Gastronomy in Athens, Greece – a Walking Tour
I was in Greece as the guest of Gastronomos magazine, the foodie magazine published by the respected Kathimerini daily newspaper. I was there to cover their Food Producer Awards which were in their 9th year and to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Gastronomos with an ‘Athens Foodie Walking Tour’. I travel to Greece regularly to visit family in Athens and as a non-Greek speaker (OK – I can say where’s the cake shop…) I have struggled to get a sense of the Greek gastro scene which has been a source of frustration for me as I know how great the produce and cuisine can be. I see the awards as part of a burgeoning sense of self-awareness and an understanding of the necessity to package and promote Greek food for the international market in a more sophisticated way than hitherto. So there were prizes for the international recognition of Greek food to chef Konstantinos Enrikonglou of Notos restaurant in Brussels, to Prokopis Mayiatis, the scientist who created an index for the health properties of olive oil, to the Kivernitis company for the best quality Greek olive oil made by a pair of charming brothers from Corfu;
and of course for the best olives, huge, meaty Prune olives from the Damaskinoelies Ainatzoglou company. Support for traditional Greek products needs to be strengthened and events like this are great for raising their profile. Following the event there was a feast of food and drink provided by the prize-winners which was great fun and congratulations to everyone at Gastronomos for organising it.On the day of the ceremony I went with a bunch of international food bloggers on an amazing day-long foodie tour around central Athens so here are my top nine Athens food experiences!Start your day as all Greeks do with a coffee at the prizewinning flagship store of TAF Coffee (7 Emmanuel Benaki Street, Tel: +30.210-38.00.014). TAF is the company which introduced specialist coffee to Athens eight years ago after their owner made a trip to Seattle and have done much to upgrade the Greek coffee scene from the low-grade ‘Greek’ coffee of yesteryear. They work directly with producers to support sustainability working with single estate producers and not only import but roast their beans to ensure quality.I tried a delicious freddo caffe latte made with the ‘cold drip’ method-try their coffee in the UK at Ergon in London at 322 Regent St if you can’t make it to Athens.Your next stop should be Galaktopoleio I Stani (10 Marika Kotopouli Street, Tel: +30.210-52.33.637), an atmospheric dairy/patisserie founded in 1931. We had a wonderful tasting of a variety of milk-based dishes; yoghurt with honey and walnuts, rice pudding sprinkled with cinnamon, galaktoboureko (a Turkish semolina custard in filo pastry), and my favourite-a luxurious dish of cream, honey and nuts. It’s no surprise that they won a gold medal at the International Food Exhibition of Thessaloniki.If the sound of deep fried balls of honey and cinnamon goodness known as Loukoumades gets you excited then make a pit-stop at Chanion Th. Ktisaki (59 Sokratous Street, Tel: +30.210-52.40.891). who started making them in 1912 in the Cretan town of Chania.If you don’t eat them all up take them back to your hotel as they are just as good cold from the fridge the next day.The fourth stop on our gastro-tour is at The Pantopoleion: The Store of Mediterranean Diet (1 Sofokleous Street, Tel: +30.210-32.34.612). Here you have the opportunity to try and buy a wide range of traditional Greek products from small artisanal producers ranging from premium Corinth currants to delicious cheeses and meats by way of top quality olive oils, herbs and the new wave of amazing Greek wines that are starting to make an impact internationally.For fresh fish, seafood and meat nothing beats a visit to the Varvakeios Central Market. If you are a fan of the hustle and bustle of food markets then it’s a must see.Karamanlidika by Fanis, named after the Greek diaspora in Turkey (1 Sokratous & Evripidou Street, Tel: +30.210-32.54.184) is renowned in Athens for serving up the traditional tastes of Byzantium and Cappadocia (aged cheese, cured, seasoned and aged ham, sausages and pastrami among other fine cold cuts). We visited allegedly to taste the cheeses and cold meats and ended up having a sumptuous feast with selections of delicious soft and hard cheeses, a smoky aubergine salad, a spicy, earthy hummous, a rich shrimp saganaki, plates of salami, lemony freshly stuffed vine leaves all washed down with shots of Tsipouro, the fiery Greek spirit that is similar to Grappa.If you have time pay a visit to the spice shops in Evripidou Street right next to Karamanlidika. They stock beautiful soaps alongside the herbs amongst other goodies at bargain prices.For the best souvlaki in the world go to O Kostas 1950 (5 Pentelis & Mitropoleos Street, Tel: +30.210-32.28.502). The warm bread is subtly spiced with the crispness of fresh parsley framing the sweet tender lamb with a vegetal crunch -sublime!Our final stop was a million miles away from the gutsy street food of O Kostas. The world famous French patissier Arnaud Larher has collaborated with Athens’ two swankiest hotels, the King George and the Hotel Grande Bretagne, that sit together in Syntagma Square. We were taken to the exquisite Tudor Hall restaurant of The King George for a tasting of 10 different of his desserts in Arnaud’s classic French style as delivered by his very talented lieutenant Eugenios Vardakastanis all washed down by a welcome chilled glass of Moscato.
If you want proper top-end old school patisserie in Athens then this is the place to go. I loved the Rum Baba, lubricated with a citrus syrup and rum with a cloud of Vanilla cream on top. A Strawberry Charlotte was unusually flavoured with a mint infusion and featured poached and fresh strawberries.A luscious Tarte Citron was made with soft Italian meringue and a salted biscuit base, and everyone’s favourite Tiramisu was made with Blue mountain coffee flavoured ice cream and a mascarpone cream. If you are in Athens please take some time out to investigate these diverse and delicious food worlds. Greece has such a rich food heritage that is the foundation for the Mediterranean diet that we really need to explore it in more detail. I’d like to thank all the staff at Gastronomos for their kindness and help in finding more out about it.