Moussaka, slouvaki, Greek salad, … is this what comes to mind when you think of Greek food? Think again! Even if there’s a lot of chance that you will come across these on your trip to Greece, the Greek cuisine is so much more varied than this!
It’s 9am on a sunny Wednesday morning and I am ready to embark on a food tour of Athens! Despina, tour guide and co-founder of Athens Walking Tours, starts with a historical lesson about the world of food and how the different Mediterranean cultures got intertwined and influenced. Did you know for example that tomatoes originally came from Central America?!
We start our culinary experience with a “koulouri”: a round shaped bread ring covered in sesame seeds. (If you’ve ever been to Turkey, it is similar to “simit”). It is often the first thing that gets into the Greek stomach, after their “coffee and cigarette-breakfast”. You can buy them on every street corner and they make for a pretty healthy and cheap snack (0,50 euro) !
Less healthy, but just as tasty is our next stop. We visit “Krinos”, a family business in the heart of Athens and one of the best places to try “loukoumades”, or “Greek doughnuts”. They consist of round shaped balls of fried dough, soaked in honey. And yes, they are as delicious as they sound! A quick sneak preview into the kitchen shows us how thousands of those delicacies are made every day!
Whenever I go on city break, I always try to visit a local market. This is where the heart of the city beats, a place where you can experience local culture at its best! So I was very happy that Varvakios Agora (the Central Market of Athens) was on the list today! It’s a colourful world full of strong smells, loud voices and fresh products. The meat market is probably not for the faint hearted though: animal carcasses are hanging from the stalls and butchers are cutting different parts of the animals into the desired pieces. Outside it’s a more peaceful world: a whole range of herbs, spices and nuts draw you into an Oriental atmosphere!
Greece being a huge country with over 200 inhabitated islands, it comes to no surprise that there is a huge variety of dishes and ingredients! Our next stop on the food tour of Athens brings us to “Zouridakes”, a family business producing traditional food from the island of Crete. Olives, cheeses, spreads, raki, … are waiting for us to be tested. I really like the small green Cretan olives, not to mention the olive marmelade, which has a surprisingly sweet taste!
I start to get pretty filled up by now, but my food tour of Athens isn’t over yet! The next place we visit looks a bit like a Spanish tapas bar with cold cuts like “pastourma” and some delicious goat and sheep cheese. Despina explains us that the area starts to liven up again with small family businesses after the recent economical crisis. I really like this part of Athens, situated between Omonia and Monastiraki. It’s a true Athenian part of the city, not spoiled by mass tourism, like Plaka!
Greek cuisine isn’t spicy at all, it concentrates on the true flavours of the ingredients, enhanced by the use of fresh herbs. “Fotsis”, a herb store, overwhelms you with smells like basil, mountain tea, mint, oregano and many more! Just like the herb stalls outside the Central Market, you could easily think you’re in an Oriental market here!
It’s merely 1pm and already time for desert! On one of the hippest nightlife squares (Iroon Square) we visit a traditional pie shop, where I taste “bougatsa”, a filo pastry filled with custard and garnished with powdered sugar and cinnamon. A delicious end to an even more delicious and interesting food tour of Athens!
So, what about you? Do you like Greek cuisine? What is your favourite dish?