Last Updated on September 22, 2020 by Nina Ahmedow
If you’ve been following this blog for a while you probably saw this post coming. After six years of living in Greece, four and a half of those as a vegan, I’ve finally found the time to make an extensive guide on finding vegan food in Greece. Because time and again, I see blog posts and social media discussions that make it look like being vegan in Greece is incredibly easy.
Look, I get it. We’re all happy to be vegan, and we want to show the world that it’s not difficult to omit animal products. But if we’re honest with our veganism we also need to look beyond what we see on our plates. There are a lot of hidden animal ingredients in dishes that initially look vegan-friendly.
We’ve all been to the supermarket, picked up something that should be vegan, only to read the ingredient list and find animal products in there. Would you buy such a product as a vegan? Obviously not.
But when we travel as vegans we sometimes want things to be easy. We want to trust the person that told us the dish we’re interested in is vegan. But it’s more complicated than that. In some countries more so than in others.
Once you’re done reading this post make sure you head on over to my friends at World Vegan Travel who interviewed me on the subject of traveling as a vegan in Greece.
My Experience Being Vegan in Greece
I’ve been living in Greece for six years now and turned vegan here in late 2015. All the vegans I know in Greece were born and raised in this country. My Greek partner became vegan about a year after me. And there are dishes that I would have assumed to be vegan were it not for the fact that I know from several people that they’re not. Once you spend more time here you’ll realize that it’s not that easy to find vegan food in Greece.
On more than one occasion, my partner double-checked the ingredients of a dish with the end result that a dish we were initially told was vegan really wasn’t. We’ve been to restaurants that were listed on HappyCow as having vegan options only to be met with confused looks by staff and served dishes that tasted anything but vegan.
Am I saying this to make it look like it’s impossible to be vegan in Greece? No, you can definitely find vegan food in Greece. I have an extensive guide on vegan restaurants in Athens, a good overview of places to eat vegan on the island of Corfu, and even a guide for finding vegan food in Kalamata.
But I believe that when we travel for leisure we should make a bit of an effort to ensure that the food we eat does not come with a side of animal cruelty.
Difficulties When Asking For Vegan Food in Greece
The Greek language doesn’t have its own word for vegan dishes and uses the English word “vegan” sometimes written in Greek as “βέγκαν” or “βίγκαν.” As a rather new word, it’s not understood by many average Greeks, even in the restaurant industry. There is a lot of confusion with the word “vegetarian” and even that may be thought of as including chicken (we’ve all been through the “not even chicken/fish?!?” conversations, right?). I’ve even met an English teacher who didn’t know what vegan meant. What I’m saying is, don’t simply go somewhere and ask for “vegan” food.
So how do you find vegan food in Greece? I’ve found that all over the world the best way to ask for vegan food is to be very precise and state that you don’t consume any animal products. Make it clear that you don’t want meat, cheese, milk, butter, eggs, or honey. People might find it weird but they will get the meaning.
However, here’s the thing: In most places, waiters will not know how the chef makes a particular dish. We’ve often been told that a dish did not contain any animal products, but when we asked to double-check with the chef we found out that the dish was not vegan.
And another issue is that people may not always want to be honest. Remember, they have a business, they want to make money. You’re a tourist who will probably not come back for a second time anyway. They risk nothing by lying to you, but they risk losing business if they tell you the truth.
This is one of the reasons I generally avoid non-vegan restaurants. Keep in mind that non-vegans don’t have the ethical foundation to really care about animal-derived ingredients. They’re not vegan, and they offer non-vegan products. Often vegan products are included to reach a broader audience. But the morals behind veganism have not suddenly entered the kitchen.
That’s why it’s on us as vegans to do our best to avoid the possibility of accidentally eating non-vegan dishes. We may not always be entirely successful, but if we prepare ourselves we stand a much better chance.
Traditional Greek Dishes That May or May Not Be Vegan
What I find helps tremendously is knowing which non-vegan ingredient could be present in a dish. That way you can ask for a very specific ingredient making it easier for everyone involved.
So what I’ve done is I’ve chosen Greek dishes that are often said to be vegan. I then googled the recipe in Greek and took the web results of the first page to see how many of them are vegan. I’ve turned that into a rating for an indication of how likely it is that this dish would be vegan.
I also asked a trained, non-vegan, Greek chef with 15 years experience for his opinion on these dishes. While he said that many of them should be vegan, he admitted that for financial reasons there’s a good chance they won’t be. Remember that Greece has been in a financial crisis for more than a decade, and making chicken broth is infinitely cheaper than buying high-quality olive oil, for example.
As for home cooking, I know that before my partner went vegan his mother would use chicken broth in virtually all dishes she cooked.
A word of advice on fasting food: I keep seeing comments that Orthodox fasting food is vegan. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as it’s not even vegetarian. While dairy and eggs are not allowed during a traditional fast, seafood and honey are. Seafood in particular is eaten a lot during fasting periods so asking for “nistisimo” (fasting) food can lead to more confusion.
Where it does work is with things that you already know not to contain seafood and that aren’t sweet. Something like fasting spinach pie (spanakopita nistisimi) would be guaranteed to be vegan because it doesn’t contain seafood and isn’t sweet so nobody would add honey either.
So let’s get into some traditional dishes you will come across as a vegan in Greece.
Αγκινάρες αλά πολίτα (Aginares alla polita)
This artichoke dish is one of those that will have you thinking it’s vegan. But is it really?
Well, sometimes it’s made with chicken broth or an egg-lemon sauce. There’s no guarantee that this artichoke dish will be vegan even though it should traditionally be free of animal products.
This light pea-stew is a very simple dish that vegans may come across in Greece.
As a dish that is usually vegan it’s the right kind of food to ask for as a vegan in Greece.
If you haven’t tried okra yet, you’re missing out.
Okra is a safe option for vegans, but make sure they are not served with cheese.
Often described as a Greek ratatouille, this eggplant and zucchini dish seems like a great choice for vegans who travel to Greece.
I found one recipe that uses honey, but in general, this is a safe dish.
Ντολμαδάκια γιαλαντζί (Dolmadakia yalancı)
Stuffed grape leaves are a classic dish in the Balkan region and beyond. There are versions that include meat, but dolma yalancı are often considered to be vegan. What do the recipes online say though?
Good news! Almost all recipes were vegan. Two included a yoghurt sauce which you can easily ask to omit when you order the dish. One recipe, however, included chicken broth as an alternative to water.
Generally speaking, if you ask for dolma yalancı without sauce chances are pretty good that you’ll get a vegan dish.
As vegans, we love our lentils, don’t we. If you’re looking for vegan food in Greece, this lentil soup is often suggested.
How come one of the top choices for vegan food in Greece scores so low? Well, chicken broth is sometimes used when making lentil soup. Other than that, it is often served with cheese or even anchovies. But you can ask to omit them so you’ll only have to make sure there’s no chicken broth used.
This bean soup is such a warm and hearty dish that you can’t help but feel really cozy when eating it. Is this the kind of meal you should eat as a vegan in Greece?
There’s a possibility that the soup will be made with chicken broth. Also, make sure it doesn’t come with cheese. But if you can confirm that those ingredients are not used this is one of the best things you can eat as a vegan in Greece.
Green beans are one of those dishes I’m not a fan of, but that doesn’t mean they’re not vegan.
Good news, if you like green beans you only have to make sure they’re not served with cheese.
Stuffed peppers and tomatoes are a Balkan dish that I grew up with and have always loved. In Greece, they tend to be made without meat, but let’s look at the top search results.
Aside from one recipe that used cheese, all recipes on the first page of Google were vegan. Gemista are also a dish that can be quite easy to find at a traditional taverna. A great choice for vegan food in Greece.
Broad beans are another common dish that is very filling.
One recipe used chicken broth. But in general this is one of the better choices when looking for traditionally vegan food in Greece.
Ιμάμ μπαϊλντί (İmam bayıldı)
İmambayıldı is another favorite dish of mine that I grew up with. But is it vegan in Greece?
It’s half-and-half, as you can see. Half of the recipes use cheese, the other half don’t. But at least if you state clearly that you want no cheese, it will be easy enough for the restaurant to accommodate you.
Κολοκυθοανθοί γεμιστοί (Kolokithoanthi gemisti)
Stuffed zucchini flowers! Have you had them? Don’t they sound amazing? Well, are they vegan?
Well, sadly there’s a chance that there will be cheese in the filling. And forget about fried zucchini flowers, those are even less likely to be vegan.
Rice dishes can be good options for vegan food in Greece. One option is cabbage rice.
Almost all recipes were vegan, but one of the top recipes uses an egg-lemon sauce which is used very frequently in dishes that could otherwise appear vegan. So make sure that there’s no egg-lemon sauce with this.
Another option is leek rice.
Since the flavor of the leek is brought out even more with vegetable broth, most people would opt for vegetable broth, making this one of the best options for vegan food in Greece.
I love chickpeas. I could eat them every day.
While I cannot guarantee that nobody would use chicken broth in this chickpea soup it seems quite unlikely judging by the top recipes on Google. It’s also very delicious despite its simplicity so I would recommend this to any vegan in Greece.
If leek rice is always vegan and there’s a good chance that cabbage rice is vegan as well, how about spinach rice?
Chances are pretty good that you’ll get a vegan dish. But make sure you ask for it to be served without cheese. But in general, these rice dishes are a pretty good option if you’re traveling as a vegan in Greece.
I can’t believe how often I’ve seen people claim that tomato fritters are vegan. Well, what do the recipes say?
No, tomato fritters are most likely not vegan. Most of them contain cheese, egg, or both. That’s because making them vegan requires more time and effort.
If tomato fritters are not vegan what about zucchini fritters?
Nope. All top recipes for zucchini fritters contain cheese, and five out of six contain eggs as well. Stay away.
Will we have more luck with eggplant fritters?
I’m sorry, but no. All the recipes contain cheese, most of them contain eggs as well, and one of them even uses honey.
Tomato, zucchini, and eggplant fritters are also a good example of waiters not knowing what’s actually in the food. We’ve asked for vegan options at restaurants and would be offered these. After politely asking the waiter (in Greek!) to confirm with the chef if there are animal products in the fritters they have always come back and said the dish was not vegan.
Ψητά κολοκυθάκια (Psita Kolokithakia)
What could go wrong with fried zucchini?
There are many different ways to fry zucchini (or other vegetables), but they often include cheese. As a vegan in Greece, you may see this on the menu and be tempted to order it. If they’re fried in batter make sure to ask what the batter is made of (it could simply be water and flour, but there are all kinds of non-vegan options as well).
Ψητές μελιτζάνες (Psites Melitzanes)
What about fried eggplant then?
Again, there’s a chance that cheese will be used when frying the eggplant. But if they’re without cheese and the batter is vegan fried eggplant is a good option for vegan food in Greece.
This bean dip is is a classic in terms of vegan food in Greece.
Although all top recipes were vegan, note that I’ve heard of people who use chicken broth in the recipe.
Although it’s called eggplant “salad” this is actually an eggplant dip. Many times when people talk about vegan food in Greece they’re actually talking about a variety of dips or starters. While I can think of more filling meals than dips, they can be a nice side dish. And well, when there’s nothing else they’re better than nothing, right?
Believe it or not, but one of the top recipes actually uses honey. I’d say the odds are pretty slim for this to happen at a regular restaurant. But it’s good to be aware of.
This garlic dip can be a delicious side dish to eat with bread.
Sadly, I’ve found one recipe using egg and another one using fish broth. So don’t be too sure that your skordalia is vegan.
Sweets and Baked Goods
Baklava is one of the most fantastic things in the world, but is it usually vegan?
You will have a hard time finding vegan baklava in Greece. Six of the seven recipes on the first page of Google contain butter. The one that doesn’t uses olive oil (which is a horrifying idea in itself speaking as someone who has eaten and made baklava for ages). And three recipes (including the dairy-free one) use honey in the syrup.
If you’re looking for a vegan baklava recipe check out my vegan eid recipes from the Balkans. But if you’re looking for vegan food in Greece you definitely need to stay away from baklava.
Halva is one of those things I’ve never liked, but you might love it as a dessert option!
Great news, most halva recipes don’t even contain honey so if you only ask about this specific ingredient you’re good to go. Finally, a sweet you can enjoy on your trip to Greece.
If you’ve never tried kanafeh you’re missing out. In Greece, it’s called kadaifi so maybe you could try it here?
Very few bakeries will replace the butter with oil in this recipe unless it’s Lent, and even then there would still be honey in the syrup. Our local bakery claims to use neither, but this is an absolute exception. This is not a sweet I would suggest if you’re traveling as a vegan in Greece.
The top street food breakfast in Greece. Is it vegan?
The Greek koulouri is more likely to be vegan than not but could also include honey so it isn’t the safest option if you’re vegan in Greece.
Anything fried is always a delicious dessert so who wouldn’t want these fried doughnuts to be vegan? But are they really?
I’m sorry to disappoint you, but they’re usually not vegan. So maybe it’s only the honey, and you can ask for them with syrup instead?
Well, not really. Out of the seven non-vegan recipes, only two use a vegan dough. In some cases, the honey is already added to the dough, but there are also recipes that make the dough with milk or eggs.
I could eat Turkish delight all the time, but how vegan is it here in Greece?
Normally, you don’t need gelatin to make Turkish delight, but most Greek recipes use it nonetheless. The good thing is that if you buy a box in a store you can check the ingredients. Fresh Turkish delight is not as much of a thing here in Greece as in other countries.
Going to Crete as a Vegan?
As Greece’s largest island, Crete attracts an enormous amount of visitors every year. Cretan restaurants also exist in other parts of the country because the cuisine differs a bit from mainland Greece. Cretans have a reputation in Greece for possibly being the least vegan-friendly people in the country. So if you’re choosing to vacation in Crete you need to pay extra attention to the food you eat. If being vegan in Greece is tricky Greek vegans will tell you that being vegan in Crete is nearly impossible.
This Cretan starter is super popular all over Greece.
Dakos always come with cheese. But you simply have to ask for them without cheese. This is definitely an instance of a traditionally non-vegan food turning into one of the best options for when you’re vegan in Greece because it’s so easily veganizable.
This is a very pretty Cretan sweet that you will be tempted to eat in Crete.
Honey is a must in this dessert so it’s not an option for vegans.
These Cretan pastries have a reputation for being very delicious so people may tell you to try them.
Milk, eggs, yoghurt, and butter are all used in the dough for this pastry so this snack is not for vegans. Among the top recipes there was only one with a vegan dough, but the filling was not vegan. But even if you find a vegan filling, the majority of the recipes include dairy and/or eggs in the dough.
How to Eat Vegan in Greece
So now that you know of these tricky dishes in Greece what do you do? Does this mean you can’t find vegan food in Greece? No, of course not! This post is not meant to discourage you from traveling to Greece as a vegan. But the information in this post empowers you to make the right choices when looking for vegan food in Greece.
To make it easier for you to find vegan food in Greece here are some tips for eating vegan in Greece:
1. Go to Vegan Restaurants
Big cities like Athens and Thessaloniki now have several vegan restaurants you can choose from. By going to the places I mention in my vegan restaurant guide to Athens, for example, you are supporting people who are at the forefront of the vegan movement in Greece. Not only do they know what veganism means they also understand and respect this lifestyle. Why not support them?
And you won’t need to forgo a traditional Greek experience either. There are options such as moussaka or souvlaki at vegan restaurants as well. That way you can be vegan in Greece and still get a taste of Greek food. Because why would you go to Greece to only eat falafel or other non-Greek dishes?
2. Ask for Specific Dishes
Now that you know which dishes have a high chance of being vegan you can ask for them when you’re somewhere with no vegan restaurants around.
But don’t expect to show up to a restaurant or taverna and order spanakorizo or another one of these vegan dishes. Many of the traditionally vegan or easily veganizable dishes are not on the regular menu of restaurants. That’s because they’re home-cooked dishes that people usually eat at home, not things you would go out to a restaurant for. We’ve been to places where the only thing they had was fries, I’m not kidding.
But say you’re staying in a village on a Greek island, you could pass by one of the restaurants and ask them if they could make a chickpea soup for you for dinner the next day. As difficult as it can be to be vegan in Greece, when you make it easy for people to accommodate you they probably will.
3. Try to Find a Mageirio
A mageirio is a cheap eatery that serves home-cooked meals. There will be several dishes on display that you can choose from. Chances that you’ll find some of the vegan food options mentioned here are higher. Plus, they provide a much more authentic experience than some of the restaurants that cater to tourists. They are more of a mainland thing, but if that’s where you’re spending your vacation a mageirio is a good place to look for vegan food in Greece.
4. Check Vegan Guide Greece
I’m a big fan of using HappyCow, but I find that in some countries it’s not very accurate beyond the super popular places. If you’re exploring even only one or two places that are “off the beaten path” the website and app Vegan Guide Greece will come in handy.
To Sum Things Up
Being vegan in Greece doesn’t have to be difficult. There is vegan food in Greece that you can choose from. However, it’s not as easy as some non-vegan Greeks or non-Greek vegans would have you believe. You need to prepare yourself so you know what to avoid and what to ask for.
I don’t want this post to be seen as a hindrance to living your happiest vegan life on your Greek vacation. Rather, I want to provide you with the necessary information to make food choices that are fair to the animals. It can be all too easy to take things at face value. But most of us became vegan because we questioned the popular narrative. Why should we stop doing so when on vacation?
At the end of the day, if you travel to Greece you will have a limited amount of time here so there will be enough of a variety of vegan dishes for you not to get bored.
I hope this honest guide to being vegan in Greece helps you to make the right food choices when you explore this fascinating country. If you have any questions about specific dishes that I should add here please let me know.