Culinary tourism is the latest trend in destination travel. What better way to explore the history and culture of a region than by savoring the local cuisine. This is particularly true for Greece which has a history dating back thousands of years. The ancient Greeks used wine and olive oil in their daily diets. Subsequent generations of people introduced more complex recipes and spices into the gastronomy.
Athens for Foodies tour with Greeking.me
If you are traveling to Greece, you will invariably begin and end your journey in Athens. You can immerse yourself in the rich culture and eat like a Greek by spending several hours walking through Athens neighborhoods tucked away from the well known tourist attractions on the “Athens for Foodies” tour offered by the new travel and tourism startup company Greeking.me.
On a perfect, sunny Athens morning in late September, I joined the company co-founders, Anna and Nikos at Syntagma Square, just across from the Parliament building built as a palace for King Otto after the Turkish invasion. Here we grabbed a koulouri, a soft, pretzel-like breakfast snack made from water, yeast, flour, salt and sesame seeds. Since it’s the most popular street food in Athens after souvlaki, many vendors are getting in on the act with other varieties incorporating raisins, cheese and even chocolate chips.
Our next stop at the Chatzi pastry shop included a traditional recipe that started as a medicine first described by Anthimus, a Greek doctor in the 6th century. Taken to settle an upset stomach, rizogalo is a simple pudding made from rice and goats milk.
Rice originated in India and spread west through Persia, but wasn’t used widely in Greek cuisine until the fall of the Byzantine Empire. We also sampled a sweet treat known as malebi, created with buffalo milk and mastic, a compound derived from a small evergreen tree native to the Mediterranean region, and recently found to have properties that cure ulcers.
A culinary tour in Greece wouldn’t be complete without sampling a pie, a completely different food than the dessert pies Americans eat. The ancient writer, Artemidorus described pie as a hand-held snack food that Greeks ate when chatting at the market or watching theatrical plays. I sampled a simple cheese pie at Ariston on a motorcycle-lined street near parliament.
We strolled through the city at a leisurely pace, passing by Kapnikarea Church, one of the early Christian churches dating to 1050 A.D. and built on the site of a temple to Athena, from which Athens derives its name. We passed by an organ grinder (laterna) who plays songs with a monkey and outstretched hand for tips.
At the Krinos pastry shop which is popular with older residents, we ate loukoumades, golden fried balls of dough covered with honey. Loukoumades were given out as prizes to the winning athletes in Greek Olympic games. If you tried one, you’d prefer this prize over a gold medal.
In addition to the stops listed here, the tour consisted of two actual sit-down meals. We had a full lunch at Epirus Tavern at the Athens Central Market where shoppers get up close to the meats, fish and cheeses they buy for meal preparations. We dined on Yemista (tomatoes stuffed with rice), Chilopites (pasta) and Soutzoukakia (cumin-spiced meatballs). We sat down to another full meal of pork chops and side dishes at Minotavros tavern.
We toured a cheese shop, spice shop, herb store, and cured meats store, all with plentiful sampling. At the end of tour, we relaxed with a cup of coffee and learned the history of Turks introducing coffee to Greece. What is known as Greek coffee is a similar drink to Turkish coffee, but slightly lighter in color. The four-hour Athens for Foodies tour with Greeking.me is a culinary excursion in Greek history.
For further information or to book a tour, contact:
m: +30 6942070899
a: 190, Syggrou Avenue
e: athens@ greeking.me
David Lee Drotar’s travel stories appear in The Globe & Mail, New York Post, The Buffalo News, Perceptive Travel and numerous other publications. Drotar is the author of seven books including Steep Passages: A Worldwide Eco-Adventurer Unlocks Nature’s Spiritual Truths. See more at http://www.brookviewpress.com.