What Did the Ancient Greeks Eat?

Olives and herbs in a wooden bowl

When we think of the Greek diet, we immediately think of tomatoes, aubergines and Moussaka. However, this dish actually didn’t appear until quite recently (relatively speaking, anyway!). What did the Ancient Greeks eat before then? Well, in short, their diet was very simple, varied and healthy. It was mostly composed of vegetables, oil, fish, grains and cereals, fruits, legumes… and of course, LOTS of wine.

what the Greeks didn't eat, Moussaka with potatoes
What the Greeks did NOT eat: Moussaka with potatoes

A Healthy Population Eats its Vegetables!

The sun and warm Mediterranean weather is the perfect environment for growing vegetables, and the Greeks loved them! They ate vegetables in the form of soups, but also smashed or simply boiled. Pretty boring, no? Well, maybe not: they always added dressings and seasonings, like vinegar, oil, coriander, dill, mint, oregano, saffron, and thyme.

Greek olive oil
Greek olive oil

Fruits and Healthy Desserts

Olives, which are technically a fruit, were one of the primary foods in Ancient Greece. The Greeks used oil to cook and olives were also a common appetizer. Other important fruits included figs, pomegranates, apples, pears, and grapes.

What about dessert? Well, they ate most of their fruits, fresh or dried as desserts. And honey was perfect to sweeten foods and make cakes.

Figs and grapes, an important part of the Greek diet, in a wooden bowl
Figs and grapes in the Greek diet

Yes to Fish, No to Meat

The Greeks loved their seafood. The islands and the cities on the coast ate and transported every kind of fish, including squid, octopus, sardines, and anchovies.

However, the Ancient Greeks consumed far less meat than we do today. When available, they would sometime eat chicken, deer, wild hare and pork. Wealthier people sometimes owned goats, but mostly for cheese.

A dish with an image of three fish, at the Louvre
Fish plate, ca. 350-325 BC, Louvre

What Did the Ancient Greeks Eat for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner?

Breakfast was a light meal that typically consisted of bread or porridge. At lunch, the Greeks might eat fish, cheese, legumes and fruits. And then, they had a BIG dinner! At sunset, the Greeks filled their tables with all sorts of foods, vegetables, fish, legumes, cheese, bread, olives and wine.

For the wealthiest, dinner was often a social event. Men invited their male friends to eat, drink and play alcoholic games. That’s right, women were not invited… unless they were slave prostitutes, of course…

Famous for their drinking parties, the Greeks always had wine on the table. However, it was always watered down so that it wouldn’t be too strong. They drank it from a cup called kylix.

Greek vase showing a symposium
Ancient Greeks drinking after dinner

Did the Greeks Eat Anything Weird?

The ancient Greeks would eat some foods that may seem strange to us… For example, they liked eels, locusts, snails and small birds. They also used garum, a fermented fish sauce, which must have smelled very bad, as a condiment.

But perhaps the strangest thing the Greeks consumed was the Spartan Black Soup. It consisted of boiled pigs’ legs, blood, salt and vinegar. But there was a reason! The strong Spartan soldiers needed their daily dose of proteins and this soup was a necessary part of their diet.

More Interesting Facts About the Greek Diet

  • The main reason the Greeks didn’t eat much meat was that they felt that killing a domesticated animal was wrong.
  • The Greeks mostly sacrificed their animals to the gods, and then ate the rest of the meat after the religious ceremonies. Poor people would enter the religious arenas at the end of the festivals to take any leftovers.
  • The Greeks didn’t drink milk, and didn’t like butter! Drinking milk was considered barbaric… They loved cheese on bread, though!
  • Greek athletes ate much more meat than other Greeks, and had their own special diet. After all, you had to be rich to be an athlete.
  • At dinner, people often laid on their side while eating and drinking.
A Kylix (greek drinking vase) showing two men offering a boar at a sacrificial altar
Kylix showing a boar at a sacrificial altar, ca. 510-500 BC, Louvre

Overall, the Greeks were very healthy, and their foods, mostly baked in the oven, were quite light. There was a great variety of foods available, but quantities were small. Wine, on the other hand, was plentiful! There are a few things we could learn from their diet, like eating lots of fruits and vegetables. But while we’re all for taking cooking advice from the Ancient Greeks…. maybe steer clear of Black Soup!

Need more ideas about what to do at home, other than trying to bake a Greek honey cake?

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