Strolling through the capital’s early morning breakfast experience
Athens may never sleep and choices for nights out and entertainment that carries on until daybreak may be numerous, but Athenians like waking up early and enjoying the most important meal of the day on their way to work. Thanks to the fast pace of life in the city and the Mediterranean style, residents usually down a quick Greek coffee at home and grab breakfast on the go.
During your first stroll in the centre of Athens, you will notice that every few metres there is a “koulourgis” – somebody who sells “koulouria”, bread rings covered in sesame seeds, a cheap but surprisingly nutritious breakfast. Besides “koulouri”, Greeks love puff and filo pastry pies, the next most filling breakfast choice to set them up for a busy day. Having a decent bakery close to your home or workplace is a must for most Athenians and fortunately, there are lots of them about.
“Koulouri Thessalonikis”, as this type of bread ring is widely known, can be crusty or very soft and you can choose according to your tastes. In “koulouri” stands you can also find current buns and “tsoureki” – a kind of sweet loaf – which are two more classic Athenian favourites. However, you will find the best koulouri by far at Vassilis’s, whose stand is on the corner of Evaggelistrias and Kalamiotou street and who is supplied by a bakery in Haidari which makes authentic Koulouri Thessalonikis using flour of the very highest quality.
For pies with cheese and other traditional fillings nothing beats “Ariston”, at number 10 Voulis street, with shortcrust cheese pie its piece de resistance. The historic bakery opened in 1906 and is still going strong to this day. It has given nourishment to three generations of customers, amongst them some major Greek intellectuals, as well as a multitude of politicians, given the shop’s location. Every bite is a nostalgic journey to old Athens, to childhood and to purity. The reddy gold colour of the crust and delicious feta cheese stuffing combine to bring an incomparable taste experience, the like of which your palate may rarely have known.
Now, if you are headed towards Panepistimiou street, it will be difficult to resist another essential breakfast stop, “Mam” on the corner of Panepistimiou and Ippokratous street. “Mam” is another one of the city’s cheese pie shops with a long history. Its shortcrust pie had Athenians in a whirl about 60 years ago and so did its legendary «kaseropita”, a pie made with a low fat yellow cheese. The owner of the shop came from Istanbul, so “Mam” pies still retain an eastern sweetness; the homely taste, in fact, now reproduced by grandmothers across the nation. The shop, which bakes about 2,000 cheese pies a day, insists on traditional Greek ingredients and has managed, therefore, to maintain the same high standards throughout the years. There is also a second shop on the corner of Pesmazoglou & Stadiou Street. Purchasing your cheese pie from “Mam 2” will give you the perfect excuse to explore the city’s fascinating and famous arcades.
On the border of Exarhia and Kolonaki, on the corner of Solonos and Ippokratous Street to be more specific, lies “Makedonikon”, a veritable time capsule of a pie shop, with a light blue façade and the 60’s mosaic floor, which, for years, has been feeding law students and politicians one of the city’s best traditional cheese pies. The cheese pie is cut into generous square pieces and the baker certainly doesn’t stint on the feta cheese.
Also close to the heart of the city lies an oasis called Mavili Square. Right on Vasilissis Sophias avenue and a few steps away from the architectural gem of the avenue, the Athens Concert Hall, this lively square boasts one of the best cheese pies in Athens. “Mike’s” pastry shop, on the corner of Soutsou and Dorileou Street, has provided the people of Athens with its unrivalled cheese pie since 1956. The handmade pastry, fresh butter and feta cheese are what make it stand out and, if you have one, it’s hard to say no to a second. However, there is another reason why this cheese pie is so famous. Due to the shop’s proximity to Megaron Maximou, Mike’s cheese pie has rightfully been named “prime-ministerial”.
In densely populated and extremely beautiful Pagrati, resting in the shadow of Kalimarmaron Stadium, you will find one of the best bakeries in Athens: “Pnika”. Since 1981, “Pnika” has been making one of the best handmade cheese pies in the city, using puff pastry and high-quality feta cheese. In fact, the owner of Pnika was summoned by Harvard University to demonstrate the way in which he makes his bread by grinding wheat in a flour mill and was honoured with a special award. If you go, don’t miss out on buying their famed brown loaf, the bakery’s speciality. There’s nothing better than breaking off the end of a hot, steaming loaf at first light.
The Northern Suburbs of Athens is a treasure trove of beautiful places and if you begin your day in the vicinity, you simply must call in at “Varsos”, a 122 year old pastry shop in Kifissia. Though famous for its cakes, Varsos has a surprise in store for its morning visitors: cheese pie on a baking sheet, reminiscent of grandma’s pies in Epirus, made with feta cheese and their own fresh butter.
Albeit a delicacy from Thessaloniki, “bougatsa”-puff pastry filled with cream- has seen people from all over Greece yield to its temptation and the number of bougatsa “specialists” is on the rise. But there is one that has made an impression on the whole city, “Thessaloniki” in Iroon Square in Psiri. Actually, it is open 24 hours a day for those who cannot wait until sunrise in order to taste the traditional treat of the second biggest city in Greece. It is served hot and you can order one half sprinkled with caster sugar and the other half with hot Nutella; the best of both worlds!
Since the eastern element is deeply rooted in the Greek cuisine, “tsoureki” couldn’t possibly be left out as a choice for a morning snack. There are many tsoureki that help define the different neighbourhoods in which they are baked. For many years, “Aristokratikon” on Voulis street has been making one of the sweetest smelling and tastiest tsoureki in the city. Production is on a small scale, so you’d better get there fairly early. Any list of best “tsoureki” outlets would not be complete without Güllüoglu pastry shop in Syntagma, which produces its cakes in Istanbul and has them sent to Athens by plane every day. Their tsoureki looks like a cake and is unsweetened, according to Turkish traditions. Finally, “Asimakopoulos” have been whipping up sweet little wonders with craftsmanship and artistry for more than half a century. One of them is their tsoureki, combining robust doughy fibres, soft texture, orange zest and mahlab which simply melt in your mouth and give you the perfect fillip for the day ahead.
With so much choice for breakfast, how can you not kick start your morning in the best possible way?