Greece is a culinary tourist’s paradise, with a surprising variety of traditional cuisine for such a small country. For visitors who want to start in Athens, Greek Liquid Gold investigated three popular food tourism destinations that provide access to some of the secrets of Greek culinary tradition: the Grocery Store of the Mediterranean Diet, Yoleni’s, and the new Ergon House.
The Grocery Store of the Mediterranean Diet actually goes by its long Greek name, To Pantopoleion tis Mesogeiakis Diatrofis.* Just a five-minute walk from the Panepistimio metro station, at Sofokleous 1 and Aristeidou 11, To Pantopoleion was one of the first stores to bring to Athens a wide variety of traditional Greek agri-food products from various regions—more than 3,000 products from 225 cottage industries, women’s associations, and rural cooperatives.
Although its staff doesn’t speak much English, the store deserves a visit, given its excellent selection of Greek extra virgin olive oils, olives, vinegars, condiments, honey, cheese, wines, liquors, baked goods, sweets, and more. The store features authentic products made with pure ingredients and no preservatives, many of them organic, many based on traditional recipes. Customers may sample the olive oils and vinegars to decide which suit them best.
George Giousmadopoulos told Greek Liquid Gold that many people “who want to find something good” have visited the Pantopoleion, including tour groups and individual tourists from all over the world, in its 14 years of promoting the Mediterranean diet as a healthy way of eating.
A more recent arrival on the Athens food scene (in November 2016), Yoleni’s Greek Gastronomy Center at 9 Solonos Street in the upscale neighborhood of Kolonaki is a short walk up the hill from the Parliament building and Syntagma Square. Featuring a variety of Greek traditional products, from extra virgin olive oils to deli items and preserves, Yoleni’s also includes a café, a restaurant, a wine cellar, a cooking classroom, and the first olive oil bar in Greece.
Both neighborhood regulars and tourists frequent the street-level store that displays a wealth of Greek goods and offers samples of olive oils and tempting treats. The store, restaurant, and café are open all day, every day. An extensive menu based on authentic traditional recipes lists the origin of ingredients from six Greek regions. The distinctiveness of each place is so important at Yoleni’s that it inspired the name of Topos Restaurant (upstairs). Katerina Kalaitzi explained to Greek Liquid Gold that Topos means place, “the place we love, the place we are born—my country, my village.”
Focused on an essential Greek product, the olive oil seminar at Yoleni’s Olive Oil Bar introduces the historical, cultural, and nutritional importance of olive oil and its central role in the famously healthy Mediterranean diet. It also corrects common misperceptions, shows how and why olive oil can be used daily, explores different food pairings, and guides participants in a tasting of four Greek olive oils that will prepare them to taste and select the best extra virgin olive oils for their needs.
Culinary tourists can participate in the olive oil seminars (40 minutes, Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday evenings); wine tastings with 6 to 8 different wines from different regions (with cheese and cold cuts, for 1 to 1.5 hours every evening); and Greek cooking classes (followed by enjoyment of the results, Wednesday evenings, 2.5 hours). Reserve online or by calling Katerina Kalaitzi (+30 212 222 3600); groups are welcome to make special arrangements.
New on the Athens culinary scene this year, Ergon House attracts bustling crowds to 23 Mitropoleos Street, less than a ten minute walk from Syntagma Square (heading toward Monastiraki). Take one step inside, and you will be impressed by the vertical herb garden that rises above the produce section of the Agora (marketplace) on the right, and by the 4-story mural of the hunting goddess Artemis by the famous street artist INO that fills the left wall. In the center of the spacious glass-roofed atrium restaurant, a 200-year old olive tree grows, emphasizing the centrality of olives and olive oil in the healthy Greek diet that forms the basis for Ergon Foods.
Ergon House’s ground floor and mezzanine contain the restaurant and Agora, the latter created with the Greek farmer’s market (laiki agora) in mind. Devoted to Greek products, the Agora includes an olive bar, fresh produce, a fishmonger, a butcher, a deli, a pastry shop, groceries, wine, liquor, and Greek specialties, naturally including extra virgin olive oil. (As George Douzis told Greek Liquid Gold, “if you have Greek products, you must have olive oil.”) Reservations are useful at the restaurant, a lively place buzzing with conversation, very friendly, helpful English-speaking staff, and wonderful mushroom and cheese risotto and desserts (among many other things).
Head upstairs to the 38-room, four-story hotel, and you enter a completely different atmosphere—quiet and tranquil. As the “first-ever foodie hotel,” according to its Facebook page, Ergon House includes not only the expected business center and fitness room, but also two kitchen areas used for cooking classes for four hours every Friday afternoon. At other times, hotel guests may reserve the kitchens for their own cooking—or eat in the restaurant below them. (A generous breakfast at the restaurant is included in the room rate.)
For snacks, each room has a mini deli shop including personalized cocktails from the famous mixologists at Clumsies, plus ouzo, soft drinks, pasteli, breadsticks, rusks, spreads, and other Greek treats. Rooms also feature espresso machines and Greek mountain tea to enjoy amidst minimalist contemporary décor. To top it all off, there is a rooftop cocktail bar with olive trees and an Acropolis view.
Restaurants can provide excellent samples of Greek gastronomy; thanks to Ergon House, Yoleni’s, and the Pantopoleion, food tourists can also explore Greek culinary traditions through more active engagement with the key elements of this rich cultural heritage.
*Pronunciation of To Pantopoleion tis Mesogeiakis Diatrofis – actually Το Παντοπωλείον της Μεσογειακής Διατροφής: toe pan-doe-poe-LEE-own teess mess-oh-yee-ah-KEESS thee-ah-troe-FEESS.
Originally published on Greek Liquid Gold: Authentic Extra Virgin Olive Oil (www.greekliquidgold.com). See that site for recipes with olive oil, photos from Greece, agrotourism and food tourism suggestions, and olive oil news and information.