Eating in Athens: What to try and were to go

Greece is an amazing food destination and there were a lot of things I loved eating in Athens! There are so many great dishes, as well as an abundance of fresh, quality food and spices. I definitely left the country quite a few pounds heavier than when I entered it.

What makes Greek food so special?

Everyone has heard about the Mediterranean diet, packed with fresh tomatoes, olives, yoghurt, fish and olive oil. It’s known as one of the healthiest diets in the world, but there’s also an incredibly fatty, indulgent side to this cuisine with béchamel-smothered moussaka, as well as deep-fried cheese balls.

Food is a big part of Greek life, with families and friends regularly gathering for big meals and many holiday celebrations built around this practice. A lot of heart goes into Greek cooking and the best dishes are the ones that feel like a mother or grandmother made it.

Eating in Athens: Food to try

I really loved eating in Greece and will definitely take quite a few recipes home with me. I’m leaving Greek salad off this list because it’s a little lame. Also leaving tzatziki off the list as it’s just a dip and I’ll never understand why people get so excited about it.

Moussaka

Because duh! You can’t leave Greece without having authentic moussaka. Avoid tourist traps because low-quality moussaka is just sad and don’t order it in a fancy restaurant that will do something pretentious, like deconstruct it (total waste and a very different end product). Instead find a restaurant that looks local or specialises in home cooking.

Alternatively (or as well), try Pastitsio! My waist did not appreciate this, but my God, it’s amazing. Thick béchamel layer on top with a meat sauce and clumps of long macaroni-like pasta underneath. Pure comfort food.

Souvlaki

First of all, do not order these in a restaurant. They are not meant to be eaten on a large plate, soggy and dripping in sauce. Souvlaki is the Greek equivalent of a Cornish pasty or a sausage sandwich – they’re meant to be hand-held and eaten during a food pit-stop or lunch break. Traditional is the best – pork chunks, Greek yoghurt or tzatziki, tomato, onion and maybe some coriander. Don’t get fancy.

NB: Souvlaki means ‘skewer,’ so some places will just give you meat on a skewer and no pita. You want to eat it Gyro-style, but with skewered meat instead of shaved kebab meat (yuck).

Fried Pork

The Greeks know how to do simple food well. One of my favourite things to order was flattened pork loin (so it’s thin and nothing overcooks) lightly seasoned and tossed in lemon. Combine with a feta-aubergine bake and you’re in heaven.

Spanakopita (Spinach Pie)

This is a classic midweek dinner in Greece and way better than the reheated stew I was served as a kid back in Ireland! It’s a filo pastry pie with spinach and feta filling – really tasty and definitely one to try if you want an authentic food experience. I made a few homemade versions during my stay and they really are very comforting.

Marathopites (Fennel Pie)

A simple water-and-flour pastry turned into a fennel parcel. It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s tough to stop eating! It’s actually a Crete dish, but a number of places serve them in Athens, so if you see one on the menu, grab it!

Stafili Gliko

Never saw this in restaurants, but regularly bought it in supermarkets and at market stalls. Some people describe is as grape preserve, but that makes it sound like jam, which it isn’t. Basically, it’s a combination of grapes and syrup. The grapes marinate in the syrup and if it’s made right, it shouldn’t be too sweet. I ate a heaped spoon of this with some Greek yoghurt for breakfast most mornings and loved it!

Special Mentions…

Not worthy of their own sections, but still worth tasting: Baklava, Tiropites, Olives from a market,  Dolmathakia and Loukoumades.

Favourite places to eat in Athens

Honestly, it’s hard to find really good quality restaurants in the main areas of Athens. Far too many tourist joints around and more coffee shops and bakeries than restaurants in a lot of places, such as my neighbourhood. There were a few gems though…

For the best souvlaki, you need to visit O Kostas, which is said to be the longest-running souvlaki place in Athens. They open in the morning and keep serving until their food runs out, which can be around 2:30pm on a busy day. Get there around 11:30am or 12pm to beat the crowds and get your souvlaki for €2.30.

If you want some authentic home-cooking, Taverna Rozalia is a great choice (get the moussaka or meatballs or both!). For brunch, I’d recommend Mama Roux. You won’t really find traditional Greek dishes here, but you will leave happy and well-fed.

As I type, I’m kicking myself for continuously forgetting to get the name of my favourite restaurant in Athens – it sounds ridiculous, I know! It was written in Greek and I intended to get the English translation, but would always get distracted by good food and good company. The restaurant is on Meg. Alexandrou at the corner of Mikinon (street), which is a five-minute walk from the Kerameikos Metro stop. Among the many amazing (and cheap) dishes they do, they also have an excellent fennel pie, so please try to find it!

I also had a favourite Mexican place just off Athens’ famous Ermou St. It’s called Taqueria Maya, the owner is an absolute gem and the food is just great. Lots of great choices, but I nearly always ordered the Cubano!

What about grocery shopping?

As a digital nomad, grocery shopping is my main food source. AB is the big supermarket chain in Athens and I was lucky enough to have one just five minutes from my apartment. I also had a smaller 24-hour store around the corner, which was a lifesaver considering AB closed every Sunday. AB has everything you need and every one I visited had a good meat and cheese counter, but you should try some specialist shops at Athens Central Market for a top-class selection.

So there you have it – a rather broad view of eating in Athens for both tourists and nomads.