Athens at the table – When visitors are looking for a different flavor

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ATHENS – At The National Herald, we’ll never stop singing the praises of Greek cuisine – in occasional articles, regular columns and special inserts – but in Athens…now you can enjoy more than our wonderful Greek diet /Mediterranean.

Greek and international media marveled at the 2022 tourism statistics – not just the totals, which are impressive, but the calendar entries. The central government and municipalities have finally succeeded in extending the season of summer’s attraction to sun, sea and sand.

Athens is at the heart of the new allure, and its food and drink offerings are among the keys that have made it a truly cosmopolitan city and a popular destination with interesting tavernas, restaurants, lounges and ‘barakia’ in every piece.

Some places were born out of entrepreneurship – “Athens needs more Japanese restaurants” – others, like in the United States, cater to the needs of immigrant groups. However, while some neighborhoods are known for particular ethnic groups – in some parts of Kallithea you’ll hear Russian as well as Greek spoken – not all of them generate restaurants. Nonetheless, many places host restaurants offering dishes from around the world… which Greek-Americans can enjoy when they fancy a change of culinary pace.

If you love Latin American food, there are a handful of Brazilian restaurants in Athens – and there are, believe it or not, at least 40 Mexican restaurants! What follows is a small smorgasbord (a Swedish word for a type of meal that includes several different foods and also refers to a wide variety of things) of the international cuisine that awaits you in Athens.

LONG LIVE FRANCE!

Although there has been a well publicized campaign to pressure the British Museum to return the Parthenon Marbles, little or nothing has been written about the fact that two of the greatest individual pieces of art ancient Hellenic painting, the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Venus de Milo, are also held captive in a famous foreign museum, in this case the Louvre in Paris. This does not shake Greek-French relations as it sometimes shakes Greek-British relations, and that is good, because most Greeks appreciate the support France has given their country in its dispute with Turkey. That said, there are about twenty French restaurants here, somewhat reflecting the past and current relationship between the cuisines of the two peoples. It is said that the taste of French cooks for fish sauces dates back to the encounter of the Crusaders with Byzantine cuisine – and who doesn’t love the bechamel sauce which is the taste base of pastitsio?

UNA FACIA, UNA PIATA

From time to time – and not only in the Greek media – there is a debate about the supposed Greek origins of…pizza. Let’s leave that aside for now – after all, there are so many other offerings from both nations to enjoy. And it’s no wonder: with so many Greek genes across the Adriatic and plenty of Italian genes among the inhabitants of the Greek islands and coasts, perhaps similar palates inevitably generate overlapping cuisines. At the very least, there’s a common love for olive oil and pasta – note the aforementioned pastitsio. As you would expect, there are a wide variety of Italian restaurants to choose from throughout Attiki.

PUT AWAY THE HISTORY FOR A LITTLE, ENJOY THE BEER

Few countries have had more complicated relations in recent years than those of Greece and Germany. Memories of a brutal World War II occupation live on in the minds of many Hellenes – along with the lingering problems of reparations and the return of forced loans. More recently, Berlin wasn’t as friendly with Athens during the Greek economic crisis – but there are hundreds of thousands of Greeks in Germany, many of whom own restaurants there. Back in their native land, they bring back some culinary habits.

UNA FACIA UNA, UNA PIATA II

Greece-Turkey relations are more than tense, they’re explosive, but it’s impossible to deny that in some parts of the world like Germany – and Brooklyn – if a person walks into a room and only hears music and only sees faces and only smells food, they don’t know if it’s a greek or turkish restaurant.

While anyone who loves the taste of Turkish food and drink can walk into one of Athens’ hundreds of restaurants and sample Greek versions of Turkish dishes, there are actually a number of authentic Turkish restaurants in the Greek capital. . There are, of course, many Greek-owned restaurants that offer the cuisine of Constantinople and Asia Minor, for example, Karamanlidika on Sokratous Street in central Athens. The “Karamanlides” are one of the ancient Hellenic populations that were driven out of Turkey in 1923 in a less than voluntary population exchange.

The category of “food of nations that were or are enemies of Greece” extends to Persians, and indeed, there are Iranian restaurants to choose from. Greece, however, has friends near and far, including Balkan countries that were once fierce rivals, if not enemies. There are restaurants offering dishes from Bulgaria, Serbia, Albania and Croatia.

Another cultural group includes nations that have Orthodox Christian populations – there are restaurants representing Lebanon, Syria and Georgia. Then there are the Eastern Orthodox nations who are so close to the religion of the Greeks and Russians that their theologians have already declared that there is no theological reason why they should not be in communion. Lay people, however, are not ready for this – but they do appreciate other people’s food. Armenian, Egyptian and Ethiopian cuisine can be tasted in Athens.

Although there are no restaurants representing Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK or Austria, there are pubs with colorful names like The James Joyce, Wee Dram Scottish Pub and Molly Mallone’s Irish Pub. Beer and liquor from the homelands flow freely – but some also offer their traditional food. On the other hand, their most popular products are well represented in several establishments in Athens like The Low Profile Whiskey Bar, Barley Cargo Downtown and Birmingham Beer House in Kallithea.

When Greeks or visitors from North and South America, Europe or Asia feel like trying more distant dishes, they will find Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Indian restaurants.

‘DADDY, I JUST WANT A BURGER’

For Americans, it’s a pleasant surprise to find great burger and pizza and barbecue joints. Yes, you can get a good steak in Athens.

On a final note, to end the sacrilege of my first sentence, I will sing a Hellenic thing – Greek bread. Oh, the marvelous bakeries of Attiki with this bread that we should consume less – but that we cannot stop eating. Bread is perhaps the most spiritual dimension of a meal, and the everlasting aroma of bread baking on the street at dawn is the best way to start a day. There is a reason why this product of (ideally) human hands is central to a Christian’s communion with the Divine.

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