Athens is for Eaters

Visiting Athens in the height and heat of summer was not exactly an ideal choice for us. Generally, most places close down and people leave town. However, we were fortunate to come across Despina Souvidou of Athens Walking Tours who enthusiastically created a great itinerary of culinary activities for us. While Despina is an avid historian with extensive knowledge to impart she quickly understood that we were there for the food and culture. She admitted that most people are excited to hear about and eat the local cuisine. IMG_0626
However, there is no way you IMG_0614can be in Athens and not at least view the Acropolis. IMG_0623 the most recognized and important monuments in the city and the world. We climbed up to a look out point where we could see some of the ancient buildings of the acropolis but also the magnificent city below us. The amount of tourists flocking to the site definitely deterred us from going all the way. But, it’s a site worth returning to at some point in the future.
We drove to Klimataria restaurant, a traditional 125 year old Greek taverna in the middle of a very dodgy looking neighborhood with graffiti on the walls and not many people around. But, we were greeted by the smiling owner and chef, Maria Soutou who welcomed us in with open arms. The restaurant is charming with herb plants, flowers and wine barrels decorating the space. AIMG_0666long table at one end was filled with all types of fresh vegetables, herbs and oils and was where Maria planned to do her cooking demonstation for me. She started with some pastries stuffed with eggplant, feta cheese and another Greek cheese taking her time to prepare each one so that the whole crew would get something to eat. She then was excited to show us her process of preparing lamb in a unique pot called a “gastra” , an iron baking dish with a cast irIMG_4921IMG_0678on lid that cooks over hot embers on an outdoor IMG_0643oven. The lamb was rubbed with fresh oregano, sage and stuffed with garlic cloves, a bit of wine and potatoes added on top. The lamb cooks for about 2 hours exuding the most amazing aromas and when I got to cut and taste it, the meat was so moist and succulent. Maria and I were enjoying the time talking and tasting that I think she forgot about the cameras. She was so hospitable and friendly and when we left gave me a gift of figs, ouzo, pistachios and mastika water. Mastika is a resin that comes from a mastic tree native to a certain area in the Mediterranean and liqours are produced from it. It has a licorice type flavor and the water was nicely refreshing. 
As a contrast to Klimataria, Despina had now planned a visit to an upscale neighborhood and an IMG_0718 IMG_0731ultra modern restaurant called Nice n’ Easy. Inspired by Frank Sinatra’s song of the same name, the aim is to evoke a glamorous era when life was simple but stylish. Here they have quality food with an emphasis on organic, local and fair trade ingredients. The chef on duty prepared a fantastic sea bass with a potato and horseradish puree (called Elvis Presley on the menu.)  It’s simplicity and delicacy yet full flavor was very special. 
IMG_0771IMG_0754IMG_0739Our final stop in our speedy trip was to the oldest bakery in Athens, Afoi Asimakopouloi, established 99 years ago and now with the family’s 4th generation running things. They carry tons of Greek specialties as well as other delightful treats.The owner brought us up to the factory area where we watched how he IMG_0766prepared a few icings for their cakes and an incredible Lebanese dessert. Of course, lots of tastes were handed out. This is definitely a haven for sweet tooths. Before leaving, I was shown the popular Tsoureki, (sweet Easter bread) that is a braided bread traditionally stuffed with a dyed red Easter egg. A loaf was given to me as we left. 
I am glad to note that after all my apprehension about Athens in the summer the trip was sensational.
All the best, 

Zita

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