Greek cuisine has managed to become famous worldwide because it reflects the simplicity inherent in the Greek family ethos.
So whether you are visiting a taverna, a restaurant or a secret hole in the wall, you can look forward to pure and fresh local produce and an unforgettable taste of Greece.
For Greeks in need of an instant and filling meal in one, the famous souvlaki wins hands down over a burger and fries. Finely chopped pork or gyros, grilled vertically on a turning mini spit and then packed into pita bread along with chips, juicy tomatoes from Greek orchards, freshly chopped onion, parsley and tzatziki (a yoghurt dip with garlic and cucumber). There are, of course, many different variations and the souvlaki places in Athens are numerous, to say the least. You will find some of the tastiest souvlaki in Athens at the two “Kostas” restaurants. The first, where Pentelis Street crosses Mitropoleos Street, has had the cooking of this most emblematic of Greek fast food down to a fine art since 1950 and its namesake in Agias Irinis square has been spicing it up with a red hot sauce for just over 30 years now.
A typical sample of Greek cuisine is undoubtedly moussaka. Aubergines, potatoes, mince, bechamel sauce and grated rusk are the ingredients which make up one of the nation’s most mouthwatering dishes. Although it is inextricably connected to moms and grandmas, there are restaurants in Athens which serve excellent moussaka. One of them is “Olympion” in Mets, which serves it in exactly the same way it was made in the 1950s. You will also find delicious moussaka in the “Klimataria” tavern, in Platia Theatrou, and you may actually get the chance to learn to cook it yourself, as the restauranteur gives cooking lessons to tourists. You will find a more playful version in Meliartos, a versatile food hall on the corner of Ermou and Aiolou streets, which serves moussaka in pita bread.
The ultimate Greek delicacy for meat lovers is meatballs. Soft balls of minced beef, fried in fresh olive oil with a delicious hint of spearmint and traditionally washed down with a glass of ouzo. “Keftes kai…the ftes” is a modern meatball restaurant dedicated to serving a number of different versions, while in Rock n’ Balls bar in Psirri, which provides a food and drink experience to remember, the meatballs also come in many guises. Last but not least, “Giouvetsakia”, in Ano Glyfada, has come up with a particularly crispy offering for its customers to enjoy.
Dolmadakia are another gastronomical temptation. Rice, dill, fennel, spearmint, spring onion, all finely chopped and wrapped in vine leaves, create little bites of delight. In “Crete” and “Oxo Nou” restaurants in Exarhia, as well as in “Miniatoura”, on Romvis Street in the centre, you will find the tastiest dolmadakia in egg and lemon sauce, a perfect example of the rich mix of east and west ever-present in Greek cuisine.
Pies are a type of food associated with Greek villages and sunny islands, hot stone ovens and grandmas rolling out phyllo pastry with a rolling pin. However, even if your visit is restricted to Athens, you can still enjoy amazing pies. Pie Works specialises in cheese pie, chicken pie and sweet pies too. “Pites tis Petheras” in Kolonaki boasts a daily production of 15 different pies made with pure ingredients such as organic olive oil, chicken and PDO feta cheese. “Pites tis Sophias”, in Palaio Faliro, takes pride in its traditional handmade pies with ingredients from small local producers.
Taramasalata is a special Greek delicacy. It consists of fish roe mixed with olive oil, dry bread, potato, onion and lemon, well beaten until it turns creamy. In Greece, it is usually consumed during fasting periods – especially Clean Monday, the first day of Lent) as it contains no dairy or eggs, but you can enjoy it all year round in “Psipsina”, a fish tavern in Palaio Faliro, which serves it with botargo (cod roe) and in “Argoura”, another fish specialist in Kallithea, where it comes with sweet red potato and handmade bread.
7. Fish & seafood
Speaking of fish taverns, Greek seafood is amongst the best in the world. Besides the above-mentioned tavernas, you can taste fresh fish in “Ouzeri tou Laki” in Platia Victorias, where they also serve a fish platter, as well as in “Yperokeanio” in Piraeus, with recipes from the island of Kimolos.
8. Greek salad
Horiatiki, as Greek salad is called locally, is a favoured staple, consisting of tomato, cucumber, olive oil, oregano and salt. According to individual tastes, it can be enriched with feta cheese, olives, onions and green pepper. Sometimes capers and vinegar are added and parsley is used as a garnish. Almost every restaurant in Athens serves Greek salad. But you can visit “Ramon” taverna in Kallithea and combine the salad with their other exquisite dishes such as fava (a split pea puree), boiled greens (known as horta), tyrosalata, a dip made with white cheese, meat balls, vegetable patties, cheese croquettes, grilled yellow cheese, and bekri meze (a meat and vegetable hotpot cooked in tomato sauce).
Finally, because every Greek is a self-designated master of the barbeque, no trip to Athens is complete without sampling its wonderful meat. “Brizolakia tou Teli”, on Evripidou Street, serves thinly sliced, well done juicy pork chops, amongst the most famous in the city. For authentic hardcore meat-based Greek delicacies, visit “Ziogas” in Glyfada and order kontosouvli, pork, cheese and vegetables grilled on a spit. And don’t forget their kokoretsi, lamb liver wrapped in intestine – if you allow yourself to be put off by the ingredients, you will miss out on one of Greece’s great delicacies.