There’s more to the Greek Capital than the Acropolis and Ancient History. Follow my guide to discover Athen’s culinary heart and soul.
8 AM – BREAKFAST AT STANI’S
Presenting.. the most delicious taste to ever pass my lips!! Sheep’s milk yogurt served the traditional Greek way, on a plate with honey and walnuts. No words do justice to the taste of the yogurt, which is so thick that at points is almost solid. Coming from a small farm near Athens and sold at Stani, a favourite with locals for more than 80 years…if you only have time for one dish in Athens, make it this!
Address: Marika Kotopouli 10, Omonia (only a short 10 minute walk from Athen’s centre square or catch the metro to Omonia station)
Telephone: +30 210 523 3637 Hours: Mon.-Sat. 6:15am-11pm; Sun. 7:30am-11pm
TAKE A STROLL THROUGH VARVAKEIOS
If you take a short five minute stroll from Stani in Omonia you will run right into the middle of what is in my opinion, the most fascinating and lively area of Athens. Varvakeios, the central market of Athens is one of the largest of it’s kind in Europe and is a foodie’s paradise. In operation since 1886, this chaotic fish and meat market is an assault to the senses; you don’t know where to look, the smells are over powering and you can’t make sense of what you hear as the vendors all vie for your attention. Surrounding the markets, the streets are full of bakeries, fresh fruit and vegetable stalls and the coolest deli’s you’ll ever see, all packed full of incredible Greek produce from barrel-aged feta to spices, air-dried cured beef, salted dried cod and if you’re like me, so many olives you’ll lose your mind. Definitely make the time to have a wonder around to ‘taste test’ all of the amazing produce and pick up a few goodies to take home.
MIDDAY – LUNCH AT KOSTA’S
I managed to eat my weight in souvlakis while in Athens. I tried Gyros (meat roasted on those huge vertical spits) souvlakis and Kalamaki (skewred meat) souvlakis, and the kind of souvlakis that only taste good after a bottle of ouzzo at 3 in the morning.
The good news is that it’s difficult to find a bad souvlaki in Athens. The better news; I found the BEST souvlaki in Athens.
I entered the unassuming shop, unsure if I had the right address and asked, “souvlaki?” A nod of approval was accompanied by curious looks from what were obviously regular customers. “So.. how did you find out about us?” All of the customers listened intently as I explained I had spent a good part of two weeks on the ground doing my research. “The best souvlaki in all of Athens” one of the customers proclaimed holding up his lunch with the same enthusiasm as an Olympian carrying his medal. There was a resounding agreement from everybody else in the shop, and I have to say, I can’t disagree.
Kosta’s souvlaki is fresh, light and juicy without being greasy. The pita bread is stuffed with Kalamaki meat, thin slices of red onion, plenty of fresh tomato and parsley and topped off with full-fat strained yogurt. It’s small enough to not leave you feeling like you need to take what I like to call a ‘PSN’ (post souvlaki nap), but enough to leave you satisfied.
Address: Penetelis 5 (intersection with Mitropoleos), Plaka/Syntagma (near the Syntagma Metro station or a ten minute walk from Monastiraki)
Hours: 9am – 3pm, closed Sunday
6PM – DINNER AT DIPORTO
Hidden behind a fruit market in downtown Athens, are two small well-worn doors, which if you’re not looking carefully enough for are very easy to miss. With no signage, you would never suspect that there behind the doors, below ground level lies one of Athen’s oldest Tavernas that will leave you feeling like you’ve somehow travelled back through time.
With it’s vintage marble sinks, fading mosaic floor and wall covered in wine barrels, which, unlike most Athenian tavernas are actually used to store wine, it doesn’t look like much has changed since the Taverna first opened in 1887. Everything from the dim lighting, to the plump white mustached owner to the table of eccentric old men, drunk and singing to each other, the atmosphere will make you feel like you’ve stepped into an elaborate movie set.
Within seconds of sitting down, rustic peasant bread is on your table along with a jug of the house white, Restina, a cheap but fine wine that’s been produced in Greece for more than 2000 years. There’s no menu and the staff don’t speak a word of english, but the open plan kitchen overflowing with pots and pans makes it easy to choose from the 5 or so dishes available on the day. Diporto’s home-style cooking is the real kicker, and their specialty, a comforting dish of chickpeas so perfectly cooked that they almost melt in your mouth are almost enough to distract you from what almost seems as an orchestrated show happening right there, in what I can only describe as the perfect Greek restaurant.
Address: Sokratous 9 and Theatrou (a short 5 minute walk from Monastiraki (central square) or Omonia metro station.
Hours: 8am – 7pm; Closed Sunday Telephone: 210 321 1463
9PM – DESSERT AT AIGAION
As McDonalds would say, there are things that make you go “mmm”, but then, sometimes, you come across something that makes you say “Dear mother of god! What the fuck is this and where has it been all my life?”
Aigaion began as a traditional coffee shop in 1926, but their real claim to fame are their Loukoumades. Deep fried balls of dough soaked in honey and sprinkled with cinnamon, a treat so naughty you might want to take a spare pair of underwear.
Address: Panepistimiou 46 (corner of Harilaou Trikoupi). A few minutes walk from Omonia metro station.
Telephone: +30 210 381 4621-2
Hours: Mon.-Fri. 8:30am-10:30pm; Sat. 10am-11pm; Sun. noon-10:30pm (Sept. 1-May 31);
closed weekends June 1-July 31 and all of August