The Athens food scene is pack with snacks, most of which you can feel good about because they’re made with healthy ingredients like olive oil, honey, local cheeses and fresh vegetables. (Chemical-laden and processed convenience foods are hardly appealing when you’ve got a cuisine as tasty as that of the Greeks.) If you find yourself walking around the city centre and in want of something to snack on, here are some of the ‘fast food’ choices that Athenians love — and the best shops for tasting them.
In Greece, locals do not usually eat a complete breakfast. Enter koulouri, a circular-shaped bread coated with sesame seeds, and a favourite option for the early morning hours. Served either soft or crispy, it makes for a nice breakfast on foot, so you can sightsee while you snack. You will find koulouri sold on almost on every street corner of the city, but there are two shops where it is particularly good.
Located in the renovated, edgy area of Psiri and very close to the historical centre, The Koulouri of Psiri is small bakery that has been around for more than 15 years. It is also one of the most well-known in Athens, serving delicious, hot and freshly baked koulouri covered with sesame seeds. It’s also open all day, so no worries if you missed breakfast hours. Kairaskaki 23. Tel.: 21 0321 5962
A few minutes’ walk from there in Monastiraki, Oven Sesame is another excellent choice for this traditional Greek snack. Apart from its traditional version, the shop offers koulouri filled with olives or cheese, or other delicious combinations. It is open from 9am to 11pm. Aiolou 17. Tel.: 21 0323 0038
Pies are an essential part of our gastronomic life, and Ariston is one of the best places to try them. Once you reach the shop, you will see different kinds of pies, all beautifully decorated and delicately displayed in the window. Inside the shop, the mouthwatering smells will make you want to try everything: cheese pies, mushroom pies, spanakopita — all made by hand and with love by the owners. The shop has been around since 1910 and still uses its traditional recipes. Don’t miss their cheese pie, gourou, the house specialty with a yeasted, yogurt dough. It’s crunchy and served with a cheese sauce that melts in your mouth. Open from 9am to 6pm. Voulis 10. Tel.: 21 0322 7626
Not far from Ariston, near Syntagma, is Mam, serving cheese pies that have their own unique character. A family business since 1967, it’s one of our Athens tour guides‘ favourite stops. I always pop in to buy a kaseropita whenever I am in the area. This is a cheese pie made with the local kasseri cheese — savoury and very tasty. It has an unusual flavor and is one of the best bites to try downtown. MOM Pesmatzoglou and Stadiou.
Crepes are a snack for every hour of the day, from early in the morning until late at night. And while they may have a French origin, Athenians love them. One off the best spots to enjoy is Amalthea, a beautiful, traditional milk shop in the heart of Plaka, and serving one of the best and most filling crepes. You can order either salty or sweet, but no matter what you choose, the presentation is lovely and the flavours outstanding. Our advice: try the one with chocolate and ice cream. Open from 11am to 1pm. Tripodon 16. Tel.: 21 0322 4635
Aisthḗseis is a cosy little creperie that has been a local favourite for more than 15 years, with a great variety of either savoury or sweet crepes. Not sure what to order? Let the owner choose for you — he always suggests the best combinations once he hears what guests like. With soft jazz in the background and a glass of wine in-hand, you can either enjoy your crepe sitting at the counter or taking it out. Open from 9am to 2am. Kolokotroni 16.
Loukoumades are Greek donut balls, deep-fried for a few minutes and then drizzled with honey syrup. One of the country’s favourite snacks for more than a century, this dessert is a firm part of Greek food culture. A great place to try them is the Ktistakis pastry shop. With a history of more than 100 years, Ktistakis’s loukoumades are made using a family recipe — crispy on the outside with syrup on the inside (rather than on top), which gives them a unique taste and texture. They are served with honey, sesame and cinnamon, and are well worth the calories. Open from 9am to 8:30pm. Sokratous 59, Omonia.
Another favourite of ours is near Monastiraki. Lukumades serves this delicious snack either the traditional way with honey and cinnamon, or with chocolate sauce, ice cream or other additions. Open from 8am to 1pm. Aiolou 21. Tel.: 21 0321 0880. (#localsknow tip: hop on our Taste of Athens tour for a visit to Lukumades as well as other foodie hot spots!)
If there is one thing you should most definitely eat in Greece, it’s (no surprise) souvlaki or gyros. By far the most famous Greek street food, it can be enjoyed both as a snack or a full meal. The classic version is chopped pork or lamb — roasted vertically on a rotating mini spit — accompanied by fried potatoes, juicy tomatoes, freshly sliced onion, parsley and tzatziki made with yogurt, garlic and cucumber, all wrapped in pita bread. There are, of course, many variations, but this recipe is the most traditional.
Our favourite places downtown are Kostas at Ag. Irene square, which has been feeding locals since 1984, and Savvas at Monastiraki. Kosta’s: Agia Irinis Square, Monastiraki. Savvas: Ermou 91. Tel.: 21 0321 1167.
For thoses who prefer vegetarian snacks, Athens offers plenty of excellent choices. The small restaurant of Avocado is a local favourite. All of the ingredients are fresh and the options are many, including pizza, soups, pasta and desserts. Open from 12pm to 11pm and located close to Syntagma Square. Nikis 30. Tel.: 21 0323 7878
Mama Tierra serves vegan cuisine, including vegan burgers, hummus, quinoa salads and vegan moussakas. Open from 12pm to 10pm and located in the heart of Athens. Akadimias 84. Tel.: 21 1411 4420
Taste of Athens
Dig in to the ‘big five’ of Greek cuisine in their natural habitat on this Athens food tour: ouzo, feta, olives, olive oil, and koulouri, oh my!