What did the ancient Greeks eat? I'm asked this question a lot, and I always seem to learn something new when I answer it.
I love doing research about ancient people and their foods. It's cool to think that Plato or Aristotle might also have enjoyed what I may be eating now. Some foods, like pasteli, have undoubtedly been around a long time, but we may never know for sure about others unless they happen to require ingredients we know the ancient Greeks just didn't have access to. Imagine going your whole life without ever eating a tomato.
So what foods were available to the ancient Greeks? How and what did they eat? They ate like us. They had three meals a day. They woke and ate breakfast, they broke from work at midday for lunch, then they ended the day with dinner and perhaps a little dessert.
Most ancient Greeks had the same thing for breakfast: bread dipped in wine. The bread was made from barley, the main source of all breads in ancient times. It was probably hard, so the wine would soften it up and make it easier to eat. Sure, they could have used water, but where’s the fun in that?
The Greeks also ate something called a teganites (τηγανίτης), which would have resembled a pancake. These were made with wheat flour, olive oil, honey, and curdled milk. They were usually topped with honey or cheese.
They had more of that bread and wine. What a surprise. But they were drinking a bit more of the wine. Lunch was considered a midday snack, so it was common for the Greeks to dine on relatively light things like figs, salted fish, cheeses, olives, and more bread.
Dinner was and still is the most important meal of the day in Greece. In ancient times, it was when everyone would gather with friends and perhaps discuss things like philosophy or maybe just daily events. Note that I said "friends," not "family." Men and women normally ate separately. If a family had slaves, they would serve the men dinner first, then the women, then themselves. If the family didn't have slaves, the women of the house served the men first, then they ate themselves when the men were done.
Dinner was when most of the foods were consumed. The ancient Greeks would eat eggs from quail and hens, fish, legumes, olives, cheeses, breads, figs, and any vegetables they could grow. They might include arugula, asparagus, cabbage, carrots, and cucumbers. Meat was reserved for the wealthy.
About That Wine
Wine was the main drink of the ancient Greeks, other than water. Fetching the water was a daily task for the women of the house.
The Greeks drank wine at all meals and during the day. We know they made red, white, rose, and port wines, the main areas of production being Thasos, Lesbos, and Chios. But the ancient Greeks didn't drink their wine straight. It was considered barbaric to do so. All wine was cut with water. The Greeks drank for the pleasure of the beverage, not with the intention of getting drunk.
They also drank kykeon (κυκεών), a combination of barley gruel, water (or wine), herbs, and goat cheese in an almost shake-like consistency.
Raw sugar was unknown to the ancient Greeks, so honey was the main sweetener. Cheeses, figs, or olives drizzled with honey provided a typical ending to an evening meal.
A lot of people wonder what the Spartans ate. Frankly, their diet was terrible. The Spartans were trained warriors, but their food left a lot to be desired. They ate something called melas zomos (μέλας ζωμός)—black soup in English. It was made by boiling some pigs' legs, blood, salt, and vinegar. Yum.