I think it’s quite natural that when you say the word “Greek” often the next word thought of is “food”. I’ve been eating Greek food for as long as I can remember – every time my parents would ask what my sister and I wanted for our take-out treats, we would always unanimously shout “gyros!”. When I found out I would be attending Travel Bloggers Exchange 2014 in Athens, Greece the first thought on my mind was all of the amazing gyros I was going to eat. When I noticed TBEX was running a the Savoring Athens Food Tour for bloggers I signed up immediately, hoping I would get to learn a bit more about Greek food… little did I know that this tour would change my entire perception of the city.
As a historical travel blogger, I love finding different ways to learn about a culture. Food may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of history, but food is a great way to learn about a culture. Our tour started midday in Monastiraki Square. The tour is run by dopios (click here to visit their site!) and our guide George was wonderful! If you are ever in Athens and thinking about doing this tour, you should definitely request him.
First we stopped for some world famous koulouri, a tasty, almost pretzel-like Greek snack. You can find these all over Athens so it was a natural first stop on the tour!
Our next stop was a cheese store where we were able to try a variety of Greek cheeses including feta, metsovone and more. I think feta cheese is still my personal favourite, although I did really enjoy trying some of the stronger cheeses.
Then we came to a wonderful little shop that sold products exclusively from Crete. Here we were able to taste olives, jam, honey and olive oil. There was a delicious green jam and instead of telling us what it was made from, we were asked to guess. It turned out to be olive jam, something I had never heard of before, and it was soooo yummy. The store has a wide range of products available to be sold, and also does gift baskets, which is quite handy since there is so much to choose from. This is also where we had our first taste of Raki – something that became a bit of a tradition throughout the afternoon!
The next stop on our tour was probably my favourite of the whole day. The store was called Elixir Herbs and Spices and, as its name suggests, was a store filled with bulk herbs and spices. The owner made us some fabulous tea blends of which my favourite was rose and caramel. We also got to taste a wide range of popular spices in Greece and I left the shop with my taste buds fully tantalized.
We then continued on to Miran, a meat shop which was unlike anything I have ever seen. There was meat and spices hanging from every inch of the ceiling. We got to taste some delicious water buffalo salami and Greek prosciutto and washed it down with some more Raki!
Next we went to the markets which were full of fresh food. One thing that amazed me about Athens was how affordable it was to buy good quality fresh food. We made our way through the fruit and vegetable market, the fish market and then the meat market and in all three it seemed like there were endless amounts of product on display. I must warn that the meat market is not for the faint of heart – there are skinned cow heads and skinned bunny rabbits with their furry tails still on display – but it is amazing to see.
The sweet phase of the tour was up next and it did not disappoint. We visited a honey shop where we tasted a variety of honeys, including bitter honey, which I had never tasted before. For some reason I had never associated Greece with honey, and it was really interesting to learn that the production of honey is not only a big part of their food market but also of their history and culture.
After that we stopped at a local liquor shop where we tasted some delicious fruity blends. After thoroughly enjoying the liquor tasting we headed to the Omonia Square area where we stopped at two dessert shops to enjoy the sweet side of Greek cuisine. The first stop was Zaxapopaateio, a shop that has been opened since 1912 and exclusively specializes in these delicious little dough balls drenched in honey. The second dessert stop was at Γαλακτοπωλείο where we sampled Greek yogurt, cake and a delicious rice pudding.
By the end of the tour, we were absolutely full! I knew I was going to enjoy the tour from the moment I signed up, but I never realized it would have such an impact on my view of the city. What I loved most about the tour was that it really highlighted some special places that, not having known better, I probably would have passed by on the street. One thing that stuck with me from TBEX, and was pointed out to us from the mayor of Athens, is that Athens has had a hard time over the last few years in the mainstream media, and as a result their tourism has suffered. What is great about this food tour by dopios is that it shows you the real Athens. It doesn’t take you to fancy, expensive restaurants where tourists eat – it takes you to local, everyday shops used by Athenians. Each stop had some amazing secrets behind their doors, and it is simply something a tourist would not be able to recognize at first glance.
So my advice to you? If you’re in Athens, take the Savoring Athens Food Tour and I guarantee you will not be disappointed. The tour is very reasonably priced compared to other food tours in the city, which allows you to have money to purchase goodies along the way. Whether you are interested in food, drink, culture or history, if you’re looking for the real Athens experience – this is it.