cutting edge food in Greece.
Hello all chowhounders!
My Greek wife and I went to Greece last year and had a good time, but every restaurant seemed to have the same things.Of course the kabobs,souvlaki, and gyros,doner kabobs, were great street food, but it's usually the same Greek salad, moussaka, stuffed pepers, etc., at most restaurants we ate at. Even our Greek relatives that took us out to their favorite restaurants,it was basically the same menu choices, seved luke warm in a pool of olive oil.
We will go back in the future, to see here relatives, and I would appreciate it if some one could recommend a restaurant that takes the classics and reinvents them, or pushes the edge at least some what. In the Athens area; Monistraki, Glyfada, or any other part of of the city. I apologize for my poor Greek spelling, I'm still trying to learn all my wife's relatives names!
It's a shame that the national past time of Greece is the best kept international secret. Knowing which tavernas to go to and how to get there are the only way to elevate your travels to Greece to the point you get weepy when talking about the place.
I saw on another poster's site he had chosen Mamacas. this was great the first couple of years it opened, but we went there with cousins a few weeks ago, and it was terrible, later we found out that, everyone already knew this. No respectable Athenian would EVER go to a restaurant without a recommendation.
Unfortunately, this means there are only a few places to go in the touristy areas. Most Greeks have either been to the States, or have a relative that has, and they know that the Greek food there is poor compared to the standards here, so it doesn't take much to please the tourists. So in Thissio, there is a place called Kouzina Kouzina. I still dream about the lamb shank. Also in Psiri there is a place that specializes in Brizolas (grilled lamb or pork). You do not order anything, you just sit at the table and they bring you a salad, a cheese dish and however many kilos of brizola your table needs. Famous people go to this place and it is often so packed, that by 10:30 they are literally seating people at tables in the street. The name of this place is Telis.
For a transcendental seafood experience, you must go to Kollias in Pereias. This is unimpeachably the best seafood in Greece, albeit deservedly pricey. The son and daughter of the owner of Kollias opened a place just across the road, called Para Pente. It is sort of like greek dimsum, in that you don't order, they just bring platters out with five things on them, they keep bringing these platters of five until the table is full and says stop.
In our neighborhood there is a place called Gigikas and Mermikas, on Plateia Papadiamantis. This is one of our favorite restaurants, it is in an old grocery store and offers really great ambiance. They serve traditional food with a bit of a twist and extremely affordable prices. Like roasted Chicken in a kadaifi bowl with Mastiks crema. The other night we ordered a leek pie that was outstanding, and we always order our favorite dish; small calves livers wrapped in lamb stomach lining and grilled, it is a perfect food, and I'm not even a huge liver fan.
It goes without saying, when you go to these places, you never order single place settings. That not how the locals do it. You order a salad or two, a vegetable or two, and a meat dish or fish dish. The vegatables are sublime here, and no matter what, you should always order the horta (mountain horta or Vlita are the sweetest).
Hope this helps, I could go on writing about places but I have things to do.
two of my faves are oikea, and papadakis, both in kolonaki, athens. oikea has just been re-done and seems to have a bit of an attitude problem right now, but their food is great, and their tyropitas come with a thick crisp layer of sesame seeds.
papadakis is elegant and modern and sleekly deliicous wihtout being ungreek. the food is modern but very traditional, specializes in fish and seafood, and if there is the cod with braised vegetables, or the fish stew eaten over crumbled rusks, or the chickpeas cooked for a zillion hours, don't miss them. the owner, from the island of paros, is truly talented and serves homemade liqueurs after the meal. really wonderful, though a bit pricey. don't miss if you have the opportunity to eat there.
The real issue is that your relatives don't want to 'offend' you, therefore they take you to a bland mainstream no frills restaurants. You see, most restaurants in Greece either serve things that would never appear in any menu in the US (see E. Kolliopoulos' post above: would you ever consider eating calf liver wrapped in lamb stomach lining?), or serve foods in a way that may seem appalling here in the US. For example, I, as born and bred Greek, would never even consider buying fish without seeing its eye. Furthermore, if I would serve fish for dinner, I would clearly want to serve it the right way, whole, head and bones included. [I would gladly through in a lesson of cleaning and eating it, even spend the time to do it for each diner individually, but serving fish fillet is a culinary insult to/for a Greek].
Now, this picture may be disgusting to you or to most Americans, as to my dismay and embarrassment I found out the hard way... but it is commonplace to Greeks who expect fish served <i>thus</i>. Frankly, as far as I have seen, even highly sophisticated and well traveled Americans and Greek Americans, are completely un-prepared to face - not to mention, taste - the "true" foods of Greece.
I will never forget the drive and walk to get to a particular 'kokoretsi' restaurant in Kalambaka which made only kokoretsi and was almost daily presold, to eat our PREPAID/PRE-bought spit-kokoretsi with my American colleague, only to see the disgust in her face after I told her what it was she had just tasted and praised the taste of so much. The remainder of her plate went to stray dogs. I was crushed... (not to mention, out of serious cash, at the time, 20+ years ago).
Un-phased from the previous experience, another day we went with more American colleagues to one of Athens' top fish restaurants by the sea. As is the custom, I went to the kitchen and chose the fish - a great looking fresh rockfish, and then the waiter brought out the large plate with fried seafood appetizers, squid - calamari - , of course, prominent among them. The table was immediately enveloped by a deadly silence. I was freaking out by then... What on earth had happened to make a bunch of lively academics shut up so fast? I soon found out that none had ever tried squid, neither thought it was eatable, because squid was used for bait where they were from. That was only New Jersey, mind you, albeit a few years (early 1980's) before Cheesecake Factory memorialized calamari in its menu in the 1990's.
Ask me if I dare suggest a 'true' greek restaurant to another American... All my friends know by now to stick to 'easy' and recognizable foods when they invite us, and furthermore, they know not to invite us 'out' but only to their houses, where its quite safe that we won't come upon a listing of 'fresh lamb brains, lightly battered and quick fried, served with...' -- you get the picture, the kind of restaurant my Greek friends (and I) would choose to spend time and money at.
As if the above experiences weren't enough, a few years back - in the 21st century this time - we had a Pot Luck dinner at the department and encouraged by the multicultural culinary inroads that have occurred the recent years, I pursued to MAKE 300 - that is: Three Hundred - stuffed grape leaves (ok, dolmadakia, in Greek) as my contribution. Cost? Several chiropractor visits to get my back in place after all this back breaking work. Results? I ended up taking over 250 back home, after almost 'forcing' a few dozen on the only colleague who tried them and politely expressed approval. Nobody else even bothered to try them, being... 'afraid'.... Just as well, since it was the only thing I could eat at that dinner. EVERYthing else had sugar! Sugar on pork, sugar on beef, sugar on beans, sugar on rice, sugar on sugar... I realized then that sugar is still the main ingredient in the American kitchen (the 1950's are alive and well, I Love Lucy!) Come to think about it, maybe my dolmadakia would have gone had I added sugar.... Neahhhhh, I would never do that :-!
cook for me, take me to your fave places, roast a whole lamb and let me jump up full of emotion and dance or cry or laugh! the only thing i won't eat is brains, i'm so sorry. and am allergic to seafood but get great huge joy at watching other people enjoy it!
i have tzadziki running through my veins.
Being in greece, eating and living with greeks: a wonderful antidote to american rat-race. now, how do we get visitors from those far away shores to lighten up and dip rough rustic bread in puddle of olive oil on the plate and deal with fish who have faces? i don't mean to sound too strident but i've seen such a regime work miracles in stressed out people, including myself.
(to be honest, its the same everywhere. many people abroad want to be faced with familiarity and are afraid to confront something strange, think of the brits demanding full british breakfasts or roast sunday dinners on sweltering mediterranean isles)... anyhow, the greeks are so hospitable, wanting their guests to be happy and comfy, its easy to see how one could end up getting shlepped to tourist traps......in the hopes of making a guest happy......
Here Here Marlena! I second your thoughts. I love the cuisine of Greece, eyeballs, livers, fish heads and all, and I find the best way to learn about Greek history is through understanding the regional food of Greece. (Diana Kochilas' "Glorious Foods of Greece" is bed side reading for me.)
The only thing I have had an unpleasant experience with is Padza (sp) at the central market at 2 am. I actually ordered the livers soup, and it was very good, my Greek husband ordered the Padza, and he has been complaining about it ever since. It was the first time I have ever seen my adventurous partner eat something and dislike it with a passion. But we are cyclists from Oklahoma, and the soup tasted exactly like the frightfully intense smell in the country on those days they lay the fertilizer.
There is simply nothing that can be done for people who want to travel, but do not want to be immersed in a culture, it's why the cruise ship industry flourishes I suppose.
Before we moved to Greece, we came here every year to visit family. Every morning I would get up with my Mother in law and she would teach me all her dishes, from goat stewed with greens and dill in avgo-lemono (my favorite) to lamb sto fourno, to spanakorizo and gigades. Every year I would come home and cook a big feast with all the contraband I brought back, and my friends lauded me as the best cook they knew, and still I can't quite achieve the "softness" in my mother in law's latho-dishes.
So please Mimika, do not stigmatize all the Americans into one group, I am convinced my friends will be coming to visit the food that I write to them about, and not my husband and I. In fact I have often thought (being a marketing driven America...ugh) of starting a cuisine tour of Greece. I think the tourist, be they Americans, Germans or English, miss so much when they come to this wonderful country and don't partake in it's most precious resource: Food as Love.
Oh and a suggestion. One thing that I believe helps an unsuspecting tourist open their mind, heart and eventually, palate to fish with heads, kokoretsi and all things wonderful, is the enthusiasm of the hosts as well as their being able to explain why the fish eye is important, what the historical context of the dish is, etc. I have had our Greek friends and Family over for dinner, and they seem uninterested for instance if a hortopita I am serving is from Roumeli, or if the onion dish is strictly dodecanese fare. My husband explained this to me,and now I don't bore my Greek guests with this information, unless it is solicited. Where as Americans are really hungry for this kind information, we all come from a melting pot, and say what you might about racism in America, we do seem to absorb cultural diversity better than many places on earth, as we have been doing it longer. The addition of the Vietnamese into Oklahoma was the greatest gift imaginable, and I would pay 100 dollars for a $3.50 bowl of Pho today!
Loving Greece, fish heads, entrails, cretan snails and all,
Italian restaurants have been serving calamari for years, way before there was ever a Cheesecake Factory. They sell dolmadakia at our local Whole Foods. And I don't know about the rest of my compatriots, but we often buy and eat fish with the heads on. I'm more adventuresome about food than some people, but I find it hard to believe that calamari (or anything for that matter!) could silence a table of academics at least the ones in my department.
We have a large Greek Orthodox church close by that holds an annual festival. It's so over-subscribed that you have to park miles away and take a shuttle bus in. People from every background come for the food. They LOVE the food!
Judith, I agree with you. I think perhaps you meant to respond to Mimika who had some bad experiences with American friends who were a bit naive about cuisine. As for academics, I will say that when my step son used to bring his other "academic" friends with him to dinner at our house, many were freaked out over my food. He has one friend who eats nothing but pizza, and another friend who is a vegetarian, but confusingly really doesn't eat vegetables! I attribute this to being so "Academic" that these peeps just don't get out much. But I believe these are rare exceptions truly.
To be fair to Mimika, there are many Americans who I think would be a tad horrified by some of the foods of Greece (I just watch my husband eat a lamb head, I turned to look at him and he was sucking on the jaw bone, which was almost to the tee the size of our pet dog Pippinas' lower jaw bone, AND it had teeth! ) But I know that Greek people would be equally horrified by the Jello mold salads that some of my relatives made for holiday dinners as well, especially those involving marshmellows and Cool Whip Non-Dairy whipped topping with canned mandarine oranges. EEK GAD!
You're right . . . the way this new board is arranged confuses me thoroughly.
I have to admit that an entire lamb's head might not appeal to the tourists. But at least here in the SF Bay Area, we have such an array of different kinds of cuisine, not to mention different kinds of fusion, that a lot of people are fairly sophisticated.
Although I've suffered through my share of Thanksgiving dinners where the sweet potato dish has marshmallows on it. Jello and marshmallows are two things I absolutely can't imagine eating. Marshmallows in particular hardly seem like food to me!
Hello E. Kolliopoulos! - I think you would like the following two books: The Food of Greece (Hardcover, 1979) Author: Vilma Liacouras Chantiles, and: Modern Greek: 170 Contemporary Recipes from the Mediterranean Author: Andy Harris (Paperback, Illustrated, 2002). The first one is my Kitchen Bible, (if not my one and only bible, but lets not take things too far and offend people beyond the table...). Totally un-surpassed.
The second one is 'outstanding' in every respect. The recipes are eclectic (that's positive) and easy to follow. I even sent it to my 104 year old godmother/great aunt in Greece, who is the daily cook for our entire family, (a gourmet cook, retired wife of an ambassador who for years oversaw embassy dinners) and she wholeheartedly approved the book. I also bought it massively from Amazon and sent it lieu of a Christmas card to my greek friends. (postage per book was way over book's price, book is heavy).
Vilma Liacouras Chantiles' book was her master thesis project. It was out of print for at least a decade in the 1980's and then published in paperback in 1992 but its again out of print. Your best bet to find it would be half.com.
I like your idea for a food trip. It will be quite expensive though. We had worked on putting together a gourmet trip in the 1980's. It included restaurants (and visits, of course) in Istanbul, Ismir and Ayvalik, along with a good number in Greece (Athens, Kriti, Myconos, Allonisos, Thessaloniki, Yannina, Kavala - for the 'foodie' part, and the addition of Delphi, Olympia, Mycenae, etc. for the sight seeing part). The trip ended up being too expensive for the adventurous kind of traveler such a trip would attract. But by all means, try it! I would be very interested.
PS - Pho is *purrrrfect* after a long day at work. I too am thankful for the Vietnamese here!
re: Andy Harris
Sorry to butt in here, but are you THE Andy Harris!?! I just want you to know that I enslave whole dinner parties at a time when I cook your kolokithokeftedes, which is great because they end up doing the dishes. I am now living in Greece, which has made me a sort of "kolokithotopologist" (okay I made that up) and I can easily say that my..err well ehem huhu YOUR recipe is the best to date.
I am also indebted to you as you wrote in your cookbook that Vlita is Amaranth. Every year I would come home to OKC-OK-Land depressed knowing I wouldn't be able to eat decent greens for another year. We have a fabulous Vietnamese community and I was able to find Amaranth or Rau Den as they call it every Summer.
When we moved here, I had to give away all my cookbooks, and could only keep the essentials; 2 Wolforts, 2 Kochilas, YOU and an old "Food in history" book by Tannehill. You are that esteemed in my smaller yet better greek food producing Kouzina.
Thank You Andy Harris,
I cannot tell you how pleased I was to receive your reply. I will begin my search today for "The Food of Greece". I have "Modern Greek" by Andy Harris, I will look up the book you suggest as well. His recipe for Kolokithokeftedes is wonderful. As far as having a cook book as primary or sole bible, no controversy here. I hope most religions teach giving love as a primary tenet, and what else is cooking but showing love and gratitude.
I have had 12 dinner parties in a little over four months, as our Greek friends and relatives have been so helpful and accommodating to us during our cocoon to butterfly like transition from Okies to Hellenes (My husband left Athens at 17 for college and he is 50 today, so in many respects, he is as much a Xeno as I am.)and cooking for them is my best way to show our gratitude.
Do you have a good source for Raki in Athens, if you do I would be most appreciative. And again, thank you so much for the book suggestions.
I never bought raki in athens, but I bought a really really bad homemade one (read this as: very good raki. Totally undrinkable high octane power alcohol) from Anogia in Kriti. In any case, I found out that the best local products are the ones from the various local Synetaerismoi. In the case of raki that should be the Synetairismos Paragogwv Kritis. I don't know where you would find synetairistika products anymore, but it used to be near Omonia. There is an excellent Loukoumades place called 'Ktistakis' on Sokratous street in Omonoia. -- The place used to be on Agiou Konstantinou, a block east of the National Theater, but they moved almost 10 years ago. They are known since Eleftherios Venizelos times, Ktistakis was frequented by Venizelos, the Kretan politician and prime minister early in the 20th century. I would go there, first, for the awesome loukoumades (extremely unique: hard on the outside, full of syrop in the inside, with sesame on top) and then to ask them where I could find Omospondia Kritis products, including raki. They may carry them, but if not, its safe to assume they would know where to find them.
Enjoy the loukoumades! I wish I were there...
More on the 'cutting edge' food in Athens: Check Athinorama every week. It lists almost every restaurant and has a short paragraph about it, along with full reviews of selected ones. Online at http://www.athinorama.gr/restaurants/
thank you so much for the tip on the loudoumades; how exciting that Venizelos used to go to the cafe!
i've had some dissappointing loukoumades over the years, and haven't had trandcendental ones for decades; i think its because i haven't 1. been in greece with anyone as devoted as i am to finding excellence in loukoumades (and also someone who literally has the stomach for it) and 2. gotten a good tip (which means not having to do all the hunting-chomping personally!).
i've got to make a plan to visit athens again asap now that i am armed with such precious info.
Dear Mrs. Mimika,
It was amazing to read how well you know the history of the small loukoumades shop at Agiou Constantinou 7, founded in January of 1952. The original shop was founded in 1912 in the Cretan town of Chania by the owner's (of today) grandfather, who had learned the secret recipe in Alexandria in the Greek pastry shop "Goniakon". Many stories could be told here about all those personalities who passed from those two pastry shops in Chania and Athens, from great Greek actors (many from the National Theatre), journalists, publishers, musicians and politicians. Put under each of these terms the most famous ones you know and you have the names! But the most important part of that history that started in 1912 and continues until today is the simple people who used and still frequent this historical "loukoumatzidiko", which since 1997 is located at Socratous Street, run by the 3rd generation. (photo: 2nd and 4th generation together at the loukoumatzidiko of Socratous Street)
Thank you for the street name, as I spent a good hour or so walking around Omonia looking for Ktistakis. I will go tomorrow. My friend Kostis told me the most wonderful story that ties in with your comment about the simple folk. His Father used to take the best behaved child of the week into town with him on Friday, and the hi-light of the day would be to go to Ktistakis, to get a box of Loukomades, but the very best was that being the child there, he could have them warm, fresh from the oven. He said it is one of his best childhood memories to date.