The Best of Greek Food in Athens

By Abi King | Food

Jul 22

Glorious Greek Food

The Home of Greek Food

The hawkers yell, the metal shutters clatter and the salty scent of fresh sliced fish mingles with cinnamon, lobster tanks and the bloody entrails of hanging innards. Like many a live food market, Varvakios Agora heaves with industry, pulses with activity and throngs with the shoulder-thumping movement of a focused, frenetic crowd intent on getting by – and buy.

Yet this place, in Athens, feels like something more. If Greece can be said to be the home of democracy, and the Acropolis, the beacon of hope and respect, what can the city’s central food market tell us about the history of trade?

Not all that much, as it turns out, the residents more concerned with shifting their produce than sifting their way through the sands of time. Unless, of course, that is the message: the history of trade is the history of getting on and trading, not the history of pondering the philosophies of the past.

Recommended reading: 27 Ways Food and Travel Go Together (Not just for “Foodies”)

The Story of Greek Food

And while the market floor may wear tell tale spatters and splatters of blood, the story of Greek Food, of course, reaches much further than that. It reaches through the complex labyrinth of this Grecian city out toward feta cheese and fresh tomatoes served on bright white plates aside deep blue seas and an even bluer skies.

Despite growing up in Europe (for most of the time, anyway,) I was intrigued to discover that I don’t know all that much about “Greek Food.”

Souvlaki – yes. Taramasalata – of course. Stuffed vines, well, it’s at this point that we tend to enter into a who-invented-what discussion that blends the Mediterranean into the Middle East.

Popcorn for sale in Spetses Greece - another kind of Greek Food

A Crash Course in Greek Food

But whatever the ancient boundaries and modern squabbles, today was my crash course in all things Greek Food.

From the visceral stalls of the marketplace, we moved through shaded stalls and walkways that sang with spice and danced with damson. We passed by baskets of natural sponge and sauntered beneath speckled violet sausages that hung from the rafters. (Given the heat, it was likely less of a saunter and more of a slump but let’s gloss past that in the name of poetry, shall we?)

I knew I was slumping my way towards a cooking lesson (the heat became too much)  – but I was unprepared for what came before.

Education.

But not in a practical sense: education from a dedicated museum.

A modern take on Greek classics at the Amanzo’e Luxury Resort in Porto Heli

A Museum Dedicated to Greek Food – And Art

Saline dripped fed into bacalao, a fish so salty you can usually spot the shimmer of crystals. Except, this time, more salt flowed into the fish, leading to a column of crystals on the floor below.

Silverware food display at Athens Gastronomy MuseumSilverware clung one to another, representing the central role of food in the home. And beneath the glare of a student’s lamplight, an interesting geography lesson took place.

Baklava, the sticky sweet honey-soaked treat found, among others, in Turkey and Greece formed the Aegean Sea that separated the shoreline.
The piece showed that both shared food and water stretches between these feuding rivals, both of whom claim the sweet as their own. Yet the raised edge of the pastry also highlighted the division, the obstacle between the two.

Or at least, I think that’s what it meant.

Steamed mussels at a Greek Food cooking class from @insidetravellab

Learning to cook Greek Food

Away from the lamplight and into the sun, Costas, a chef with a disposition so cheery both he and baklava ought to be sent into top level diplomacy, slapped fish onto the counter and put us to work.

We’d a busy afternoon ahead: sea bass, mussels, cucumber soup, spanakopita and some ice cream I’m pretending to ignore as part of my no-dairy lockdown.

Typically, I love cooking classes for the chance to chat to people from different cultures, to experiment with photography and to try different flavours.

Costas has a different idea: he intends to make me work.

 

Apron on, hands washed and camera abandoned, I’m pummelling dough, rolling spirals and delving into a sea bass with some fancy tweezers and a sniper’s eye for bones.

It’s surprisingly satisfying. Incredibly so.

While I spike on with the tweezers, the rest of our small group takes care of the rest: chopping dill, blanching spinach, sipping wine. The menu couldn’t be further from my experience of Italy, but the basics remain the same: simple recipes made from ultra high quality ingredients (plus, in both cases, a nice touch of sunshine but I don’t think that that’s essential.)

But as the sun does shine and we pause while something sizzles, I get the chance to reflect on the day, and the week in Greece in general.
Sugar, blood, spice, war. Crumbling pastry, squashed spanakopita, fresh and delicate mussels and a rogue bone found in a single sea bass (whose job was it to take care of that again?)

Greek food sea bass (1 of 1)

But above all else, the best thing about my brief foray into the world of Greek food was the laughter and friendship that came along for the ride.

Let’s raise a glass the world over to culinary traditions that support sharing, good conversation and good friends.

Yamas!

Abi (2)

 

Disclosure -I found out about the Gastronomy Museum, its market tour and cooking lesson as part of a paid consulting project with Afea Luxury.as ever, as always, I kept the right to write what I like here on the blog. Otherwise, there’s just no point.

How to Cook Greek Food: Some Introductory Recipes

Cooking Greek Food

Greek Food Recipes: Making Spanakopita

Spinach pie with fillo pastry – Spanakopita

Ingredients :

For the filling

500 g spinach leaves, washed and blanched

1 leek (the white part only), cut into thin slices

4 spring onions, cut into thin slices

2 tablespoons of thin cut dill

100g of grated manouri cheese (or feta cheese, if you cannot find manouri)

4 tablespoons of olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

For the filo pastry

300g all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons of olive oil

1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar

Instructions:

For the filo pastry, add all the ingredients and as much water as needed to reach a pliable yet not too sticky formula. This takes some tough old kneading and plenty of energy! Leave the dough on the side to rest.

For the filling, sauté the leeks and spring onions in olive oil, just to get them soft and combine them with all the other ingredients. Season to taste. Roll the filo pastry as thin as you can and then spoon in the filling. Dab a little oil on the pastry to help “stick” it together at the end.

Bake at 200 °C until slightly golden brown. Eat while hot! (But not too hot, obviously…)

Greek Food Recipes: Cucumber Soup

Cucumber soup

Ladies and gents, this is my kind of recipe. Simple, healthy, not much to wash up…

Ingredients:

7-8 baby cucumbers peeled but with a few tiger stripes of green left (don’t forget to take out the seeds)

Lemon zest and juice from one lemon

1 small chilli pepper

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon olive oil

A sprinkle of salt and 3 ice cubes     

Instructions:

Add all the ingredients in the blender and start blending. Sieve the mix and then serve adding a twist of lemon.

Greek food recipes: steamed mussels with saffron

Steamed mussels with saffron

Another one. Blindingly easy really ;-)

Ingredients:

500g mussels

Half a clove of garlic

A pinch of ginger

A pinch of chilli

A pinch of high quality saffron (Krokos kozanis)

1/2 cup of white wine

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

Instructions:

Sauté the mussels in olive oil for 1 minute on a high heat, with the saffron, chilli, garlic and ginger. Then add salt, pepper and wine. Let it simmer for 1 minute and serve.

 

 

Greek Food Recipes: Cooking Sea Bass just Right

Sea bass with native greens with lemon and olive oil sauce

Ingredients:

1 sea bass filleted and deboned

Greens blanched (Greek Almira if you can get hold of it ) 

Spring onions

Pinch of dill

Olive oil

Lemon

Salt and pepper

1 tomato peeled and sliced

Parsley

 

Instructions:

Sauté the tomatoes in olive oil over a low heat to let them caramelise, season and set aside. Set the 2 fillets of the sea bass with the skin side down, season and place the tomatoes over the one fillet, to cover all the flesh. Add parsley and maybe a little grated Parmesan and cover with the other fillet.

Sauté the fish skin side down in olive oil, until the skin gets light brown, and do the same for the other side. Serve with the greens, adding olive oil and lemon.

 

Homemade spanakopita in Athens

How much do you know about Greek food? Have you tried making any of these?

Greek Food Recipes: Cucumber Soup

Cucumber soup

Ladies and gents, this is my kind of recipe. Simple, healthy, not much to wash up…

Ingredients:

7-8 baby cucumbers peeled but with a few tiger stripes of green left (don’t forget to take out the seeds)

Lemon zest and juice from one lemon

1 small chilli pepper

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon olive oil

A sprinkle of salt and 3 ice cubes     

Instructions:

Add all the ingredients in the blender and start blending. Sieve the mix and then serve adding a twist of lemon.


Greek food recipes: steamed mussels with saffron

Steamed mussels with saffron

Another one. Blindingly easy really ;-)

Ingredients:

500g mussels

Half a clove of garlic

A pinch of ginger

A pinch of chilli

A pinch of high quality saffron (Krokos kozanis)

1/2 cup of white wine

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

Instructions:

Sauté the mussels in olive oil for 1 minute on a high heat, with the saffron, chilli, garlic and ginger. Then add salt, pepper and wine. Let it simmer for 1 minute and serve.

 

 

Greek Food Recipes: Cooking Sea Bass just Right

Sea bass with native greens with lemon and olive oil sauce

Ingredients:

1 sea bass filleted and deboned

Greens blanched (Greek Almira if you can get hold of it ) 

Spring onions

Pinch of dill

Olive oil

Lemon

Salt and pepper

1 tomato peeled and sliced

Parsley

 

Instructions:

Sauté the tomatoes in olive oil over a low heat to let them caramelise, season and set aside. Set the 2 fillets of the sea bass with the skin side down, season and place the tomatoes over the one fillet, to cover all the flesh. Add parsley and maybe a little grated Parmesan and cover with the other fillet.

Sauté the fish skin side down in olive oil, until the skin gets light brown, and do the same for the other side. Serve with the greens, adding olive oil and lemon.

 

Homemade spanakopita in Athens

How much do you know about Greek food? Have you tried making any of these?

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About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more.

  • Leah says:

    Ah, a cooking class in Greece would have been so much fun! I had plenty of fun just EATING though, so I suppose I can’t complain :) Even with all the eating I did, I managed to miss some of the dishes you mention here. Will have to try harder next time!

  • Unrelated to the actual post, but I’m digging your different layout styles with your photos! We’re relaunching my site next month, and I hope the designer is cooking up something like this =)

    P.S. I could eat Greek food all day long!!!

    • Abi King says:

      Ah, thank you! The mosaic galleries are a new(ish) feature of WordPress so you may be able to play around with them a bit without the designer. I love them, though, as you can see!

  • Laura says:

    Yum! This looks like so much fun, despite the challenges of cooking and photographing at the same time :)

    • Abi King says:

      In a way I think it’s good for me. I get so used to photographing and documenting life that I think I’m at risk of not participating in it any more! But then…the class was so good. I would have loved to have photo it to the max!

  • This looks SO good.

  • Laura @ Grassroots Nomad says:

    These photos are making me hungry!! I have a stopover in Athens next month, maybe I will be able to squeeze in a cooking class! :)

    • Abi King says:

      I hope you manage to! If not, you could still visit the market or dip into the Food Museum. You can be quite zippy in those places on your own.

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