Experiencing the colours, sounds and aromas of Varvakeios Market, in central Athens, is to be catapulted into another era.
On Athinas street and its adjacent roads beats the heart of Athens. It is an old tradition for Athenians to come from every suburb of the city to the central market to stock up on the best cuts, cured meat products, herbs and spices and grab a bite in one of the historic tavernas.
The Public Market Place of Athens has been in business nonstop since 1886. It consists of a fish market, vegetable market and a meat market extending along both sides of Athinas Street. Also known as Varvakeios Agora, it is open every day, except Sunday, from early in the morning till late afternoon.
In the meat market, you will find historic shops which have been there since the 1970s or before, with excellent, pure local meat, cut right in front of you. The same goes for the fish market, full of fresh fish arriving in the early hours of the morning. In the adjacent alleys, a complex of small businesses is developing, with traditional Greek products and aromas that will overwhelm your senses.
The special eastern delicacy called pastourma is the king of the market. It is dehydrated goat, beef or lamb, covered with a cumin paste called çemeni, prepared with crushed cumin, fenugreek, garlic, and hot paprika which gives it its distinctive taste. There are two shops holding the scepter around the market, in Evripidou Street to be precise: Miran and Arapian. In Miran, besides pastourma, you will find excellent sujuk made from lamb and beef.
Evripidou Street is also a paradise of spices and nuts. Starting from Aiolou Street and ending in Sokratous Street, anything dried is sold. Dates, prunes, raisins, raspberries, blueberries, pineapples and mangos are some of the dried fruit you can find. Go back home with aromatic spices to accompany your grilled meat.
Pepper cocktails, saffron, roasted kosher salt, dried artichoke leaves and aromatic mixtures galore are on offer in the shops here and the flag bearer among them since 1940 is the historic Bahar.
Herbs go hand in hand with seasonings. And then next to these, you can find almost any kind of tea known to the world. Included in this melange are sacks of chamomile, peppermint, linden and certainly anything else you might come across in a Greek garden. Anything originating from Mt. Olympus or Mt. Taygetos is worth a little bit of extra attention.
For cod, herring and mackerel, pass by To Bakaliko tou Benetou in Evripidou Street for the freshest in town. For cheeses, go to Bitsika, also known as I Strouga tou Moria. Their medium-hard feta cheese and their kasseri, a low fat, yellow cheese from Tripoli, are of supreme quality and taste.
And business doesn’t stop for a minute in Arcadia, one of the oldest cheese shops in Athens with a hundred-year history. Here you can buy feta cheese from Tripoli and anthotiro, a type of fresh white cheese, from Amfilohia. For manouri, another soft, white cheese with a mild taste, anthotiro and feta cheese go to Zafolias, which has an expansive repertoire.