Outside of the historical district Athens isn’t what you’d call an attractive city, it’s grungy, gritty, in some parts a bit rough. It’s a city often regarded as a stepping stone which warrants no more than a couple of days in order to tick off a visit to the Acropolis before moving on to the emerald waters of the Greek islands.
But stay a while and Athens will get under your skin. There’s an energy here- you’ll notice a dynamism, especially in the food scene, fuelled by a culinary tradition dating back 4,000 years. If you love to eat you’re in the right place- here are 5 Athenian food experiences you can’t miss:
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1. Souvlaki pita at O Kostas
When in Athens, you eat souvlaki pita. The city’s most beloved street food generally features grilled chunks of pork souvlaki, tomatoes, tzatziki (cucumber and strained yoghurt dip), parsley and a few chips encased in a warm pita. You’ll find souvlaki pita on every corner but beware, they’re not all created equal- for a mouth-watering rendition head straight to O Kostas.
Every day, from his compact, meticulous kitchen Kostas churns out what is widely regarded as Athens’s best souvlaki pita. It’s his grandfather’s recipe- Kostas senior set up shop in the 1950s and a legion of faithful locals have been visiting ever since. Here the souvlaki pita is served the traditional way sans chips- tender pork, a couple of slices of juicy tomato, a scattering of parsley, blobs of strained yoghurt, finely sliced red onion all wrapped up in a smoky, fluffy pita. We guarantee you’ll be back for another.
Eat it at: O Kostas, Pentelis 5, Athina 105 57, Greece. Open Monday to Friday 9:30am to 3:30pm (often sells out earlier!)
2. Loukoumades at Krinos
If you have a sweet tooth, Athens’s countless bakeries and patisseries won’t disappoint. Honey syrup, nuts and semolina custard feature heavily in Greek pies, pastries and cakes. One of the most popular sweet treats is loukoumades- the origins of these deep fried dough balls can be traced back to 776BC where they were presented to the winners of the first Olympic Games.
Coated in honey syrup and sprinkled with crushed walnuts and a dash of cinnamon the crispy exterior of the pastry belies a pillowy soft centre. The best place to sample them is at Krinos, a heritage restaurant which has been frying up these Greek doughnuts for over 100 years.
Eat it at: Krinos, Aiolou 87, Athina 105 51. Open Monday, Wednesday, Saturday 7:00am to 5:00pm and Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 7:00am to 8:30pm
3. Pork steaks at Telis Steakhouse
Lamb doesn’t dominate menus of local restaurants like you’d expect- in Greece it’s a meat that is usually reserved for celebrations and special occasions, but what you will find is an abundance of pork.
Telis Steakhouse is a family run restaurant specialising in one thing- pork steaks cooked over charcoal and served on a pile of chips. The meat is pounded until it’s super thin, imbued with the smoky flavour of the grill and finished with a dash of dried oregano. Order the bouyiourdi on the side- a dish of tomatoes, sliced peperoncini peppers and feta cooked in a shallow dish on the grill- a hot salad if you will. This is hearty, simple food at its finest.
Eat at: Telis Steakhouse, Evrypidou 86, Athina 105 53, Greece. Open 7 days 12:00pm to midnight.
4. Greek yoghurt at Stani
In the 1960s dairy bars were common throughout Athens with over 1,500 dotting the city’s streets. They were places where locals would purchase their yoghurt and milk and stop to have a coffee and yarn with their neighbours. Fast forward 59 years and Stani is the last surviving dairy bar, a bastion of the past. Regulars stream in for their famous sheep’s milk yoghurt.
At Stani, the yoghurt is so thick it’s served as a slice with a handful of fresh walnuts and a healthy drizzle of honey. This is the best Greek yoghurt in the world. Period. Creamy, sour and cold with a flavour that lingers on your tongue long after you’ve swiped the plate clean.
Eat it at: Stani, Marikas Kotopouli 10, Athina 104 32. Open Monday to Saturday 6:30am to 10:45pm and Sunday 7:30am to 10:45pm.
5. Meze at Avli
You’ll want to while away a few afternoons over meze, small plates of hot and cold savoury dishes best enjoyed over jugs of wine or glasses of ouzo. Behind a nondescript door near the public market you’ll find Avli, a narrow courtyard between two dilapidated buildings framed with white walls and blue shutters where plate after plate of delicious meze emerge from a tiny kitchen.
Settle in for the afternoon and sip on the house rose as you work your way steadily through their list of meze. Snack on tyrokafteri- a spicy pepper and feta dip, fava- an earthy smush of yellow split peas and keftedakia- light as air pork meatballs. And don’t leave without ordering the loukaniko (sausage)- it’ll undoubtedly be one of the highlights of your visit to Athens.
Eat at: Avli Mezze, Agiou Dimitriou 12, Athina 105 54, Greece. Open Wednesday to Monday 11:00am to 2:00am.
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