CORN MEAL AND TARRAGON IN HELLAS
I have been living in Athens Greece since August and have been trying to find fresh tarragon and corn meal ever since. I have tried albeit unsuccessfully, to grow the tarragon on my balcony. If no one responds i suppose I could go to a gardening site for growing tips.
Also, i was just in Zagorohoria, a mountainous region of Greece near the Albanian border and had the best hortopita I have ever eaten. What made it so good was the addition of cornmeal to the homemade filo (I believe it was simply sprinkled on the bottom of the pan, and on the top of the bottom layer of filo, before adding the greens mix). I cannot find cornmeal anywhere here. I did find a fine consistency corn type flour (not starch) but the corn taste was lost. could anyone be of help?
Just saw the post, I know it is a little late. Are you sure it was corn meal in the hortopita? I know a lot of cooks use simigdali? Have you tried checking the bulk stores on Evripidou down near monastiraki? One in particular, Bahar, has almost everything in terms of dried spices, flours etc. Bahar is located almost at the corner of Evripidou and Athinas, unfortunately I can't tell you if it the N,S, E,or W corner, but it's an institution so just ask around. Also , a little further down from Bahar is a shop called elixir, he sells mostly dried herbs and teas, and you will recognize it by his beautiful wooden spice cupboards, he sell great spices, hard to find vinegars etc, and he is the guy I go to when I can't find what I am looking for.
What is tarragon in Greek? Generally when I can't find what I am looking for, I go to some gourmet food shops in Athens and if they don't have it I ask them where I can find it. Degustibus delicatessen is a good place to start. I think they have a few locations, you can find them at. www.degustibus.gr. Also, there is a shop in Plaka, mesogoio, is the name, not sure where it is exactly, but I think you can find it with google search and they carry hard to find items. And lastely, visiting one of the bigger A.B Vassilopolous in the northern suburbs might help.
Since, I moved here ( and funny thing is I have been thinking about tarrogon lately too ) i have learned the almost everything here moves word of mouth and the best way to find something is to ask, but you have to find the right people to ask. The people who either own or work in shops that sell something different from the usual Greek traditional products are the ones who know. Ask, ask ,ask.
Thank you for your excellent tips. My mother is bringing tarragon seeds in May when she comes to visit. I have found out that, like cilantro, you can get fresh tarragon once in a while at the laikis, though I have yet to see it and I moved here in August. Tarragon in Greek is estragon by the way. I have been dying to make a lemon tarragon dip with the yogurt here which seems to be made by angels in heaven...and I am not even religious.
In Zagoria it was definately a course corn meal in the hortopita and not simigdali. I did however try the simigdali and it wasn't right, no corn taste. Mind you, they only sprinkled the cornmeal in the bottom of the pan and on top of the dough. I heard they do not use corn meal as it is a reminder of the hard times under occupation, however I am not convinced this is true.
I go to Messogeaia all the time, the one in Plaka is on Nikis street! I love their "homemade" filo for a quick pie, they carry some of my favorite wines, I usually get some Raki from him when he has it, and I love the tiny olives among other rare items like buffalo meat and the baby walnut spoon sweets.
I will check out Bahar and degustibus, thank you. Also, if you live here, would love to exchange taverna suggestions, I have a few to be sure.
I will write tomorrow or the next day a review of the loukoumades at Ktistakis which I found out about on this site. Possibly one of the greatest sweets experience I have had, they were so good, I had to give them away for fear of eating them all in two days!!!
Also, I agree with your last statement, it seems to be part of the culture to not try anything from tavernas to doctors without a good recommendation. I am thinking of putting together a book of recommendations to keep around my house, as everyone has the best dentist, the best hair stylist and so forth. I have not once been disappointed, and in fact went to get my haircut without a rec the other day, and it was a nightmarish experience. Note: never describe the haircut you want using hand gestures, the results can be disastrous! Can't wait to be fluent.
Again thank you for the tips.
I hope you still check this board, we were gone for the whole summer and without ADSL, the only thing I do on the internet is check my emails: the rest just takes way too long to open.
Did you get a chance to try those shops I told you about? anyluck on cormeal yet?
As far as restaurant and taverna recommendations, I have to say that I have yet to have a memorable meal here in Athens. Although two days ago we went to a very simple psarotaverna in Pireaus, called Kritikos, it was somewhere tucked into a neighbourhood that I can longer remember the name, but I will ask my husband when he gets in. It was late and we only had some light meal, but it was the best musselpilaf I ever had! the dakos were done it the cretan style with an excellent xinomythira on top and I can't remember the rest but it was great. Very simple place, but it was sunday night and it was full, the place has been around since the 70's and you could understand why. Also I have enjoyed tzitzigas and mermigas in syntagma...and I am trying to think of some others but unfortunately I can't remember their names or their locations. If you have some suggestions on good tavernas, especially with good lambchops I would appreciate it. As for the fine dining restaurants, I have to say that I have been disappointed. I have yet to go to any that are very pricey, such lefteris Lazarus or some of the others but the ones that are upper middle price range I have been completely disappointed. I once paid 27 euros for a tbone that was as tough as shoe leather, and I also find the portion sizes to be very small. Of course, I have been a bit spoiled working in good restaurants in North America, and being a very avid cook, I am a bit of tough customer to please. If you have some good recommendations let me know.
Also, I am wondering if you know any good butcher and also the translations for certains cuts of beef? I am looking specifically beef shortribs? flanksteak and ossobucco. Any idea what their called in greek?
Appreciate anything you might know, and when I find out where 'kritikos" is I will let you know?
I have just now seen your email, I don't check this site as often as I should. Yes I would love the address of Kritikos if you can find it, or at least the neighborhood. I will give you a few reccommendations that mostly, my beloved food savvy cousins have turned us onto here and I hope you will be as pleased as I have been. I have not been yet to the high end restaurants myself, as the dollar being so weak (my husband works in the states but through the internet from here) I can't justify the cost currently!
There is a place in the center which is unfortunately touristy, just behind the monastiraki train station called Kouzina. They make a great lamb shank propped up haughtily on a sublime bed of fava puree. I have only been there once, with 6 others, so we ordered a lot and every dish was superb.
In Exharkia, on Benaki, just behind the plateia Exharkia is probably my favorite Athens taverna of the season. RIFIFI. Order the fried cod (they don't over cook the cod!!!) with horta and skordalia. The potatoes are so good you will giggle and they have these little whole fried shrimps with a nice dipping sauce that were great. We usually start with the filo wrapped fetta drizzled in honey. The house salad is great as well. The house wine is just about the best I have had in the way of "Xima".
O VOURGIAS is a Cretan taverna that is out of this world. If you are someone who longs for ambiance with your food such as I, this place is for you. The only time to go is in the winter. Vourgias goes to Crete in the summer and it won't be fun. Imagine sitting by the soba (woodburning stove) eating fried wild mushrooms, homemade pies, noodles cooked in goat broth with the butter cream and a loukaniko that I can only describe as tasting like a homemade slim jim, all the while being saranaded by vourgias on the lira and many other musicians who just pop in and jam with him. We have actually seen psaradonis there. This place makes me cry with sentimentality every time I go and I do not exagerate.
Kollias and Para Pente are tavernas you should not miss, though finding them is nearly impossible, and having some sherlock Holmes DNA in your blood could be helpful. They are both in some obscure neighborhood near Peireas. Driveme.gr gave at best expressionist styled directions, I was laughing hysterically as we made endless circles in the area, but was filled with new found awe for my husband who so brilliantly found it. Kollias is supposed to be the best seafood in Athens. They espouse "a culture" of seafood. The son and daughter of the owner of Kollias, opened a place called Para Pente in an alley across from Kollias and I loved this place...possibly more? Oh I don't know. They start you with espresso cups filled with fish broth that might be the most perfect fish broth I have ever tasted. Then they bring large platter with five items (you don't order anything in this taverna) one might have Squid ink risotto, mussels in tomato cinnamon sauce, marinated hyacynthe bulbs, shrimp saganaki and who knows what else. you just keep the platters coming until everyone at your table is sated. Don't skip the dessert platter.
On Saturday afternoons we sometimes go with cousins to "H Avli tou Antoni" Some famous dessert chef (Stelios?...Not sure) owns this with his brother. It is in Nea Makri and they have a veal with smoked eggplant cream which is more like a smoked eggplant bechamel that is so good I wake up dreaming about it, then crave cigarettes...when I don't even smoke, okay I will jsut say it, if great sex were a food, it would be this smoked eggplant bechamel.
There are some more places, but I should get better directions and even names, but I hope this makes for some good dining in the mean time. I will check this more often, would love to know if you are learning Greek and how that is going, is your husband Greek? What is the story there. I have some tarragon just starting on my balcony, it is a winter herb, and my momma brought me cornmeal in June, but it is not as corny as I remember. I am thinking your very first email was correct and that they just made the filo dough with smigdali. I have just learned to make homemade filo dough, so will try it and let you know the results.
Must go and study my Greek lessons. Thank you for your reply.
And please, any foody suggestions I want.
Next time I come to Greece, I will bring you white corn meal, yellow corn meal, or even blue corn meal if that excites you.
Meanwhile, have your mom mail you some.
Meanwhile, send me an email at