In a sea-bound country like Greece, with its seemingly endless coastline and hundreds of islands, it stands to reason the bounty of the sea would find its place on the table. Greeks eat lots of fish and seafood, in lots of different ways.
Yet, despite their love of all the sea’s treats, they tend to harbor an innate distrust of the fishmonger. They always have! Even the ancients, at least according to sources like Athenaeus in the Deipnosophists, were wary toward the unscrupulous practices of merchants who hawked fish. Today, of course, with the very sea that has inspired Greece forever in danger, the fish market is a place now filled with species, not only from local waters (the Mediterranean fish supply is sadly dwindling fast), but from all over the world. Fish farming is also big business in Greece, a double-edged sword that helps satisfy demand, while leaving open the whole issue of ecological balance and safety.
Nevertheless, fish is perceived as healthful, and Greeks enjoy it at home and in restaurants with equal gusto. The image of the small fishing boat and its weathered crew setting sail at dusk and plying local waters all night long to earn their meager living, runs deep in the national psyche, as does the more macho image of the lone diver, spear gun in hand, emerging hours later with a gangly octopus, or a trident full of some other fish ready for the evening’s feast.
In the Greek kitchen, fish is fried, grilled, baked, stewed and preserved.
For grilling: Whole fish on the grill makes for the most healthful, basic Greek meal. Among the fish savored whole on the grill, with little else but lemon juice, olive oil, salt and oregano to season it, are: Sea bass (rofos) Pike (sfirida) Grouper (stira) Snapper (sinagrida) Porgies (tsipoura) Sea bream (fagri or lithrini) Sword fish (steaks or skewered chunks) Grey mullet (kefalos)
For Frying: Salt cod (bakaliaros) Red mullet (barbouni) Sand shark (galeos) Smelts (gopes) Pilchard (gavros) Fresh sardines (sardela) Trout (pestrofa) Sea perch (hanos) Pickerel (marides)
For Baking or Stewing: Mackerel (kolios or magiatiko), whole Fresh cod (freskos bakaliaros) Grey mullet (kefalos) Fresh sardines (sardeles) Red snapper (sinagrida) Porgies (tsipoures) Parrotfish (sparos)
For soups: Sea bass (rofos) Scorpion fish (skorpina) Grouper (stira) Sea bream (lithrini or fagri) Sea perch (hanos)
Salted and preserved: Sardines (a specialty of the island of Lesvos) Pilchard (gavros), usually put up in a vinegar brine with olive oil Tsiros (a kind of small, often freshwater sardine) Anchovies (antzougies) Grey mullet Mackerel (lakerda)