Greece is in an economic crisis. As a visitor, it was my duty to contribute to the economy – by buying a lot of food.
Every place I ate at was located in the tourist area around the Acropolis and the Plaka neighborhood.
My favorite meal was at Attalos. I ordered moussaka and fritters.
Moussaka is a casserole of layered potatoes, ground meat, and eggplant, and topped with a thick pillowy layer of Bechamel sauce. The roots of moussaka lie in Ottoman cuisine, and the dish is eaten in Greece, the Middle East, and the Balkans. A good alternative to lasagna.
The fritters are listed separately on the menu as zucchini and tomato, but my waiter was able to bring me both flavors, so ask! Friendly service.
The outside is extremely light and crispy, almost like freeze-dried fruit. The insides are doughy and exploding with flavor.
Very reasonable prices and fantastic people-watching.
I also found another place, Xenios Zeus, whose food (and service) wasn’t mind-blowing but had several set menu options that were great because they came with small portions of a lot of stuff so that was efficient for tourists like us – stereotypical Greek salad, tzatziki, spanakopita, hummus, more veggie fritters. What looks like an Asian egg roll is phyllo-wrapped vinegary red cabbage. There was also an interesting fish egg roe cream I fed to the stray cats.
We started off with olives and garlic bread.
Vegetable fritters were lifeless compared to the ones from Attalos, but I would’ve thought they were great without the comparison.
After the appetizer plates were the mains. Great lemony potatoes.
Stuffed grape leaves as the vegetarian option –
At first glance the rice filling here looks like the Spanish/Mexican rice available at a lot of places in the States, from the burritos of low-brow fast food courts to genuinely wonderful family restaurants. The tomato flavor was pronounced as can be expected from a glance but there was a strong sourness as the first flavor note that touched everything. This isn’t a bad thing, because it brightens up the dish to make it less heavy. I think acidity is something that can define Greek food, just as sweetness defines Korean food.
For dessert, some delicate cake that had been soaked through with syrup. It would have been much better warmed.
Xenios Zeus will not be serving up meals of a lifetime, but the various set menus’ value is unbeatable for all the different tastes we experienced.
Speaking of dessert…
I went to Patisserie Artemis three times in four days, getting two pistachio baklava each time (5.50 euros for two). The phyllo on top is extremely light and papery, and the bottom is squishy and dense with all the honey oozing down. Patisserie Artemis is right next to the Acropolis and everything in that store is dangerous.
There’s baklava in the ice cream! And ice cream in the baklava!
Baklava’s an interesting food. It is common throughout regions influenced heavily by the Ottoman Empire, and the Ottoman Empire was really big, so there’s a lot of countries where baklava is a traditional pastry – Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Iran, Palestine, the Maghreb, the Crimea…all with regional variations of spices and shapes, all equally addicting. I love learning about history through food because it’s the one thing guaranteed to have been a constant in the lives of everyone of a given civilization. Not everyone in a culture may appreciate or participate in the art or religion or martial activities of the culture, but everyone had to eat. Food culture is the culture that reaches the most people.
Another Ottoman food, eaten in Turkey (where it’s called simit) and the Balkans as well as Greece – koulouri. For 60 cents, a sesame-encrusted ring of happiness that’s partly crisp, partly chewy. Bagels, you have competition.
After all this eating every day I needed to nap like this dog I saw at the Ancient Agora of Athens. Or this friendly stray cat, one of very many. I probably looked more like the dog than the cat if we’re being honest.