Eating Like an Ancient Greek

How This Civilization Enjoyed Its Meals

ancient Greek art
De Agostini/G. Dagli Orti/Getty Images

There are many things that have carried on in civilization from the time of the ancient Greeks; they brought us literature and philosophy, democracy, theater, and the Olympics. But how much of the what they ate and how they dined has continued into current day? 

Some foods, like pasteli (Greek sesame honey candy), have undoubtedly been around a long time, but unfortunately, we may never know for sure about ingredients and dishes. In terms of their eating style, the ancient Greeks ate like us. They had three meals a day: They woke and ate breakfast, they broke from work at midday for lunch, and then they ended the day with dinner and perhaps a little dessert.

Breakfast

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, which is why the Greeks would dip it in the wine, to soften it up and make it easier to eat.

The Greeks also ate something called a teganites (τηγανίτης), which resembles a pancake. These were made with wheat flour, olive oil, honey, and curdled milk, and usually topped with honey or cheese.

Lunch

The bread and wine made an appearance at this midday meal as well, but the Greeks would drink a bit more of the wine versus simply dunking bread into it. Lunch was considered a midday snack, so it was common for the Greeks to dine on relatively light foods like figs, salted fish, cheeses, olives, and more bread.

Dinner

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—not family—and perhaps discuss things like philosophy or maybe just daily events. Men and women normally ate separately, and if a family had slaves, the slaves 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, and then they ate when the men were finished.

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, which might include arugula, asparagus, cabbage, carrots, and cucumbers. Meat was reserved for the wealthy.

Wine and Water

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.

Dessert 

Dessert was a simple enjoyment during ancient Greek times; there weren't elaborate confections as we are used to today. 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.