The other day I made Spanakopita for a friend’s graduation dinner. While everyone was so gracious and kind as they were enjoying the dish, I couldn’t focus on what they were saying because they were all pronouncing spanakopita as if it was SPAYN-IH-KOH-PIT-AH. It felt like trying to listen to someone with stuff in their teeth and just pretending it’s not there!
It wasn’t until I had a few glasses of wine that I got the (liquid) courage to correct them. And you know what? They were so appreciative!
When I think about it, I’ve been fortunate to have friends correct me when I’ve said things wrong – pho, bruschetta, and Vichyssoise are the first that come to mind. And thanks to them, it feels good to know that I’m saying something correctly when I’m ordering. The little things, right?
So whether or not you’re going to Greece or just want to feel more confident ordering food at a Greek restaurant, here’s a simple guide to saying common Greek food and drinks *correctly.* If you have a question about something specific, feel free to drop it in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer it – or consult my Modern Greek teacher for assistance!
12 Pronunciations of Common Greek Food & Drinks
1. Spanakopita (Savory Spinach Pie): Spah-nah-KOH-pee-tah
When it comes to pronunciation – the biggest hurdle to get through is the first part. Think “spa” – not span. And instead of pit – think “pee.” After you say it a few times and get it right, it’ll stick!
See this post for my Yiayia’s spanakopita recipe!
2. Tiropita (Savory Cheese Pie): Tee-ROH-pee-tah
Similar to spanakopita, the hardest part with pronouncing tiropita is the first part of the word. It’s “tee” not “tih.” And again, for the pita part – it’s “pee-tah” not “pit-ah.”
If you’ve got little ones in your life, tiropita was my “introductory” dish into Greek cuisine. I think of it like a grilled cheese with a Greek twist.
3. Gyro (Sandwich): YEER-oh
Another tricky one – this sandwich name is a bit deceiving with the “g.” It’s definitely more of a “YEE” than a “GEE.” Fun fact: gyro translates into “round” or “circle” in Greek.
4. Krasi (Wine): Krah-SEE
Not like “grassy.” Krasi (krah-SEE), which means wine in Greek, is pronounced more like a kraw – as in crawfish or crawl… not crab or crack.
5. Kafe me Yala (Coffee with milk): Kah-FEH meh-GHAH-lah
Just the opposite of gyro – the “y” in yala is where people often get confused. It’s not a “yuh” sound but it’s a “gaw” sound – sort of like golf or got (not gap or gas). And the Kafe is pronounced similarly to the English version of “cafe” – however, it’s “kah-FEH” not “kah-FAY.”
6. Tsai (Tea): TSAH-EE
This one still trips me up a bit! I often blur the ah and ee into an “ay” when it’s more of a “tsah-ee.”
While I’m partial to Greek coffee, Greece also has lots of wonderful herbal teas worth trying if you visit.
7. Dolmades (Stuffed Grape Leaves): Dohl-MAH-thes
Stuffed grape/vine leaves are popular for good reason! They’re fun to eat and go with pretty much anything in my opinion – the perfect appetizer or light snack. Just remember it’s dohl-MAH-thes – not dohl-MAH-des. The difference is oh so slight, but it’s there.
8. Ouzo (Licorice alcohol): OO-zoh
I think this may be the easiest on the list! Pronounced as it looks, ouzo (ooh-zoh) is an anise-flavored liqueur that’s made from the extras of grapes after they’ve been used for wine-making. Upcycling!
It’s generally served neat – no ice and no extra flavorings. But I sometimes like to add water to dilute the flavor a bit. (Sorry, Yiayia!)
9. Bira (Beer): BEE-rah
Another easy one! You’ll essentially add an “ah” sound after the “beer” to get bira. PS, here are some of my favorite Greek beers: Yellow Donkey, Piraiki, and Nisos.
10. Pastitsio (Greek Lasagna): Pahs-TEET-see-oh
A Greek favorite. This comfort dish is full of cheese, meat, and noodles. YUM. If you remember it’s pahs-teet-see-oh (it’s like paw not pass), you should be good to go!
11. Moussaka (Eggplant & Meat Lasagna): Moo-sah-KAH
The inflection is the hardest part with this word. Often, we’ll emphasize the “moo” when the emphasis is on the KAH. Again, very slight!
12. Retsina (a common Greek wine): Reht-SEE-nah
My Modern Greek teacher refers to Retsina as “cheap wine.” So I don’t think she likes it very much! However, I think it’s worth giving a sip or two if you visit. It’s a wine infused with the resin of Aleppo pine trees and definitely has a specific taste.
Pronounced “reht-SEE-nah” – retsina sounds pretty much the way it looks!
13. Yamas (Cheers/ To Our Health): Yah-mas
Much like “cheers” – “Yamas”is said in Greece when clinking glasses. It translates into “to our health.” Just don’t cheers with coffee as it’s said to “bring bad luck.” 🙂
14. Kali Orexi (the Greek version of Bon Appetite!): Kah-LEE O-rehx-ee
When you’re about to enjoy a meal, Kali Orexi (Kah-LEE O-rehx-ee) is a way to start the meal off on a positive note.