, 
and with the experience.'

Dinner out in the village - good food and good friends 

Going out to dinner -- or even out to lunch here -- can span several hours of savoring tastes, soaking in the atmosphere, and engaging in conversation with your dining companions or even folks you know who might be passing by your street side table.

Summer nights in the village the road closes to accommodate taverna diner

The Mediterranean Diet - Greek-style

The Mediterranean Diet
In general the diet consists of fruits and vegetables, 
beans and nuts,
healthy grains,
olive oil
small amounts of meat and dairy
and . . .red wine!

The 'Mediterranean Diet' is one inspired by the eating habits of Greece, Southern Italy and Spain in the 1940's and 1950's. Those fresh, healthy foods that made up the diet then remain a centerpiece of Greek eats today.

If you've traveled in Greece you know that the flavors and menu offerings vary by region. So while the food items may appear to be the same, the regional influences: spices, preparation and cooking make each dining experience different. Take, for example, our trip to the island of Spetses that I told you about last week. It is only 4.5 hours from our home, and basic menu items appear to be 'like home', but the preparation made the flavors delightfully different.

A typical order of fish
Fish, (which most people seem to think we eat all the time) is a key part of a Mediterranean diet. So, true confession: we seldom eat fish in Greece. Its presentation and cost doesn't appeal. It is usually served whole, and grilled looking much like the one in the photo above. It is sold by the kilo (1 kilo is 2.2.pounds) price, so a whole fish could cost 55 to 60 euros. You could eat several full meals without fish for the price of a single fish.

Marinated anchovies, mussels in mustard sauce, Spetses-style fish, dessert

However, we did eat seafood in Spetses: the presentation, the variety, the flavors and prices all appealed. The collage above shows a selection of foods served to us during our stay on this small Saronic island. The white anchovies (no bones) were marinated in lemon sauce and olive oil, the mussels in a mustard sauce make my mouth-water just writing the words, the Spetses-style fish was a white fish smothered in a red sauce, almost a stew of vegetables, and far more interesting than a whole fish on a plate. The complimentary dessert was a baked apple, scoop of ice cream and philo dough bites.

A pitcher of our fresh-pressed olive oil
So aside from not eating fish regularly you would think that living and dining in the Land of the Mediterranean Diet would keep us fit, trim and healthy, wouldn't you?

Not quite! In February we faced the fact that it wasn't the camera angles, it wasn't the clothes shrinking, it wasn't our bathroom scales or the doctor's office blood tests being out-of-whack: we were having a wee bit too much of a Food Festival. Yes, too much of a good thing can be, too much. And we admit we weren't really eating that healthy version of a Mediterranean diet. After all, those yummy oregano-flavored potato chips, just don't fit the diet's intent. . .

The Ancient Greeks nailed it: In all Things Moderation

So we set out to change our eating: we gave up foods made with refined sugar and flour (pastas and breads and baked goods) and cut back on carbs (potatoes, potato chips and crackers) and passed on the desserts, with a fruit plate being an exception. We refreshed our Mediterranean diets by mixing in a bit of the Keto diet and the Glycemic Load diet philosophies.

You might say we are following the advice of Ancient Greeks who sang the praises of moderation.

Mushrooms stuffed with cheese, green salad 

'Observe due measure, moderation is best in all things,' 
              -- Greek poet Hesiod.

Mediterranean salad with Balsamic dressing and Greek cheese

'We should pursue and practice moderation.'
-- Plato, philosopher.

Grill plate with tomatoes, not potatoes
'Moderation, the noblest gift of Heaven'
--Euripides, Greek playwright.

A meze of fava beans topped with roasted tomatoes, capers,garlic and olive oil

We still drink those 'miso kilos' (pitchers) of Greek wine and we still dine out often. We indulge in a bite-sized piece of dark chocolate regularly. We've found that switching potatoes to tomatoes is quite easy and passing up bread isn't a sacrifice. We've substituted cucumber and zucchini slices for crackers and potato chips at home. We've not sworn off any food completely, allowing guilt-free indulgences every so often. We don't consider ourselves 'dieting'.  Yet, we've each lost 12 pounds.

Kali Orexi

Kali Orexi, means literally, 'good appetite' but is often the wish offered to diners as food is served in Greece, meaning 'have a good meal'.  

A meze dinner is our favorite kind of meal

And having a good meal  isn't hard to do in Greece even when you've modified your eating habits! The photo above shows a recent dinner at a restaurant in Stoupa, our neighboring village. From the top left,tomato balls and a yogurt dip, Mani sausage (orange flavored) with horta (greens instead of potatoes), sautéed mushroom, and oven-baked garbanzo beans with a cheese topping.

With a wish that many of you get a chance to taste the real flavors of Greece one day while sitting at a harbor-side taverna or a sleek 5-star restaurant, we'll sign off for this week. We thank you for the time you spent with us today and look forward to being back next week when we will be back to talking travel.

Linking this week with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday


  1. Mouthwatering descriptions and photos both, Jackie! I've been on a low-carb diet, too, in recent months, with similar good results. It's still possible to eat really well. Fresh tomatoes can be stuffed with lots of good things. And you have views to savor, as well.

    1. And tomatoes here taste, well. tomatoes! Large red globes that have been vine-ripened. . .there really is nothing better! Glad you've seen similar results in a low-carb diet. . .we both are amazed at the results from such a small shift in eating can make.

  2. Wonderful piece! Loved your solution and especially your description of the food here. We are starting to track our own meals and substituting much as you have described, still enjoying the lovely fresh tastes here. It is pool season again, so we are more motivated than ever!

    1. It is funny how easy it is to modify your eating habits and lose weight and not feel at all like you are 'dieting'. The tastes, as you say, are so good that it really doesn't matter what you eat!!

  3. I love food and I especially love good, healthy home cooking which to me is what Greek food is all about. If I lived or visited in Greece I too would eat out often if you not only get to enjoy the labour of someone else but do it at a good price. All the dishes you've presented look very delicious.

    1. Thanks, for the comment! Yes, the food here is really farm-to-table fresh without all the hype that comes with healthy eating in the States. And with a few modifications, it has been simple to lose some weight and still enjoy the event of eating!

  4. I love the slow, lingering meals that you've described. In fact, on my recent visit back to the Us I realized anew the contrast in lifestyles between it and European dining: Gulp-and-Run versus Savor-and-Enjoy! I too have had to cut back on the Portuguese baked goods and potatoes but ... the red wine is still flowing!

    1. Yes, the wine was the one thing that we refused to cut back on as one can not live by healthy eating alone. We do love the process of eating out here and there's no comparison between the experience here and in the States. (when are you coming to sample some Greek eats??)

  5. Mediterranean is our favorite cuisine. In fact, we often seek out Mediterranean restaurants even when we're far from any Mediterranean country.

    1. Ditto. (You notice I didn't mention any plan to give up frozen Mai Tai's in Hawaii, didn't you??) :-)

  6. The fava beans with tomatoes and capers meze looks delightful. I am sitting here with my stomach protruding from my tight t-shirt..haha! I actually got on the scale like 2 weeks ago and discovered having lost 36 pounds since we left the U.S thanks to the diet here. That belly though? a losing battle. It's hard to resist good food and drink isn't it?

    1. Whoa! WAY TO GO!! It is amazing by changing one's diet how easy it is to lose weight without being focused on it all the time and taking the pleasure out of eating. Yes, food and drink is fabulous on this side of the pond!

  7. I can relate! We had the samep during our first month of our all-inclusive stays with 9 restaurants in Mexico. But, like you, there are always healthy alternatives on the table! But I wondered if we should have chosen Greece instead?

    1. It would be difficult to pass up those re-fried beans, rice and tortillas in Mexico!!

  8. But moderation is so difficult when the food is good. And when you're eating out all the time. Mediterranean diet or no, not packing on at least a few pounds is touch.

    1. We are just modifying menu items, not necessarily the amounts we eat. I can eat a lot of horta (greens) and not have the calories I do when eating chips (as French fries are called here) ;-)

  9. It all looks mouth-watering! Give me a meze meal over one entree any
    s my favorite way to eat. Glad you've found a way to enjoy more healthful eating!

  10. One of the best things about travelling is trying the local food. I think the Greek's know a think or too about how to eat to be healthy. Happy travels!


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