15 typical Greek seafood starters (“mezedes”) to combine with ouzo
If you have been to a Greece, I am sure you will have found yourself at a seafood taverna or restaurant and in front of a great variety of starters trying to pick some. In these tavernas the locals pass their time chatting and drinking ouzo (a distilled aperitif with anise scent) accompanied by a series of starters.
This concept of having a meal by tasting different small dishes called “mezedes” is part of the Greek culture.
Ouzo can be combined by various dishes, mainly based on seafood, but also on vegetables and even meat. Which are the best seafood starters of the Greek cuisine to choose with ouzo?
There are dozens, but I have chosen the most known and some more hard to find specialties that will satisfy even the most demanding palate.
1. Octopus cooked in all ways (in Greek it is “htapodi”)
The most classic choice that never disappoints! An octopus can be served grilled, or cooked in a pot in its juices with some vinegar. The octopus should never be boiled in order to keep its juices and taste. Don’t be surprised that octopuses are left to dry under the sun at some Greek tavernas.
2. Grilled sardines or seasoned under coarse sea salt (in Greek “sardeles”)
Sardines are not always available at any season, but when you find them, they become one of the most typical starters. You can enjoy them grilled or seasoned under coarse sea salt. You can add some extra virgin olive oil, small tomatoes, chopped onion, parsley or nothing at all. You will see that one sardine brings another soon enough in between sips of ouzo.
3. Calamari (in Greek “kalamari”)
Another typical seafood starter for the Greeks is the calamari. Fried calamari if served with a bit of lemon juice is an exquisite treat, but mind that only the fresh is the best. Of course, you can have it grilled too. I would recommend to try the stuffed version of it, with feta, cappers, chopped tomatoes or other ingredients like rice. That makes the calamari taste particularly interesting.
4. Shrimps cooked in many ways (in Greek “garida”)
You can find shrimps cooked “saganaki” style (name comes from the type of the pan used to cook them) in a mix of tomato sauce and feta that makes them tastier. The alternative is to simply grill them or taste them in a soup. Ouzo and fresh shrimps are a gift to the palate.
5. Taramosalata, a cream to spread on your bread
Taramosalata is a classic delicacy of the Greek cuisine. It is prepared with taramá, which is fish eggs under salt. Tarama is then mixed with lemon juice, stale bread and olive oil. The color depends on the type and the quality of the eggs used. The most common color is pink, which is the most economical choice, but the off -white color is considered top quality. It is recommended to taste it on a slice of bread.
6. The rare shellfish cockle (in Greek “kidonia”)
It is not easy to find them. At some tavernas at some Greek islands or at some cities you can have the opportunity to taste them. It is consumed raw, with the addition of some lemon juice drops. If you sprinkle the lemon juice and it moves, it means it is fresh and you eat it. If not, you throw it away. It gives you a taste of the sea!
7. Lakerda, a bonito fish fillet under salt
Lakerda is the bonito fish fillet under salt. It is served as a starter. The bonito fish steaks are put under salt for a few days and then you can enjoy it. In order to preserve them afterwards they are put into olive oil. If bonito fish is not available, a small tuna fish is used instead to make Lakerda.
8. Marinated anchovies or fried (in Greek “gavros”)
Just like the sardines, the anchovies are mostly seasonal. Anchovies, either marinated with vinegar or fried are to be accompanied with a glass of ouzo especially during summer. Marinated anchovies with vinegar and a bit of garlic are a true delicacy. Not only that, but consider that anchovies are full of omega-3 fat.
9. Smoked mackerel (in Greek “skoumprí”)
A smoked mackerel has a particular taste and between bites a sip of ouzo is all it needs. It is a quite common starter with rich taste and it makes a good choice when by the sea.
10. Steamed mussels or saganaki style (in Greek “mydia”)
Another traditional and seasonal dish. Mussels can be cooked basically in three styles: steamed (with the addition of parsley and some garlic), fried, or saganaki style. By “saganaki” style it means that they are simmered into a pan with tomato sauce, garlic, olive oil, some feta cheese and if you want with some hot pepper.
11. Cod with garlic sauce “skordalià” (in Greek “bakaliaros skordalià”)
Cod, if served in a small portion it can be considered a meze. The most common way to cook it is to fry it (with a bit of flour or in batter) and to serve it with a sauce based on garlic, nuts, yoghurt, stale bread, especially in northern Greece. If you find yourself at the south of Greece, you may find it based on potatoes instead of bread and without nuts.
12. Sea urchins (in Greek “achinos”)
Sea urchins are exquisite. Whoever prepares them has to know how to open them and serve them. You eat them raw with sprinkle of lemon juice if you like. It is not a common meze and can be found in some areas only. It feels like tasting the sea.
13. Cuttlefish, common mollusc of the Mediterranean (in Greek “supies”)
Cuttlefish is very tasty and can be cooked many ways, even in salads or soups. It is famous also because of the ink that stores inside it (which is released when attacked by predators) which is widely used in cooking to color pasta, rice and make the famous Greek dish “cuttlefish with spinach”.
14. The tasteful herring (in Greek “rénga”)
Herring is another starter that goes very well with ouzo. It can be preserved in various ways, for example under salt or smoked. Even the ways to taste it may vary: you can either eat it as it is with a bit of lemon juice and olive oil or within a salad.
15. Scallops, famous since the antiquity (in Greek “xteni”)
These molluscs were among the first ones to be consumed in ancient times and it was the Greek philosopher Aristoteles that exalted their taste (he suggested grilling them and adding a bit of vinegar). Scallops nowadays in Greece are mostly served raw with a touch of lemon juice but you can enjoy them cooked in many ways.
Next time you go to Greece, you can be prepared as to which seafood starters to choose from and you can decide for yourself which are the best mezedes are the most particular ones. Obviously, a glass of ouzo is to be in front of you. Take a seat and … good Appetit (kali orexi)!
My name is Taxia and I am Greek. I like to share the beauties and traditions of my country to make you discover “the other Greece”.