Food, glorious, food….I’m always in search of local food and if you don’t know a city, one of the best ways to find the places to go is to join a food tour.
So when Jo from Frugal First Class Travel asked if I’d like to join her and Vanessa from Turnipseed Travel on a Culinary Backstreets food tour in Athens , I jumped at the opportunity.
A Culinary Backstreets Food Tour in Athens
As we sat down to breakfast, I knew we were in for a treat. How could we not be when the first dish we tasted was this delicious Greek yoghurt with honey and fresh walnuts!
I could have eaten this yoghurt all day but it was not the only dish our guide, Despina chose. Galaktoboureko, is a tasty slice similar to a custard slice. Encased in filo pastry, the slice can also be made with vanilla and orange.
This was followed by a delicious pudding which baffled us when we first tasted it. Moustalevira is a traditional dish that is made from the must left over after the grapes have been pressed. It was more like a jelly …an addictive jelly topped with walnuts!
Despina explained that this old fashioned dairy bar is one of the last of its type in the heart of Athens. Now being worked by the fourth generation, it has been here since 1931.
This became a recurring theme on our walk. Most of the places we visited had been in business for a long time. Family traditions were important in Athens and most business we saw were now being run either by the sons, grandsons or great grandsons of the founder. They have stood the test of time, watched newer places come and go and now serve the younger generations of their original customers.
As with the dairy bar, our next stop Krinos had a similar history. Krinos is one of the oldest loukoumades shops in Athens. The owner’s grandfather opened a shop in Crete in 1912. When he died the sons moved to Athens and now the business is run by one of the grandsons.
Loukoumades at Krinos
Loukoumades are delicious deep fried small balls of dough….a greek doughnut! We tried two different ways of cooking them In Athens…one in a honey syrup and this one in a sugar syrup. Cooking in sugar syrup is the Cretan way of making them. They are light and delicious… and moreish! The serve is quite large so you only need to order one plate. Make sure they are freshly cooked for you.
Everyone knows feta cheese but did you know that only the Greeks are officially allowed to use the name as it is DOC (Denomination of Controlled Origin) protected in the European Union.
At our next stop, another business that had been in the family since 1916, it was explained that feta is made either from pure sheep’s milk or a mix of up to 30% goats milk. If it is made within these boundaries it can be marketed as feta.
The northern mountainous regions are famous for their feta. The cheese matures in brine for at least 2 months before being sold. It is then sent to the city in beech barrels that can only be used four times. A barrel holds 65kgs of cheese which sells for 8.50E per kilo. This shop sells a barrel a day which is a lot of greek salads!
You can also buy butter here made from half goats milk and half sheep’s milk. I’m told this butter is great for desserts!
Athens Central Market
We had now wandered into the streets surrounding the Athens Central Market which you can read about here.
The fish and meat markets in the historic covered market are definitely worth seeing but if the blood, gore and guts of the meat market is not for you, head to the fish market, grab a stool at the small bar in the far corner and order a glass of tsiperou (an aperitif from northern Greece) and a plate of mezes. Jo and Vanessa have stories about our time in the market which you can read on Frugal First Class Travel and Turnipseed Travel
Coffee stop…..and a coffee cooked in sand!
I’m not a coffee drinker but those who were, said it was similar to turkish coffee. We watched how it’s made, fascinated by the process but I don’t think it’s something you can do at home.
From here we walked past the vegetable market to a local pastourma shop. Pastourma is air dried meat similar to the pastirma from Turkey. Just near the markets are two shops run by feuding Armenians. Both sell pastourma, cheeses and different mezzes. Originally they both had small shops but one shop then expanded and of course the other had to follow. Don’t you love the local gossip!!
I have tried pastirma in Turkey but never camel pastourma. It was actually not bad…..very similar to the beef and not as strong as the lamb. We tried it with a couple of different Greek cheeses including metsovone, a delicious smokey cheese that is only made in one area of Greece.
What is a Greek food tour without a slouvaki stop. I was waiting to see where Despina would take us. Had we not been following her, we would have walked right by the Kostas’s Slouvaki Shop. It’s quite well known and the queues certainly indicated it was popular. We were fortunate that Despina had rung ahead as our slouvakis arrived two minutes after we did. I can’t believe I found room to eat it but we all wolfed them down….delicious!
I thought the slouvaki was lunch but no!
A few turns to the left , a few to the right and we were walking down a little arcade. After seven stops, Despina announced that it’s lunch time…a late lunch! We arrived well after the lunch time crowds have left but that was ok, the food was great.
Zucchini fritters and a traditional split pea dip preceded the cafes signature dish…..a plate of small tiny whole fish accompanied by a tasty plate of wild greens. We ate it alll!
Gelato in Athens…Yes!
No food tour is complete without dessert but we weren’t expecting gelato. After all we had eaten it was the perfect finish to our culinary tour. The owners had gone to Italy to learn the secrets of making gelato and had returned only recently to open this shop. Being a citrus girl, it was my gelato of choice whilst others favoured pistachio and chocolate. So good were they that we managed to return a few days later and try some of the other flavours!
Unlike the other shops we had been to on the tour, this shop had only been open a short while but I wonder whether in its future it too will have a history to tell and be run by family descendants.
Greek cuisine is actually quite simple. It’s all about the best ingredients, the seasonal produce and family recipes. With Culinary Backstreets you will be introduced to this, the history and the anecdotes and taste some culinary delights that you might not have otherwise found.
I love a great food tour! Whilst we were given a media discount on the Culinary Backstreets Tour of Athens, it was not a factor in whether I enjoyed it or not.