Christmas Treats

Now anyone from Greece is probably already familiar with all of these, but for the two of us, Christmas in another country presents the perfect opportunity to try new foods, particularly those only served during or around the holiday. So far, we’ve been able to try to try the following:

1. Potato starch gruel with cinnamon and syrup– trust us, it’s better (at least slightly) than it sounds (or looks.) This dessert is served by men and women who work at pushcarts, and while we have yet to see it in Athens, it’s all the rage in Thessaloniki. Instead of merely pouring it into a cup, the vendor pours it between the two cups, demonstrating the ‘stretchiness’ of the mastic (a gum harvested from pistachio trees.)

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2.  Kourabeides (buttery almond shortbread covered in powdered sugar)  — not only do these small cookies pack a buttery punch, they include whole almonds as well as almond flour. The best of them have a higher percentage almond flour.

 

3. Melomakarona (honey cookies with nuts on top of them)  — almost a mini-cake, these treats can be served as is or in a chocolate-covered form.

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4. Tsoureki — a brioche bread, served braided with sesame seeds on top, or stuffed with filling (chocolate,  hazelnut, or chestnut), and if stuffed, covered in a thin icing of the same flavor (often with a second flavor drizzled on top.) The braided shape reminded us of challah, though the flavor of the bread is sweeter.

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What is a Greek Breakfast?

While we have noticed few Greeks eating in cafes (instead, cafes seem to be locations at which one has a coffee and maybe a small cookie), we have noticed quite a few people selling what is advertised as breakfast food. That, combined with 4 days being served breakfast at a hotel in Thessaloniki, make us feel as though we managed to get a rather clear handle on what is considered breakfast in Greece.

One important caveat: there is a large portion of the Greek population that doesn’t get up in time for breakfast because they don’t leave the clubs until 8am. This is not abnormal. In fact, one day we managed to get laughed at for running past a club, at 7am, because the patrons were utterly perplexed as to why we’d get up and brave the cold in running gear rather than staying inside (and dancing until dawn.)

Enjoy this list & mini slideshow of the foods that we were served:

  • Greek yogurt (mostly full fat, though we were offered a low fat option) served next to jars full of: museli (which was a mix of cornflakes, wheat flakes, oatmeal, and cheerios), a raw trail mix (made up of sunflower seeds, almonds, walnuts, pepitas, currents, and goji berries) and honey;
  • Tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, grilled zucchini, grilled peppers, and other veggies;
  • Feta, gouda, and emmental cheese and charcuterie (smoked meats);
  • Bagele (a round cross between a breadstick and a baguette, covered in sesame seeds), sliced bread, corn muffins, bread filled with currents, baguette, a cheese-filled phyllo dough option, and feta-filled pastry that was almost like an empanada.

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Lunch in Thessaloniki

We should probably mention that we’re pretty active tourists. We love a good museum and a long walk. So, it was no surprise that after visiting the Rotunda and the White Tower in Thessaloniki, we were ready to eat lunch! Also, it was 3 pm and that tends to be a Greek lunch time (or so we are learning.)

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We began with a classic salad — however, much to our surprise, it included pieces of Haloumi cheese, fancy croutons, and was served in a flour tortilla taco bowl. The dressing was a simple mix of olive oil and a slightly aged balsamic vinegar. Surprise!

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Salad with Haloumi

We had read about the classic Greek meatballs in tomato sauce, and had decided that this would be the meal at which to try them. Made of pork, they were salty and a bit sweet. The tomato sauce exaggerated the sweetness and the rice was a nice fluffy long grain.

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Traditional Meatballs

For us, no meal is complete in Greece without eggplant so we ordered roasted vegetable plate. This came assembled like a pyramid, with a wooden skewer holding the tower in place. Fortunately for us, that tower included eggplant. The dish came topped with an aged balsamic and sesame seeds, and was served on a bed of lettuce.

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Mixed Veggies

We also got some crispy anchovies, served on a bed of greens, onions and cherry tomatoes.

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Anchovies

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A Most Amusing Dinner

So, we were off to visit Meteora. However, since Meteora (home of the world famous monasteries built into cliffsides) is not at all close to Nafplio, we determined that it made sense to stay in Trikala the night before. Trikala is known as a student haven, and we thought that it might offer a nice place to stay. Little did we know just how hospitable the folks there would be.

As we walked around Trikala, we noticed a small sausage maker’s shop, in which hung over 100 freshly made sausages. Since we could see the vendor making the sausages, we eagerly stopped and motioned towards him, asking if it would be alright for us to take a picture. He indicated that it was, and once we had finished, beckoned us inside.

After trying (and failing) to determine what herbs he used in the sausages, he insisted on gifting one to us, a gift that we could hardly refuse given his obvious pride in his work (and how good the sausages smelled.) He even walked us next store, to the schwarma spot and asked if the cook would grill the sausage. With only a spit for schwarma, the chef was unable to help.

But, raw sausages do not make a great dinner, so we soldiered on in search of a more filling meal. We eventually found a taverna with a good looking menu, and procured a table for four. Here we began with a cabbage and grated carrot salad, lightly dressed with olive oil and lemon (included in quarters on the side.)

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We followed this with mushrooms cooked in olive oil– they were possibly some of the best mushrooms I’ve ever tasted, meaty and fresh, and of course it didn’t hurt that they were served with more lemon.

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Our other salad was an assortment of steamed vegetables, including carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower. They were again served with lemon, and while we both chose to add salt and pepper, the restaurant did an excellent job of blanching the vegetables without overcooking them.

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In addition, we ordered a dish of grilled peppers that came in olive oil, the restaurant having taken care to remove their skins.

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For mains, we ordered eggplant in tomato sauce with feta, which was warm and comforting, and light on the feta, which allowed the tomato and eggplant to shine through.

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We also ordered a dish of orzo with cinnamon spiced beef brisket and a tomato sauce with cheese and oregano. The meat was so tender it fell apart.

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And last, but certainly not least, we persuaded the staff to cook the sausage that we had so kindly been given on our way there. The sausage was excellent. Hot, with a lovely crunch to the casing, it was almost a paragon of pork sausage.

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Now, after eating all of this delicious food, we were ready to pay the check– but nope! Trikala’s hospitality struck again, and our waiter swooped down with a plate full of seed cake (called ‘halva’, which more closely resembled Indian than Middle Eastern halvas) and vanilla ice cream. It was a not-very-sweet, but very grainy and texgturally exciting dessert. What a perfect end to our evening meal, and just enough to fortify us to walk around in Trikala’s winter weather.

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Cafe at the Fogaro

We walked to the Fougaro in new Nafplio in order to enjoy something of the modern era in Greece. Our walk took us through newer parts of Nafplio til we arrived at the repurposed tomato canning factory. There we enjoyed viewing the art exhibition, the Christmas market, the art gift shop, the book studio, the ceramic studio, the outdoor art pieces, and of course the tall funnel (“fougaro”) which gives the campus its name, and which was dramatically lit with red light.

Of course, we got hungry! So, we couldn’t resist checking out the cafe. The cafe space was a perfect spot for relaxing, especially since we ended up at a low ceramic coffee table and sitting in deep comfortable couches and chairs. To drink, we ordered Be Active Tea (a rooibos blend with cinnamon, cloves, etc.) for the Baker, a Lemon Verbena Tea for the non-baker, a mastic lemon home-spun soda, and a home-spun cherry soda.

But of course we also wanted to order some snacks, so we ended up ordering a sesame cabbage salad.

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Unbeknownst to us, we would also be rewarded with some chocolate chocolate-chip butter cookies for ordering tea.

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The Hellenic Gastronomy Society: A Lunch

Two days ago we passed a small lunch spot on a side street that showed it was open only from 13:00 to 16:00 daily, except Mondays. The front of the restaurant was not very showy, but it had an air about it that made up take note. We decided it was the perfect spot to go for a lunch.

After a morning of walking around Nafplio, seeing the ancient fortresses and walking along the sea and onto the piers, we were ready for some food. So we returned to the lunch spot (as approximately 2:45 pm, what we have come to understand as an appropriate lunch time).

We began our lunch with the usual bread and oil, but this time, the oil had olives served in it and the first course was followed by a glass of Ouzo.

Next, we were served a delicious cabbage salad with carrots, dressed heavily with lemon and with some olive oil, a large Greek salad (tomato, cucumber, red onion, green peppers, and olives in olive oil), and an eggplant dip (torn eggplant, oregano, red pepper, and parsley).

We also ordered a warm dish, gigante beans, cooked in a fresh and flavorful tomato sauce that still allowed the flavor of the beans to come through.

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And we decided to try to meat dishes. The first was white anchovies dressed in olive oil and vinegar and sprinkled with cayenne, giving it a lovely finishing kick.

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Finally, we also decided to try the omini-present (on Greek menus anyway) chicken souvlaki. This was the freshest chicken either of us has had in some time, served with a bit of oregano seasoning, fat yellow-grained rice, and freshly fried french fries. It was also served with a wedge of lemon, which we squeezed over it.

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Since this was a birthday lunch, one of us managed to convince the waitress to bring over a dessert and help us sing ‘happy birthday’. This was accompanied by small bowls of poached pear spoon sweets.

 

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Greecian Breakfast in Nafplio

On our third day in Greece, we finally got the experience of trying a Greek breakfast. Well, a breakfast in Greece, though we’re not entirely convinced that anyone Greek eats anything before at least 1pm. Our previous days (including the one on which we arrived in Greece) we slept in too long or been on the road. And, today is also our Mother’s birthday and because she enjoys breakfast we wanted to make sure to try it.

Breakfast began with local sliced sesame topped bread, butter (which marks the first time we were served butter in Greece!), honey (which we think was local), apricot compote and black cherry compote.

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Then the server also asked what type of coffee (drip, espresso, Nescafe or Greek) or tea we wanted to begin with. Two of us had Greek coffees (a single and a double respectively), one of us had Nescafe, and one of us had mint tea. Next, we were served a hardboiled egg, full fat (at least that is what we guess) Greek yogurt, stewed black cherries in a black cherry syrup (what we believe are called “spoon sweets”), orange juice and a toasted ham and cheese sandwich. The eggs were served in egg cups. The table had salt and pepper shakers, and they were quite useful at this point in the meal.

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Wild black cherry compote, honey, greek yogurt

 

Finally, we were served a slice of orange cake with a sugar syrup. It was sweet and flora-ly in taste and smell and had a wonderful depth/subtle spice. The texture was moist and delicious.

After the wonderful hike up the 999 (or 987, depending on who you ask) stairs to Palamidi Castle, it was the perfect activity to quench our thirst and break our fast (breakfast).

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