Whenever anyone has talked to me about visiting Greece, it’s always about food.
Never mind the Parthenon on top of the Acropolis or the Delphi, home to the sanctuary and oracle of Apollo.
It’s all about the soulvaki, the baklava and the homemade tzatziki that will make you cry.
So you know I was excited about this trip!
As we were heading from the airport to Athens, our drive, Panos, asked us what we liked to eat. The usual Greek staples came out of our mouths — gyros, spanakopita — that he almost seemed disappointed. He must’ve thought to himself, “These Americans, they have no idea.” And he was probably right.
I don’t know much about this Mediterranean cuisine aside from what I’ve had at the Olive Tree behind Kahala Mall. I didn’t realize the breadth of cuisine this place has to offer. Lots of pork and fish and rabbit. Tons of eggplant, olives, cheese and yogurt. And a surprising use of honey and nuts, too.
So on our first night in Athens, we decided to check out one of the local taverns that came recommended by the woman who worked at the apartments at which we were staying. (The best recommendations always come from the locals, not always the guidebooks.)
So here’s what our first meal in Athens looked like:
Our apartment is located between the tourist attractions of the Acroplis and this little neighborhood with lots of local restaurants, taverns and shops. We popped into this place, called Βυρίνης, for some mezés (small dishes) and maybe an entree or two.
We started with this dish: pureed fava beans topped with onions, capers and tomatoes (4.20 Euro). I’m not a big fava bean fan, but the texture here was smooth and palatable. The onions and tomatoes were a nice touch.
Our next dish was a salad — and the Greeks are big on salads. This was called a vyrini (5.50 Euros), a big bowl filled with juicy red tomato wedges, feta cheese, olives, onions and pieces of bread topped with a house vinaigrette. Absolutely delicious.
Here’s the grilled oyster mushrooms (5 Euros) that tasted a lot like steak. As mushrooms tend to do. It was a very simple dish, seasoned with probably just salt and pepper, then grilled. Easy and delicious.
We ordered meatballs (6.20 Euros), which were made with freshly minced beef, garlic and mint. The mint is what took this meatball to another level. The flavors were pronounced but subtle and matched well with this tomato-based dipping sauce.
The only disappointment — and I use that word in the most respectful way — was the chicken soulvaki (7.50 Euros). It just tasted like grilled chicken, nothing special. But the homemade fries, cut and fried to order, were pretty stellar. Why is it that Europeans make the best fries…?
And the finale: dessert of panna cotta (3.50 Euros) that was sheer perfection. Panna cotta is an Italian dessert made by simmering together cream, milk and sugar and creating a gelatin-like custard. This was perfectly done and almost tasted like a creamy condensed milk pudding. Topped with honey, it doesn’t get any better than this.
Follow my #CatTravels adventures in Greece and Crete on Instagram @catherinetoth and on Twitter @thedailydish.