Tyropita, Shrimp Saganaki and other Greek Delicacies…

Restaurant 1800 in Santorini

Greek food is much more than the standard grub you get here in the states.  Yes, Gyros are a popular snack in Greece but there is also spanakopita, tyropita (puff pastry with cheese) and a wide variety of nuts and other snacks to gorge on while walking the ancient streets near the Acropolis and elsewhere.  Here are the culinary highlights of my ten day visit to Athens, Santorini and Crete in October 2007 (roughly in order experienced):

TEA AT THE GRAND BRETAGNE HOTEL – After spending much of the day strolling through the Acropolis in Athens, I was ready for my daily afternoon coffee.  I chose the Grand Bretagne Hotel at Syntagma Square as it was conveniently located and because I love visiting “grand” hotels.  This British beauty did not disappoint me.  The lobby was elegant yet understated and it was busy with Greek businessmen and women as well as European guests, etc.  I decided to have a pot of tea in the hotel lobby as I wanted to take in the ambience of this five star establishment.  A gorgeous Russian woman in a black dress escorted me to my table and five minutes later, another woman approached to take my order.  I asked for the green tea and since it did not arrive after waiting patiently for 15 minutes (!), I motioned the hostess to come over.  She quickly darted to the kitchen to find out what happened.  She came back moments later with my tea apologizing for the mistake.  After enjoying the tea, I asked for the check hoping that I would at least get a discount for this $12 pot of tea!  She replied with:  “Sir, your tea is on the house.  We are so sorry for the mixup.”

LUNCH AT SARDELLES – On Saturday after visiting Technopolis, I decided to have lunch in a seafood restaurant.  I had read earlier that Sardelles was a very highly rated restaurant in Gazi – an up and coming neighborhood near the Acropolis.  I sat down at an outdoor table as the weather was perfect.   I ordered a plate of grilled sardines as it was a specialty of this attractive, popular restaurant.  It came with some unknown green, leafy vegetable which was obviously steamed and quite tasty.  As for the sardines, they were absolutely delicious!  Grilled to perfection, a tad chard and just full of flavor.  Yes, it took a little work removing heads and skeletons but it was totally worth it!

COFFEE AND CAKE AT A CAFE NEAR THE ACROPOLIS – Later in the day at around sunset I sat down at a table in a lively cafe with views of the Acropolis that I had scoped out two days earlier.  I ordered a Greek coffee and a delicious nut cake slathered in honey.  I admired the lighted Pathenon and listened to others nearby chatting away in Greek, French and English while enjoying my cake and very strong coffee.  I was now fortified for another stroll around the Acropolis – an activity I enjoyed every evening when I was in Athens.

SANTORINI SALAD AT ZAFORA – Ethnic food always tastes better in its country of origin.  While I have never been a big fan of Greek Salad, I had to have it in Greece and am glad I had it on the strikingly beautiful island of Santorini.  After spending the morning and early afternoon walking the streets of Fira and checking out the 3,600 year old wall paintings in the museum, I sat down at a restaurant which had a view of the caldera.   I was in the mood for something simple and the Santorini Salad sounded perfect.  My Moldovan waiter (lots of East Europeans and Brazilians work during the tourist season on the islands) told me it’s a Greek Salad with island grown, cherry tomatoes and caperberry leaves.  A few minutes later it arrived along with a large glass of white wine.  I enjoyed my meal while taking in the view of the cruise ships down below.

DINNER AT 1800 – My friend and I had an excellent alfresco dinner in this popular, elegant restaurant in Oia – by far the most beautiful town on the island.  I had a creamed fennel soup with shrimp, pork medallions in a cumin and pepper sauce with lentils and a delicious dessert.  Excellent!

DINNER AT ROKA – On the following day, my friend and I had dinner at this hard to find restaurant in Oia especially since it came recommended by two Americans we just met on the streets of Oia.  While this rustic Greek “bistro” was empty, I am so glad we ate here as we had one of the best meals in Greece at this tiny restaurant.  We were seated out on the patio from which there is a view of the caldera.  Folks at the two other tables on this patio were busy consuming their food and chatting away in Greek.  Here are some of the superb dishes we sampled:  Fried tomato balls, Shrimp Saganaki, meatballs in cumin and Ouzo and grilled Haloumi cheese.  All were superb!

DINNER AT MERASTRI – This restaurant in Iraklio, capital of Crete, came highly recommended by the concierge of our hotel.  My friend and I wanted to try the local cuisine as we had heard that it’s quite delicious.  We made reservations at 8pm and when we arrived were surprised not to see any customers!  We came to the conclusion that Cretans must not eat until 9 or 10pm like the Spaniards.  While it was a bit awkward, once I started eating the dishes we ordered I quickly forgot that the restaurant was empty.  Here are some of the local dishes we had:  veggie omelet, dolmas, tomato bread, lamb shanks, locally made cheeses, raki and spoon dessert.  The latter is a very sweet and thick, stewed fruit that you eat with a spoon.

DINNER AT ERGANOS – The highlight at this rustic, Cretan restaurant in Iraklio was the spaghetti with dried cottage cheese.  It’s basically spaghetti that is boiled in the broth of a cooked lamb and topped with a crumpled, locally made, dried cheese.  Also, we had dolmas, Gaviera cheese, gilled pork chops, and cake.  Like at most other times, we ate alfresco as the weather was very pleasant during our stay in Greece.

MY TOP FIVE GREEK DISHES:  Spaghetti with Dried Cheese, Fried Tomato Balls, Creamed Fennel Soup with Shrimp, Santorini Salad, Meatballs in Cumin and Ouzo

FOOD SOUVENIRS:  Spoon dessert, nougat and Mastic.  The latter is a tree resin from the island of Chios that is made into gum and used in cooking.  It’s definitely an acquired taste.

More photos of Greece on my Gallery.

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About Robert Kavalek

Robert Kavalek is a travel consultant who shares his love for traveling the world on theTRAVELER (www.RobertKavalek.com). While his specialties are Paris, Mexico and "digital overload escapes", he can advise clients on any type of vacation. In addition, he writes about travel destinations and travel tips on his blog and Facebook page. Robert has visited 31 countries and territories and hopes to check out at least one new country every year. He currently lives in Washington, DC.
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