What can I say? You just entered a world of succulent happiness. Thessaloniki has a top-rated cuisine amongst Greeks, so if you are fans of the Greek cuisine in general, you have just reached its palace.
The cuisine here is a mixture of the cuisines of Asia Minor, the cuisines of Pontus, ancient Macedonia, Thrace and Eastern Thrace, Italy and all of the many cultures and migrants that have lived here throughout this city’s many years. Thessaloniki has always been cosmopolitan, and you will soon discover it, plus there is an almost 100% guarantee of eating amazingly, even in the smallest or dodgiest of taverns.
Table Customs (No, we will not bore you with etiquette)
- Breakfast is eaten either when we wake up or most often than not eaten, much later or even skipped in favor of a plain cup of coffee, (and perhaps a cigarette).
- Lunch is most often the main eating time of the day and it is usually eaten around 13:30- 15:30.
- A big number of people take a nap after eating, to rejuvenate the brain after lunch. After eating, most of the body’s blood is around the stomach area, so that the brain cannot work to full speed. Midday sleep (or power nap/ ipnakos) has been shown to boost productivity, reduce the levels of stress, and give longevity.
- Dinner is eaten around 20:30-22:00 and is usually a smaller portion of lunch, a toast, some cereals or a salad. Very often though, it can be eating out with catastrophic results!
- Food is traditionally eaten at the table with some members of the family (or all of the family if possible). The main course is served along with the accompaniments at the same time. The accompaniments are usually 1-2 vegetable salads, feta cheese and bread, according to the food eaten.
- The Mediterranean diet is comprised of eating vegetable-based dishes 2 times per week, once a week eating legumes, 1-2 times per week eating fish and 1-2 times per week eating red meat and poultry. The current Greek diet is still rich in vegetables and pulses and fish, but meat in some families can be found on the table on most days of the week. Ah, globalization!
- When in a tavern or restaurant, we usually order about 95% of what is on the menu and share it in the middle. Do not think the people eating next to you have been starved for 3 years in a dark cellar, it’s just a mid-week light outing!
Gastronomy in Thessaloniki: Food
- Start your day with, a pretzel-type delicacy with sesame, (breakfast time=crunch time). Eaten madly all day long and found in different styles: classic, whole-wheat, multigrain, filled with feta cheese, filled with cheese & ham etc. especially authentic by street vendors or bakeries.
- Bougatsa: a puff pastry recipe with milky cream or feta cheese, or feta cheese & spinach or even minced meat. The best breakfast in the world! Best served with cocoa milk or plain milk or even better ayran and kefir.
- Spices & herbs: the topical cuisine is typical because of its many spices and aromas (basil, parsley, dill, red paprika pepper, garlic, onions, laurel, cloves, spice, oregano, boukovo, cinnamon, thyme, rosemary and many more). The Macedonian cuisine must be the most daring of all of Greece in terms of the number of spices, but in different regions you will find different spice additions that can seriously tantalize the palate.
- The aforementioned sauce is by the author’s opinion, the most fabulous
combination of tastes. Imagine the pungent, strong taste of garlic, along with the refreshing acidity and thickness of some Greek-style (strained) yoghurt. Add some drops of olive oil and you’re good to go.
P.S.: Close contact to other humans that had not tried that treat, might result in strange grimaces!
- Salads! In Greece, the main course is served together with one or two salads. Salads can be raw, boiled, steamed or even grilled and seasonal vegetables are good choices. In summertime, do not miss the village salad (choriatiki) or some grilled aubergines, courgettes and peppers. In winter time, try politiki salad with cabbage and carrot or broccoli, beetroot or cauliflower salad. Yummy!
- A special mention to chorta. The English translation would be wild grasses, (yes we eat grasses!). Throughout the year you will see countless people with a bag on a mountain top or field collecting grasses, don’t get them wrong! Grasses are a big and very nutritious part of the Mediterranean diet and are a big favorite. They can be found throughout the year, they can grow in the wild, or even in the garden and is a delicacy eaten traditionally in Greece. Do try it, their taste will surprise you!
- Patsas soup. Now we’re talking really hardcore. Do try this delicacy if you are fond of offal. It is eaten with a special chili-garlic sauce, served in a few traditional places around Thessaloniki and is very popular in the winter, especially after drinking. Allegedly, it is a great stomach-soothener. For those who are not fans of offals, a great soup in a cold winter night, especially after drinking, can be such a great idea. Try a meat soup (Vrasto), chicken soup or meatball soup (Giouvarlakia).
- Mageirefta- casseroles of meat with various seasonal vegetables. Typical mageirefta are Kokkinisto (in rich tomato sauce), Lemonato (lemon sauce), meat with leeks & celery, meat with cabbage, meat with aubergines, meat in onions, (Stifado), e.t.c.
- Apart from fresh fish, there are so many different recipes to enjoy seafood, that you might not miss it: fried calamari, charcoaled calamari, charcoaled or vinegary octopus, octopus in red sauce with macaroni (typical during in Easter lent), squids Stifado (with onions), fired mussels, mussels with pilau rice, mussels saganaki, (in mustard and chili sauce), and charcoaled shrimps as well as shrimps saganaki. The choice is yours! Best served with ouzo, tsipouro or retsina and some sea view!
- Gyros- you must have heard of the delicacy of spit-roast meat. In Thessaloniki we serve it with fried potatoes, tomato, onions, mustard & ketchup. Why not add one of the different sauces? Tzatziki sauce (avoid kissing strangers with that amount of garlic in your breath), ktipiti (feta cheese and hot chillies), or paprika sauce are the most authentic ones.
- Bakaliarakia skordalia. Thessaloniki’s answer to fish and chips: juice cod in batter, served with a thick garlic sauce, by the sea. The best accompaniment: retsina and good friends.
- Dolmades, a common recipe for the summer is stuffed, rolled vine leaves and during the winter cabbage leaves, common recipes with Turkey.
- Stuffed vegetables, tomatoes and peppers in the summer or stuffed courgettes with minced meat and lemon sauce. Yummy!
- Moussakas- a succulent famous Greek dish. Juicy layers of fried aubergines, minced meat and béchamel sauce. Another less famous cousin of Moussaka is Pastistio. Instead of aubergines, we use thick round hollow-shaped pasta.
- Papoutsaki & Imam Baildi are two great dishes eaten during the summer, as they are both based on open fried aubergines stuffed with minced meat in the former case, or fried onions and herbs in the latter one. These two dishes are shared with the East and are a very welcome addition to our cuisine.
- Pitas- pies with filo pastry or hand-made pastry filled with feta cheese, or spinach and cheese, leek and cheese, leek and mince or sweet pumpkin pie. Bought from local bakeries.
- Vomvidia- oval-shaped torpedoes (that’s what the name means), are served in Modiano arcade and have become a must for the locals. The best time is around midday, especially on Friday’s when music and alcohol sets the scene for an impromptu party. Join in and you will not regret it!
Gastronomy in Thessaloniki: Sweets
- Trigona Panoramatos, one sweet that is best enjoyed in its birthplace (Panorama), and has become a celebrity in town. Crunchy, syrupy and crusty filo pastry layers baked in a cone and filled with thick and light patisserie cream.
- Tsoureki, a traditional aromatic type of brioche that has travelled all over the world. Follow the smell in Aristotelous square and find the source. The secret ingredients is said to be in the seeds, but we will have to kill you if we reveal it, so best come along to enjoy it!
- Siropiasta sweets, are sweets that are poured with syrup, (Siropi), after they come out of the oven. They are usually made with many layers of crusty filo pastry that can contain cream, nuts, chocolate in many delicious combinations and for serious sugar overdoses!
- Politika sweets (sweets from the Eastern region, especially from the area of Istanbul that have been brought through Greek migration and Ottoman occupancy). These sweets are mostly very sweet (like Siropiasta), and some are found in creams like rice pudding (Rizogalo), Kazan Dipi (a must), Malebi e.t.c.
- Tilichta, means small portions of chocolate sweets wrapped in tin foil that contain nuts or dried fruits.
- Halva, is a semolina-based sweet with syrup that is common in the Eastern Europe. It can be served straight with lemon and cinnamon, or almonds and chocolate.
- Glika koutaliou (spoon desserts). In older times when food preservation was more difficult, fruits would be boiled with spices and turned into marmalades or spoon sweets (Glika koutaliou). You can try fig, sour cherry, walnut, quince or even aubergine.
Spirits, Wine & Retsina
- Ouzo, a characteristic anise-flavored aperitif drunk with ice and/or water. It best accompanies fish or shellfish, especially salted or smoke-dried fish and is a product of Protected Designation of Origin, solely produced in Greece or Cyprus. Our advice: drink bottled ouzo of a higher price that is cleaner and don’t drink on an empty stomach.
- Tsipouro, is a double-distilled cousin of ouzo, produced for 7 centuries in Greece that is also a product of Protected Designation of Origin. It is distinct from ouzo in that it is double-distilled and can be plain-flavored or with the addition of spices (mainly anise). It is also served in small glasses, with water or ice, and drunk along with food (meze). During the winter months, many local producers make their own home-made variety of tsipouro and have a big celebration which includes music, dancing, eating and of course drinking. If you get an invitation, make sure you don’t pass the opportunity.
- Home-made liquor made with fruits such as sour cherry and cherry. It is very aromatic and best served with a chocolate fondant in houses after the coffee. Don’t be fooled by the innocent-looking lady that serves it, it can be very strong!
- The region of Macedonia is very fertile and the climate profile make the conditions ideal for wine-making. There are six areas that are Protected Designation of Origin in Northern Greece that produce wines in accordance, Amyntaio, Goumenissa, Zitsa, Naoussa, Meliton slopes and Rapsani. As well as PDO wines, one can find wines of Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) of Northern Greece. The whole area of Northern Greece can be travelled to discover the wine treasures. The prefecture of Thessaloniki is home to many award-winning vineyards that you should not miss.
- Retsina is a traditional white wine produced since ancient times by the addition of pine tar in white wine to prolong its use-by date and add a distinct aroma. It is considered a wine of lower quality but is drunk easily with grilled meats or fish. The fans of a football team have come up with an interesting cocktail called Toumpa Libre (from Cuba Libre), that consists of Retsina and Coke, a very easy-to-drink combination
Coffees/ Non-alcoholic drinks
- Greek coffee (or Turkish coffee) is the most popular type of coffee in the Eastern Mediterranean region, produced from thinly milled roasted coffee. You should not drink the thick layer at the bottom of the cup, but use it to predict your future instead, (if you’re lucky to have it read- remember, do not say thank you at the end of the reading).
- Frappe! In a city with such a heavy climate, we need a strong coffee to kickstart our day. It is drunk frozen, and you cannot, (sadly to our opinion), find it in other countries. You can also find frozen editions of classic coffees such as iced cappuccino or iced espresso, which can be a slice of heaven in a hot summer day.
- Ayran/ Kefir, is a fermented sour milk from the region of Caucasus, found to be a functional food that protects the digestive tract from malignancies and adds to longevity.