By Val Jones
This morning we went on a real treat of a tour through the local cuisine area of Athens. Away from the tourists, it was where the locals shop. We were given the opportunity to sample a wide variety of local delicacies ranging from feta cheese, to olive oil, to spanakopita. We sampled the rather strong drinks of Mastic and Raki.
It was a 30 minute walk to begin our tour with our guide Georgia. She was amazing and made the morning so much more enjoyable through her enthusiastic descriptions along with her very expressive hand gestures. Such a lovely young woman. We began by stopping at a street vendor selling Koulouri, one of the local breads. Shaped like a large donut it was crusty on the outside, soft in the middle and covered in sesame seeds. Georgia explained that Greeks don’t eat breakfast. It is usually a cup of coffee and two cigarettes (smokers are everywhere. I even saw a policeman smoking). Lunch is somewhere between 3-5pm and dinner around 10-11pm. Hence the bread which they begin to eat from 9am. Because they eat late they do not want breakfast like we have. Everyone buys fresh bread to nibble on. The stall we visited is restocked every hour to ensure they sell fresh product.
Our next food sample was to try loukoumades, Greek donuts. They are deep fried and drizzled in honey. Whilst the locals eat six at a time two was enough for us. After all we still had three hours of tasting ahead.
We visited the Varvakios Agora, the meat and fish markets. We were impressed by their cleanliness. Here we saw every kind of meat product available, including sheep’s heads, and whole rabbits, head on, fur covered feet and tails attached. The fish market sold the freshest looking seafood all caught locally except the salmon which came from Norway.
We walked through the fruit and vegetable section and sampled locally grown strawberries. Then it was on to a cafe to sample a mezze. We had deep fried zucchini balls with garlic tzatziki, and a warm dish of tomatoes, feta, peppers and gruyere cheese. On we went to try a Greek cured meat called pastoutma. Made from either beef or wild camel and eaten with a dry rusk. I preferred the beef but most in our group liked the camel.
We visited a specialty supermarket where we ate feta drizzled in honey, bread dipped in award winning virgin olive oil, fresh yogurt with a cherry sauce, and drank a very small sample of Mastic which was sweet and 25% proof, and Raki at 40% proof. Pure fire water. Along the way we sampled halva and toffee, sesame coated peanuts.
Our final stop was to a cafe where we sat outside in a beautiful courtyard under the trees and enjoyed a souvlaki, similar to a hot wrap with chicken, pork, or vegetarian with salad and tzatziki. Really delicious, but by now we had had more than our fill. Food was off the menu. We said goodbye to Georgia and headed towards the Parliament to watch the changing of the Guards. Unfortunately we got caught up in the crowds as we walked and arrived just as the session finished. It was an hour to the next change, we were hot and no one wanted to wait. We walked off and through a little of the local botanical gardens instead.
We walked to the original Olympic Stadium built in 1896 and last used for the Olympics in 2004 where Valerie Adams won gold. From there it was on the view the Temple of Zeus through the other fence because they charged to get closer. We also found Hadrians Gate. We got back to the hotel hot and tired but really satisfied with the day. Tomorrow we head to Delphi.