A culinary tour of Thessaloniki
Nothing binds the multi-ethnic character of Thessaloniki quite like its food. From its Frankish and Ottoman conquerors to its Arab traders and population of Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition, all the way to the early 20th-century population exchange with Asia Minor… Thessaloniki’s unmistakably Greek yet incredibly diverse history has produced an equally rich cultural identity. And to know it all, you have to eat it all.
The result is a famously open-minded and welcoming city, with food that draws on ingredients, recipes and influences going back centuries.
To take a culinary tour of Thessaloniki is to discover a city of contrasts. It’s a place where tradition and innovation are found in equal measure. Tavernas serving classic dishes sit comfortably alongside modern bistros, with inventive chefs twisting time-honoured recipes. You’ll discover everything from fine dining to brunch eateries to street food. And when we say street food, we don’t just mean souvlaki. We’re talking all manner of ethnic influences.
And don’t forget the locals’ penchant for something sweet. Traditional or modern? Doesn’t matter. If it’s dipped in syrup and covered in cream, chopped nuts or melted chocolate (or all three), you’ll know you’re in Thessaloniki.
There’s a great range of experience providers offering gastronomy tours in Thessaloniki, or you could explore under your own steam. It’s that kind of city. But here are the must-dos if you want an insight into the city’s culinary soul.
Breakfast like a local
First up, fuel up with a koulouri from a street vendor. The sesame seed-crusted bread rings are popular all over the country, but they originated here. Or sit down and order some halva (a sesame-based confection that comes in a number of flavours). And definitely treat yourself to a bougatsa (phyllo pastry with a semolina-cream filling dusted with icing sugar and cinnamon) and a Greek coffee. There are savoury bougatsas but the sweet version is king and completely Thessaloniki.
This is where the pulse of Thessaloniki beats strongest. There’s the charming chaos of the outdoor Kapani market with vendors chirping away about their herbs & spices and other products spilling out of bins. Ask them about their olives, cheeses and cold cuts. The lively vendors encapsulate the history and personality of Thessaloniki, always ready to share a smile and spill the secrets about what makes their produce unique. And there’s Modiano, built in 1922 in the centre of the old Jewish district, with its characteristic glass roof, where you can get every type of spice (cinnamon, clove, fennel, anise, crushed chilli…) and dried herb (oregano, savory, sage, rosemary, thyme…) as well as other products. And finally, Athonos Square – lower-key but fascinating. In and around these markets are speciality stores and small places to eat. You could spend the whole day here.
Meat & Fish
Even if you don’t buy any, pick your way through the meat and fish on display. Greece’s second city is surrounded by farmland and grazing pastures and the Thermaic Gulf, supplying it with high-quality meat, fish and dairy products.
Grab a bite
Go for a classic taverna or an ouzerie or tsipouradiko (named after the tipple served alongside meze of seafood, cold cuts and cheeses). Or a delicatessen serving excellent quality local products. You won’t have any difficulty finding them, either in the central market district or the Upper Town. Or head to Ladadika, the regenerated dockside area that now has a cool, urban vibe and eateries in little squares and backstreets. The music and fun spill over onto the street.
It could be to start or end your day (or any time in between) but you have to try a sweet speciality from Thessaloniki. There’s tsoureki, a brioche-like sweet bread topped with flaked almonds that’s mouth-wateringly delicious on its own. But the locals give it a deeper level of decadence with a melted chocolate coating or a chestnut filling. And there are Thessaloniki’s famous syrup-sweets, often from an original recipe of a Greek from Asia Minor. Perhaps Trigona Panoramatos – triangular-shaped folds of buttered phyllo pastry, baked until golden and hollowed out when cooled and dunked in syrup. The crowning glory is when they get filled with pastry cream and topped with chopped almonds. And the evocatively named Kazan Dipi, starting life as a classic crème brûlée before being given an eastern twist with cinnamon and rosewater.
- Organised tours usually start from central points (Louloudadika, Mitropoleos St, Eleftherias Square) and some do hotel pickups.
- If you’re on your own, head to Modiano Market, between the main thoroughfares of Egnatia and Tsimiski Streets, above Aristotelous Square.
- From Airport to Aristotelous Square:
By car or taxi: 18km (30mins)
By bus: 01Χ
- There are no organised tours on Sundays when markets are closed.
- Delicatessens and shops selling local products follow general opening times.
- Organised tours cost €20-35 per person (depending on numbers) and €60-€130 for longer tours.
Thessaloniki is a city that can be enjoyed all year round, with an especially vibrant student life from October to May.
Your tour will last 3-6 hours, depending on eating stops and the number of markets and stores you visit.
Alternatively, you could turn your entire stay in Thessaloniki into a culinary tour and graze your way through the city.
Plan your trip
Let’s all try to keep the magic of Greece’s villages, towns and cities alive for future generations.