Athens Food Guide: 8 Must-Try Dishes
I was beyond happy to discover that Athens was on par with Istanbul, Rome and Lisbon for amazing street food and delicious dishes. It is also a very affordable city in terms of food. While you have your usual restaurants. there are plenty of tavernas, hole in the walls places, bakeries and kafenia to keep you happy for days.
To get our bearings, we went on a food exploration with Anna from Athens Food on Foot and we were not dissapointed. For 4 hours we eat our way through Athens, discovering street food stalls and Greek classics like koulori, kalamari and feta cheese.
The tour started off with a tasting of traditional greek yogurt, which we later walked off in the charming area of Athens, steps away from the Acropolis. Afterwards, we walked through Plaka and tasted some more food. Next stop was Athens Central Market, where the variety of food on offer was mind-boggling and we loved watching locals shop and traders advertising their goods. We finished the tour at a traditional cafe, full of Athenians getting their daily lunch.
The idea for Anna’s company was born out of her desire to introduce tourists to the great food of Athens and save them from a vicious circle of tasteless gyros and overpriced greek salads. I think she certainly succeeded in her mission. We discovered plenty of new dishes , but at the same time Anna gave us a taste of superior versions of foods, I have already tried elsewhere.
While I will not be covering places we visited with Anna on the tour, in case you decide to go on the tour yourself, let’s see what we managed to try in the space of 4 hours.
Traditional breakfast snack for Greeks, which can be eaten on the go. The dough was slightly sweet and the covering of sesame seeds made koulori extra savoury. It was light, spongy to the touch and slightly chewy.
Greeks love their pies and if you stop at any bakery you will be able to see the sheer variety of pies on offer: from vegetarian to meaty and sweet varieties. I am not a big fan of vegetable pies as I always find them a bit bland, however spanakopita is a different story. Beautiful home made pastry, which is filled with spinach and cheese filling, sometimes with herbs to add an extra taste kick.
3. GREEK YOGURT
This can be your breakfast, snack or even dinner. Thick, rich yogurt made from sheep’s milk, which offers a higher nutritional value than the usual yogurt. And to make matters even tastier, you can top it up with honey and walnuts or sour cherry jam. Either way it will be delicious.
If you can find a café or a bakery, where bougatsa is freshly made – you are in luck. This cake is made up of numerous layers of filo pastry and can be stuffed with either sweet custard, cheese or meat – variations are endless.
I would definitely recommend to have bougatsta when it is freshly made, as if it is fresh you can become a life long lover. But if bougatsa is reheated you might say “never again”. Sweet version is so generously sprinkled with icing sugar, at some point you start to resemble Father Christmas with a whit moustache and a beard!
5. FETA CHEESE
Pretty much a staple in Greek cuisine and there is a great variety of choice if you visit a specialist cheese shop. In the UK I only come across hard, aged feta, however on the walk I tried soft and young feta, which has been matured only for a few months. I want to say it tastes slightly similar to soft goat cheese, but there is more depth. The texture of young feta is heavenly- like whipped cloud inside a slightly harder casing.
6. PASTRAMI AND BASTURMA (PASTIRMA)
If you like cold cuts, Greece will not disappoint. While olives, yogurt and feta readily come to mind when Greek cuisine is mentioned, spiced and dried meat should also make the cut. Stop off at one of the shops, located close to Athens Central Market and get a tasting plate to try a variety on offer.
The myth says that Athens were named after goddess Athena, when she gifted the citizens with an olive tree branch. Any market in Athens will have several stalls , selling a huge variety of olives. You will try many types of olives in Greece, before you choose your favourite.
Meze is a traditional way of serving small plates of food in Greek restaurants and tavernas. Greeks are social creatures and instead of nursing a pint all night, they will turn up in numbers, take a table and start ordering. The communal eating allows for many dishes to be tasted and washed down with plenty of ouzo, light-hearted conversation and a good laugh. Meze dishes are varied, the ones that we tried on the tour were: courgette fritters, boiled chickpeas, tomato salad, grilled sardines, giant beans in tomato sauce, spiced cheese dip, cod bites, anchovies, fried squid. I can go on.
We were hosted by Athens Food on Foot, but all opinions are my own.