Desserts play an important role in Greek culture. Outside of touristy restaurants, most eateries will provide free dessert at the end of a meal, which serves as a mark of hospitality. Providing a free dessert course rounds out the meal and helps ensure that everyone enjoyed the entire experience. The dessert served depends largely on the restaurant and the season, but Greeks take their sweets very seriously. However, visitors do not have to gamble on which free dessert they might eat. Many of country’s sweets are available as street food or in local bakeries. Some of the tastiest desserts to try while traveling in Greece include the following:
Perhaps the most well-known Greek dessert to foreigners, Baklava consists of thin sheets of phyllo pastry layered with honey, nut, lemon, and cinnamon. Generally, the Turkish version of the dessert uses pistachio while the Greek version features walnuts. However, individuals can also find pistachio-laden baklava in Greece. The exact flavor of baklava can vary considerably between regions and even between restaurants, so it can be exciting for tourists to try it at multiple locations. In addition, Greeks make variations on the traditional baklava, including one that swaps ice cream in for some of the layers, which makes for a more refreshing and less sweet treat.
A very traditional Greek dessert, galaktoboureko uses layer of phyllo dough and melted butter to make a crispy crust around a creamy milk custard. Then, the entire dessert is dipped in syrup. Generally, the dessert is served while it is still warm, although many people request that it be chilled first. Sometimes, the custard comes flavored with a bit of rosewater for a truly delicious floral undertone.
One of the most common street foods throughout Greece, loukoumades are sort of like donut holes. The dough is plopped into a fryer as small balls that puff up to a crispy golden brown. Then, bakers dip the balls into either syrup or chocolate and finish them with a variety of different items, such as nuts and cinnamon.
Purists will say that bougatsa is a breakfast item, although many people choose to eat it throughout the day as a snack. Bougatsa is roughly the equivalent of a croissant in that it is a buttery, flakey baked good. When eaten for breakfast, the pastry typically has a semolina custard, although a savory version containing various types of cheese is also available. Typically, the sweet version gets a cinnamon and powdered sugar finish.
With a name that derives from the verb “to fold,” diples are sort of like a fried Greek turnover. Bakers create thin sheets of dough that are rolled into strips and then cut into rectangles. Finally, the rectangles are folded while being fried so that they become very crispy. The finished pastry gets a dusting of ground nuts and cinnamon followed by a drizzle of honey.
These Greek cookies have a soft texture and can prove very sweet as they are traditionally dipped in syrup or honey before being covered in ground walnuts. Greeks most traditionally serve melomakarona during the Christmas season, although it is not impossible to find them at other times of the year. Olive oil keeps the cookies very moist while giving them a unique flavor. The most traditional melomakarona preparation involves only honey, flour, and olive oil, although cinnamon and orange syrup may also be added for different flavors.
People who like orange should definitely seek out portokalopita while in Greece. This cake comes out extremely moist with a very unique blend of flavors, including orange and cinnamon, as well as the tang of Greek yogurt. Syrup also soaks into the cake, giving it a unique texture. Most people believe that this cake originated from Crete, but it can be found elsewhere in Greece today.
One of the most popular desserts in Greece, ekmek kataifi derives its name from the type of pastry used to make it. Kataifi resembles angel hair pasta. This thin pasta is wrapped around a center of nuts and then baked in the oven until it’s crispy. Finally, the whole nest is dipped into a syrup. The most traditional nuts used in this dessert are almonds and walnuts, but pistachios can be used, too. Visitors will not find many other desserts around the world with a texture quite like ekmek kataifi.
The name of this dessert literally means “good thing.” The cake is made with semolina and flavored with rosewater and almond. While still in the pan, syrup is poured over the cake. Then, the cake is cut into small, bite-sized squares, which makes it very difficult to stop after just a single piece.
Another famous dessert from Greece, halva has many different preparations. Some people use semolina flour while others will use flour made from sesame or nuts. Generally, bakers add both cinnamon and raisins to the mix. The desert has a smooth, but heavy texture that makes it very filing. A more modern preparation of the desert actually uses the dough to create small truffles.