After spending the fall in the Mediterranean I have come to the conclusion that I’m madly love with the regional cuisine. Options are endless, right off the boat fish dishes, savory roasted meats, wonderful garden vegetables, robust cheeses and everything is covered in fresh olive oil. Each meal I had was more delicious than the last and the Greeks are notorious for always wanting to feed you, something and I just can’t resist. Even a simple Greek salad (basically a bowl of veggies in oil) tastes better in Greece. What are their secrets to such tasty dishes?
I headed to Athens for TBEX and they arranged a culinary tour so that we could learn more about the culinary presence in the capital and get to the bottom of how and why Greek food is so scrumptious and Dopios Savoring Athens Tour took us on a journey through the city into shops and markets unveiling the ingredients that make Greek food heavenly.
♦ Ladotyri which translates to oil cheese, is a buttery sheep’s milk cheese submerged in olive oil
♦ Graviera, a Gruyere like cheese second to the famous feta, this was my favorite find in the shop
♦ Metsovone, a sheep and goat milk mix providing a smokey flavor
Next we headed over to Zouridakis, a family run store that specializes in goodies from the island of Crete. We were welcomed with a wonderful spread of cheeses, breads, olives, jams and honeys paired alongside Raki. They have some very unique products like Carob spreads and Olive jams. Make sure to check out the beautifully carved knives available here, a Cretan tradition.
Spice is Nice
If you are looking for that distinct certain something that gives your dish an exquisite taste, Elixir Herbs & Spices would be the place to look. The shop is lined floor to ceiling with glass front cabinets like an old apothecary store, with dried herbs, spices covering the most simple of seasonings to the rare and unique.
The soaps are house made, their fragrances waft up to your nose as you approach the counter. They also carry donkey’s milk soap. Yep, soap from an ass that is said to be an amazing moisturizer and it’s said that Cleopatra herself bathed in it. We had a chance to sample some of the spices, a palate of colors in small containers all with varying levels of punch, zing, saltiness and flavor.
Carnivore’s Promised Land
Vegitarian and Vegan Advisory Warning: In the next section I’ll be praising the deliciousness that is meat, be forewarned and skip ahead or read along, either way I give you total permission to be envious that you can’t partake.
As if we haven’t noshed enough, the tour continues on. Walking into Miran, there isn’t section of the gourmet shop that doesn’t have some kind of meat hanging from the ceiling or wall. I blurted out “We’ve entered the belly of the pig,” We sat down at the family style table in the space that has been family run for over ninety years and what awaited us was nothing short of a meat miracle. An array of peppery Salami, spicy air-dried Pastourma and lastly and the most delectable item I had all day was a Prosciutto so wonderful it melted in your mouth.
Sidenote: When heading to Miran don’t forget to look up, the newly renovated building is home to Athens only vertical garden.
I could have stayed in Prosciutto paradise for the rest of the afternoon but there was more to see and we headed a few storefronts down to a small shop selling local honeys. This nectar of the Gods is some of the finest honey you’ll taste and it’s served with almost every Greek dessert as well as in the morning with your yogurt.
The woman who ran the shop went behind the small counter and pulled out several jars of amber sweetness. She collected tiny spoons, scooping them into the jars and while motioning for us to open our mouths she plopped the honey onto our tongues. Greek Thyme honey is the most flavorful and my favorite. After being spoon fed honey after honey we headed out for a stroll through the open markets before dessert.
To Market to Market
The central market is a real treat for tastes, smells and sights and shouldn’t be missed when in Athens. Aside from the gorgeous food stalls, the people watching is amazing. The fruit and vegetable stands lead into the fish and meat market, a loud, busy indoor arena with displays of seafood and any meat you can imagine. Butchered meats and a fresh catch is an interesting olfactory combination but it’s worth the pungent odor to witness the chaos of vendors preparing orders, yelling to entice you to buy their specific products and picking up something to cook for later would truly make it “dinner and a show”.
Full yet? Well, move your belt buckle another notch because we closed the tour with two more stops, the best for last, more Prosciutto! Just kidding, it’s dessert. First we headed to a Ktistakis, a place that only makes Loukoumades, a dessert that dates back to the first Olympic games. It’s fried dough with honey then sprinkled with cinnamon and sesame seeds. This location is out of the ordinary because the owner with some kind of dessert voodoo inserts the honey inside of the Loukoumades instead of drizzling it on top, giving it a warm gooey center. Heaven on a plate.
George, our guide from Dopios did such a phenomenal job teaching us about the culture of food in Greece, exploring the city and showing us their great relationships with the food vendors in Athens. It was a delicious afternoon and as much as my taste buds thank you, my waistline doesn’t.