While in Athens, we ate almost exclusively at casual, local places called “tavernas” (ταβέρνα). A taverna is sort of like our equivalent of a pub – a small, casual restaurant that serves local, Greek cuisine. Prices are usually quite reasonable, and the atmosphere is decidedly very Greek – traditional Greek music or even Greek dancing is not unusual.
In the touristy parts of Greece (e.g., Plaka), there are tavernas everywhere trying desperately to get your business. They are not shy, and they will stand outside their storefronts fearlessly beckoning you to enter.
We decided that any place that’s super aggressive must not be very good, so we took care to do our research and sought out well-reviewed places. Not surprisingly, the places we chose (which were all very good), did not have a single aggressive person standing outside trying to get people to come in.
The first place we visited was a lovely restaurant called Psarras, which bills itself as Plaka’s oldest restaurant. It’s situated up the hill (towards the Acropolis) and serves authentic, traditional Greek fare.
I love the traditional Greek salad, which consists of a base of tomatoes, peppers, and onions topped with olives and a big chunk of feta cheese, A simple drizzle of extra virgin olive oil serves as the dressing.
We ordered a classic “oven baked lamb and potatoes,” which is a common Sunday dinner dish in Greece.
This very traditional Greek dish consists of 1) layers of thinly sliced eggplant on the bottom, 2) ground lamb sauteed with onions, garlic, tomatoes, and spices in the middle, and 3) bechamel sauce or custard on top. The entire, hearty entree is baked and then served with a flavorful sauce.
Our second night in Athens we visited yet another taverna in the Plaka where we sampled even more traditional Greek dishes.
You see stuffed grape leaves (dolmadakia) all over America, and you see them in Greece too! I love grape leaves, so of course I enjoyed these delicious rice stuffed grape leaves, which were served with olives and lemons.
The fried fish dish initially looked pretty boring. “How is this any different from Fish & Chips?”
The secret is completely in the sauce. The fish came with a generous side of this lovely garlic sauce, called skordalia (αλιάδα), that was absolutely delicious. The sauce is simple – pulverized garlic with olive oil, mashed potato, and an acidic component (either lemon or vinegar). It sort of reminds me of aoili or allioli from other European countries. It worked beautifully with the fish and we actually couldn’t stop eating it!
The fried calamari was good – nothing particularly special or different, but decent.
Here is a lamb dish that (I believe) was topped with cheese. Flavorful, rich, and hearty on a cold rainy night (yes, so sad, but it rained in Greece several days while I was there!).
This baked eggplant dish was much richer than we had expected, though it was quite good.
Fresh fruit with cinnamon – a surprisingly simple but perfect ending to a satisfying meal.
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