In Athens, there are special places that have been a part of the city for so long that they have become symbolic of the eating culture. Here are just a couple of our favourite Athenian eats, which focus on traditional, old school comfort food. A stop at each of these places is always on my to do list when visiting the dynamic city of Athens.
Pork chop heaven: O Telis (Psitopoleio)
When in Athens, you have to visit a traditional pork brizoles (pork chops) taverna. O Telis in Athens is by far the most famous and the best! Don’t bother asking for a menu here, they serve brizoles, horiatiki salad, chips, tzatziki and feta. That’s pretty much it. The brizoles have been beaten thin and are well charred with plenty to salt and rigani. There is also an amazing ‘special sauce’ – a stainless steel plate of smoky grilled tomatoes, hot, hot yellow peppers and plenty of oozing melted feta. To be honest, the special sauce is so good, I could have just ordered this alone with a glass of wine and a good chunk of country style bread. It’s very easy to over order here, with the standard serve of brizoles including a huge plate of chips and at least four chops. So unless you have a huge appetite, my tip is one serve to share between two! If you do eat at Telis you also might happen to run into the current Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras who is rumoured to enjoy a brizole or two at this Athenian institution.
O Telis (Psitopoleio)
86 Evripidou, Koumoundourou Square, Athens
Greek comfort food: Thanasis
Ordinarily, I run in the opposite direction to tourist touting tavernas and Monastiraki has its fair share of those. The one exception to the touristy surroundings of Monastiraki is the legendary Thanasis. Yes, even tourist weary Athenians love this institution. While Thanasis’ has a full menu, don’t worry about reading this. Just go straight for an order of the specialty full kebab dinner. Here, you get (wait for it) FOUR kebabs on a fluffy pita with sweet, thinly sliced red onions and smoky grilled tomatoes. All you need to add to this order is a tzatziki, an order of chips (fries) with riagni and of course a Greek beer. Again, a good rule of thumb if you are not ravenously hungry is one full kebab dinner between two, plus the sides. Simple, happy, uncomplicated comfort food the Greek way.
Mitropoleos 69, Monastiraki
The home of Greek yoghurt: Stani
This old fashioned dairy shop ( called a galaktopoleio or Γαλακτοπωλείο in Greek) has been an Athens fixture since 1931. This is one of the very last places in Athens where you can go to buy milk or yogurt and enjoy a ‘krema’, rice pudding or other dessert with a coffee. Most excitingly, for me, the dairy on offer here is predominately sheep milk based, always my preference when it comes to dairy. Stani gleams like a jewel in the depressed and rather dodgy area of Omonia Square. Once a vibrant commercial distric, Omonia has been on the downhill for more than a decade, the economic crisis further depressing the area. While other stores around it close, Stani remains proudly open, because its products are just so good. There is an air of nostalgia here, with the waiters are dressed in crisp white shirts and black trousers. Stani is the go-to place for simply the best sheep milk yogurt, served in the traditional Greek way, a big square thick slice (yes, yoghurt so thick it can be sliced!) on a plate slathered with thyme honey and walnuts. Stani also offers other traditional desserts such as moustalevria, a thick burgundy pudding made from grape must, chocolate krema, walnut pie, galaktoboureko and more. All of the products are on show in industrial-size refrigerators with glass-lined doors.I just love the fact that you can also order a super traditional and very Greek breakfast of warm fresh sheep’s milk with honey, fresh butter, eggs fried in butter, bread, orange juice and Greek coffee. It doesn’t get more traditional than that!
Stani also offers loukoumades and, as we came to learn from our friends in Athens – you are either a fan or Stani’s loukoumades or Aigaion, but never both. It’s a bit like preferring a Ford or Holden car in Australia, you pick one and stick with it for life!
If you don’t have the loukommades at Stani, you should definitely still come to visit the last galaktopoleio left in Athens. The only other place in Greece that I have been lucky enough to find another galaktopleio is on the island of Lefkada, where there are still two to choose from. I hope my future travels in Greece reveal more and that these traditional old dairy shops do not die out entirely.
Marika Kotopouli 10, Omonia
Tel: +30 210 523 3637
Sweet fix: Aigaion
Most European cultures have their version of doughnuts, the French have their beignets, the Italians have their bomboloni and the Greeks have loukoumades: deep-fried pastries doused in honey and dusted with plenty of cinnamon. My go to place is always Aigaion. Established in 1926, this Athenian institution is also full of old fashioned charm. Walk down stairs, past the frying dough balls, to be seated at simple, paired back Formica tables and thonet style chairs under the cool breeze of whirring fans. The waiter/cook will dressed in old school whites will bring you a chilled glass of water (or two) to accompany your sweet treats. While Aigaion offer different toppings of nuts, chocolate and fine sugar, it is always best to go with the classic loukomades with honey and cinnamon.
Eleftheriou Venizelou 46 (ex Panepistimiou street)
For research purposes, you might also like to try two other traditional loukomades shops:
Ktistakis: also centrally located in Omonia, this store was established in 1912 and their loukomades are based on a Cretan recipe (now passed down to the third generation of Ktistakis’). Unlike the traditional loukomades you may be used to, these treats are filled with a sugar syrup (not the usual honey) on the inside and come with a sprinkling of cinnamon and sesame seeds – there is also the obligatory glass of water. (Sokratous 59, Omonoia)
Krinos: established in 1923, Krinos offers loukoumades drenched in drenched in a honey-citrus syrup. Here, self-service is the key. Grab your tray, place your order, and wait for a freshly fried batch (Aiolou, 87).
Genteel time travel in the leafy suburbs: Varsos
Step back in time amongst the shiny chrome countertops and 60s style salon and smell the tempting aromas of freshly baked tsoureki. Nothing short of magical, this family run zaharoplastio (patisserie) has been in operation since 1892 and it has managed to stay just the same over the decades. The decor remains the same, as have the recipes for the sweets. I adore the grumpy bow tie clad waiters (some of whom look like they may have been here since 1892) and the selection of traditional, old school Greek sweets. Greek coffee is a must do, along with a slice of galaktoboureko (creamy custard in syrup-soaked filo pastry), moustolaveria, krema, rice pudding, prune and pecan pie or the healthier choice of homemade sheep’s milk yoghurt drenched in honey and walnuts. Every kind of Greek cookie is also available from kourambiedes to melomakarona. These can be purchased to take away as gifts, perfect for visiting Athenian family or friends. You can also buy fresh milk and cream and other dairy products.
Kassaveti 5, Kifissia
Tel: +30 210 801 2472
Snacking on the go: Koulouri
The Greeks are not breakfast eaters (with the exception of the odd special treat breakfast at Stani). So do as the locals to and grab a koulouri - a plain, circular bread topped with sesame seeds. There are numerous koulouri vendors in Athens, most supplied by ‘Koulouri tou Psyri’ – who have their own stand outside Syntagma metro station.