Famed for its nourishing simplicity and quality ingredients eaten in season, Greek cuisine has long been considered among the finest and healthiest in the world.
In a recent article, CNN Travel has come up with its own Top 10 list of the “best cuisines in the world,” arguing that food and drink play a significant role in helping us choose where to go on vacation.
While the article admits that its own take on the world’s best food cultures is highly subjective – an obvious case of “one man’s meat is another man’s poison” – it’s no surprise to find Greek cuisine on the list.
Ranked seventh, ahead of the cuisines of the United States, Mexico, and Thailand, the article notes that “traveling and eating in Greece feels like a glossy magazine spread come to life,” highlighting the importance of “lashings of glistening olive oil” in the preparation of Greek food.
The article also points out that eating in Greece is a bit like stepping back in time – “a bite of dolma or a slurp of lentil soup gives a small taste of life in ancient Greece, when they were invented.”
Aside from olive oil, described as a “gift of the gods,” the article also mentions the humble “spanakopita” (spinach and feta pie) and gyros, a street food classic consisting of shavings of roasted meat and tzatziki wrapped in a pita bread, among its favorites. However, the article was less enthusiastic about “lachanorizo,” calling it “cabbage and onion cooked to death then mix with rice.”
Further up the list, Indian cuisine came in sixth, noting that “any country that manages to make vegetarian food taste consistently great certainly deserves some kind of Nobel prize,” followed by Japanese cuisine in fifth, famous for its sushi and sashimi. Also in Asia, Chinese cuisine, praised for its sweet and sour pork – “a guilty pleasure that take on different forms” – but decried for its shark-fin soup, ranked second.
Back in Europe, Spanish and French cuisines came fourth and third respectively, while Italian cuisine topped the bill, lauded for its coffee, salami (“second only to cigarettes as a source of addiction”), and, of course, pizza.
Why is Greek Cuisine So Good?
One of the principal reasons why the Greek way of eating can be set apart from just about every other cuisine is the Orthodox tradition of fasting, the prohibition of dairy, meat, eggs, and fish (anything with a backbone) for four periods of the year. As such, the ability to come up with delicious recipes using only vegetables, grains, pulses, and greens has been a staple part of Greek food culture for millennia. In fact, nutritionists and food experts agree that a predominantly plant-based eating regime, with the occasional serving of animal protein (all things in moderation), is far better and healthier than a diet that is focused on meat and heavily processed food.
Olive oil, the not-so-secret foundation of Greek cooking, has inspired a great interest in the Mediterranean diet for decades. Studies have shown that it can do everything from reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, to fight cancer. As such, lashings of olive oil doesn’t just make the food, especially vegetables, taste better, it acts as a medicine. Meats, too, can become healthier when marinated and cooked with olive oil, thanks to its antioxidants.