Before visiting Greece for the very first time, my knowledge of Greek cuisine was limited to baklava and gyros. And if we’re being honest, I wasn’t even sure whether baklava was Greek, Turkish or Lebanese. Unsatisfied with my lack of culinary comprehension, I signed up for The Delicious Athens Food Tour by Alternative Athens. The small, local company aims to take you away from touristy destinations in favor of a more authentic Greek experience.
We met our group at 10am for the start of our 3.5 hour foodie adventure. Our guide, Andreas, gave an overview of Greek history before we set off. Greece is the birthplace of the modern world, and I assumed the country had been a bustling place for thousands of years. Greek myth #1: Busted! Did you know that in the year 1821, Athens had only 5,000 residents? You would have seen camels, sand and topography similar to the Middle East instead of the white stone city you see today. Today, 5 million people call Athens home. On the tour, we’d join the millions of Athenians in their daily quest for good food.
I knew I was going to love this tour when we started out with something sweet. We sat down to try baklava, syrup-soaked nuts encased in crispy phyllo dough. My questions on the sweet pastry’s origins were answered when we learned that baklava is a Turkish dessert with Greek origins. Ancient Greeks made a dessert using bread, honey and nuts. The Arabs wrapped that dessert in phyllo and the Ottomans removed the bread. The style of baklava we know and love today was invented in Istanbul. This multi-layered dessert has a multi-layered history, too!
Once our group was abuzz with sugar, it was time to add a little caffeine! We visited Cherchez La Femme for coffee and loukoumi (Greek Turkish delight). Like Baklava, Greek coffee isn’t technically Greek. The Bedouins first began making coffee using this method. Their coffee traveled with the nomads, and eventually landed in Istanbul and then Greece, which is why you’ll hear it referred to as Turkish or Greek coffee. This method of brewing is considered healthiest of all coffees, and if you drink it you may be in luck. In each community there is a woman who can read the “map” left by the coffee grounds. According to Andreas, everyone can tell you where to find the woman… but no one will admit to having their grounds read! We’ll leave the fortune telling for another day!
The Dimotiki Agora or Athens Central Market
During the tour, we took a shortcut through the Dimotiki Agora or Varvakios Athens Central Market. We passed by butchers selling entire animal carcasses and fishmongers hawking fresh seafood and shellfish. The sights and smells were intense, but I loved mingling with locals purchasing their meat and fish!
After leaving the slick floors of the seafood section (wear closed toe shoes and watch your step!), you’ll enjoy views of the colorful produce section with fruit, vegetables, flowers and herbs a welcome experience after the fishy smell!
In Greece, it’s rare to go to dinner and order your own large main course. Instead, Greece has a culture of mezedes or small plates designed to be shared, similar to Spanish tapas. We visited En Iordani Taverna for a family-style meal consisting of a variety of traditional dishes. The decorations were eclectic and the vibe was so very Greek. I half expected plate smashing to start at any second!
The tavernas typically do not offer a menu– instead, food is displayed in a case and you select the dishes you want to try. Andreas chose for our group and did a great job introducing us to some local favorites! We tried tzaziki, Greek salad with tons of yummy feta cheese, fava beans, vegetables, and green beans. Food is all included on the tour, but we learned that while eating with friends, bills are split evenly by the table since everyone shares the meal.
I’m kind of a donut queen– I LOVE all shapes, sizes and flavors of this sweet treat. Loukoumades are little balls of fried dough– soft and fluffy on the inside, crispy and golden on the outside, and doused in honey and cinnamon. Served warm, these little balls of heaven were a sweet ending to a perfect tour.
These are just a few of the eight stops on Alternative Athens food tour… I don’t want to spoil all the surprises for you! Which of these food stops sounds tastiest to you? What’s your favorite kind of Greek food? Let me know in the comments!
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