Eating Habits in Ancient Greece

The eating habits of ancient Greeks were developed after a deep and detailed study of the needs of the body and the spirit. Their diet, which was an important part of their philosophical vision, was based on rules that combined enjoyment with well-being.

Unlike what many modern nutritionists believe about the benefits of a hearty breakfast, the ancient Greeks, and especially the Athenians, used to start their day with a very frugal meal that included “akratisma“, a little barley bread dipped in wine. Sometimes they were adding olives and figs. More often, however, their breakfast was limited to a boiled barley drink flavored with peppermint or thyme, which they believed to have healing properties.

Dinner time for the ancients was different than that of modern Greeks. Today most doctors advise that our evening meal should be light and has to be consumed before 20:00. However, for ancient Greeks dinner was the main meal of the day, which they had strictly  after sunset. Indeed, this meal was very rich and was accompanied by desserts, the so-called tragimata, which could be fresh or dried fruits, mainly figs, walnuts, grapes or honey-desserts.

At noon, Greeks used to eat fish, legumes, or snacks such as bread, cheese, olives, eggs, nuts and fruits.

Unlike today’s vegetarian trends, a food that was never missing from the table in ancient Greece was meat. Eating meat, even on a daily basis, was not considered harmful to the body at all. The ancients showed a particular preference for pork and beef, while they rarely ate goats and lambs. They also loved hunting, especially thrushes, quail and deer. In order to tenderize meats, they marinated them with herbs.

Seafood and shellfish were also favorites of ancient Greeks, but mostly affordable to the wealthier ones. They preferred the sea bream, mullet, sardines, the renowned eels of Copais Lake and fish from the Hellespontos and the Black Sea.

Legumes such as beans, lentils, chickpeas (peeled), peas and pureed beans also featured a lot on the ancient Greeks’ daily menu. Also, garden vegetables and fresh herbs were almost always on the table. Bulbs, lettuce, peas, artichokes, celery, dill and mint were greatly appreciated. However, cucumbers and figs were the most popular items. Mushrooms, fennel, asparagus, and even tender nettles, often appeared on the table.

Greeks also loved their breads. They were baking several kinds of bread, such as semolina bread, wheat, rye, millet and various other types, taking their names from the way they were baked as well. Bread was never missing from the table.

As far as cooking methods, most foods were baked in the oven or spit roasted, or boiled with various vegetables and spices. Condiments and spices used included dill, basil, mint, thyme, cardamom, coriander, capers, pine nuts, and imported pepper.

It was important for ancient Greeks to eat with company. Their dinners especially were also a way to socialize, and dinner time was closely linked not only to gastronomy but to social manners and activities as well. Every meal was accompanied with wine.

In any case, the ancient Greeks were light eaters, consuming a great variety of foods, but in very small quantities. The goal of a meal was to please the palate rather than to fill the stomach.

Spartans, on the other hand, were following their famous laconic austerity in their diet as well: their daily meal included a cup of “black broth” and a piece of bread, while in special occasions and celebrations they ate boiled pork and drank some wine.