LuxeGetaways Magazine – Spring 2017 | The story of a culture and country is told in part by the food. In Athens, the traveler wishing to learn its history has only to visit the market stalls, the street vendor’s cart, and the venerated shops and restaurants to better understand this fascinating culture.
You will need a guide to show you the culinary delicacies, and explain how they are made. Nikos Theodoris and Anna Manias own Greeking.me – an award-winning tour service offering an Athens walking tour designed for food and culture lovers, which is both entertaining and steeped in history. Stories are woven from conquests, philosophers, art and ideologies, which are then wrapped around tasting the food while visiting bakery shops, tavernas, charcuteries, coffee roasters, and feta pie shops. You will visit the famous establishments, as well as the little hole-in-the-wall places during this well-paced, four-hour walk through central Athens.
Greeks love their aperitifs, especially tsipouro which is always accompanied by a nibble of mezedes or snacks. For a most appropriate place to stay (and to sip your tsipouro with a stunning view of the Acropolis), it has to be Hotel Grande Bretagne. She is a majestic hotel in the center of Athens with an old-world charm and impeccable service reminiscent of Paris. After checking in, head up to the Roof Garden Bar for out-of-this-world views of Acropolis. Be sure to ask for the bar supervisor, Spiros Mantzafos, who can further your culinary education by telling you all about tsipouro – including what it represents to the Greeks, and even how it is made.
While George II was the King of Greece, the King George Hotel opened its doors in 1936. This beautiful boutique hotel is the sister hotel of Hotel Grande Bretagne next door. And while this is not ancient history, Tudor Hall Restaurant shares a highly awarded wine cellar with the Grande Bretagne, and can come up with some historic vintages for you. Reserve a table in the elegant dining room, or step out to the less formal open patio to “have dinner with the Acropolis” while dining on local delicacies. Head sommelier Evangelos Psofidis will be happy to suggest an excellent Greek wine while sharing the history of the vineyard’s region. His pairings are perfection with Chef de Cuisine Alexandros Koskinas’ creations at Tudor Hall and Executive Chef Sotiris Evangelou’s Grande Bretagne cuisine.
Two other fascinating pieces of the culinary culture in Athens are Bottarga and Pavlovas. Bottarga is Italian for the Greek word Avgotaraho, which is a paste of Grey Mullet roe and salt that is preserved in a pure beeswax coating. Established in 1856, Trikalinos Bottarga is considered to be the very best. Still operated by the same family in Athens, it can be found in high-end restaurants all over the world. I suggest you try it warm on toast rounds with a glass of champagne. It is served in Tudor Hall Restaurant, as well as Michelin-starred chef Lefteris Lazarou’s fabulous seaside restaurant Varoulko in Pireaus.
The origin of the Pavlova is a disputed one – thanks to the Australians and New Zealanders verses the English and Americans, and even the Germans vying for authorship of the first recipe. But none claim it as their own with more vitriol than the Kiwis and Aussies. As the story goes, it was named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova who toured Australia in 1926. In Australia and New Zealand, it is even elevated to national status and served for special holidays.
A great example is Effie Gialousi, a well-admired Athens chef who has opened her shop, Pavlova (Empedokleous 33, Athina 116 35). She is famous for bringing these puffy, light “cakes” of sugar and egg white filled with whipped cream flavored with lemon, chocolate or topped with strawberries, into the realm of the gourmet. Light as a cloud, they are divine. Pop into her shop to taste for yourself.
As you gain a deeper appreciation of Athens, you soon learn that there is never a shortage of food and culture!
Quick Fact: Greek Coffee
Until the mid-1950’s, Greece referred to this type of coffee with its original name: Turkish coffee. However it was in 1955 that Turkey expelled the Greeks from Istanbul, and the relationship between the two nations became hostile. After the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, Greece permanently established “Greek coffee” as the official name.
Hotel Grande Bretagne
Vasileos Georgiou A 1, Athina 105 64
King George Hotel
Vasileos Georgiou A 3, Athina 105 64
The History of Food
Nikos Theodoris and Anna Manias of Greeking.me further explore the origins of several popular Greek foods.
Koulouris: This pretzel look-alike is covered with sesame seeds, and is the typical breakfast food for people on the go and often seen being sold from carts near the metro stops. First produced by refugees to Thessaloniki (who brought the recipe from Minor Asia), it is traced back to the Byzantine Empire. The word “koulouri” derives from the Byzantine word “kollikion”.
Phyllo Pie: According to Artemidorus (an ancient writer of the 2nd century), ancient Greeks used to eat these while chatting at the market, or while attending theater. The first proof of its existence is an ancient pottery excavated in central Greece, which was decorated with a woman holding a pan with small pies. Most of these pies are filled with cheese, honey and olive oil.
Loukoumades: Their history can be traced back to the first Olympic Games in 776 BC. According to poet Callimachus, during the original Olympic Games, the victors’ prize was an edible form of golden fried dough balls, drizzled with honey – these were referred to as “honey tokens.” These provided the inspiration behind the gold medals that are awarded at modern Olympic Games.
Authentic Athens Dining
Hotel Grande Bretagne is the ultimate in luxury and personal service for the discerning traveler. Here are lunch and dinner suggestions, in all price ranges, from the concierge Yannis Klimatzas. In addition to Hotel Grande Bretagne and the Tudor Hall restaurant, these are the best in Athens.
Dionisos Zonar’s Restaurant – Greek Cuisine Rovertou Gali 43, Makrigianni, Attiki
Kuzina – Greek Cuisine Adrianou 9, Thissio, Attiki
Palia taverna tou Psara – Greek traditional fish tavern in Plaka
Tzitzikas & Mermigas Mezedopolio – Greek Cuisine Mitropoleos 12-14, Athina, Attiki
Papadakis Restaurant for Fish – Greek Cuisine Voukourestiou 47 & Fokilidou 15, Kolonaki, Attiki
Strofi Restaurant – Classic Greek Cuisine Rovertou Gali 25, Makrigianni, Attiki
Funky Gourmet Restaurant – Modern Cuisine Michelin star restaurant, Paramithias 13 & Salaminos, Keramikos, Attiki
Spondi Restaurant – French Cuisine 2 Michelin stars Pironos 5, Pagrati, Attiki
Varoulko Restaurant – Greek Creative Michelin star Fish restaurant, Akti Koumoundourou 52, Attiki
Hytra Restaurant – Classic International Cuisine Sygrou Avenue 107-109 , Athens, Attiki
Vezene – International Cuisine, 11 Vrasida, Kolonaki