by Anna Paparizou, dreamista.gr
A good reason to travel – for me and many other people – is to try regional cuisine. That’s why I got myself to Mexico, I visited Italy twice and I revisit Turkey again and again: I love their cuisine! When I don’t travel, I enjoy dining in Athens. Just like any old metropolis, Athens loves good food and it works like a meeting point for foreigners from all over the globe – people who keep the memories of their country alive through taste and recipes.
My travelling bug nugs me, for the last 15 years, to seek out all the exotic tastes of Athens. That’s how I got to try various Italian restaurants in Athens. I discovered excellent Argentinian meat cuts, Brasilian specialities and Mexican dishes (before I even visited Mexico), our neighbouring Middle Eastern cuisine, favourites from Istanbul and I got to travel through taste with many fragrant and tasteful experiences, without even a ticket – just the menu and lots of appetite for exploration.
So what’s my top 10 ethnic cuisine I love in Athens? Check below:
1. Italy – Osteria da Claudio
Who doesn’t love good Italian cuisine? After enjoying delicious dishes in Rome, and an amasing experience of an agrotourism dinner in Sardinia, I dare say that I have discovered authentic Italian flavours at a humble osteria in Chalandri. Chef Claudio offers different dishes every day, using fresh ingredients and inspired by classic, rustic Italian recipes as well as some standard dishes that I really love. Good wine, rustic décor and smart ingredients, innovative digestivos and excellent service bring together one of the best culinary experiences, at what is in my opinion the best and more affordable Italian restaurant in town.
2. Brasil – Kitrinos Skiouros (the Yellow Squirrel)
There are two Brasilian restaurants in Athens: O kitrinos skiouros at Ilissia park and Maracana Grill at Kallithea. Maracana is a tavern, that actually gathers the local Brasilian community – an excellent criterion for choosing a restaurant, it offers really good dishes too! There is a fixed menu, but they will basically send you to their salad bar – you have not seen a better variety of exotic salads – and an excellent selection of meat (for anyone with a stomach large enough to enjoy!) Everything is accompanied by super-refreshing caipirinhas and at the end of the meal there are super exotic desserts !
Then there is kitrinos.skiouros which I prefer. It might be a little pricier, but there is an array of refined and authentic Brasilian dishes, cocktails that match exotic Brazilian fruit with cachaca and a very nice environment (a notch up from Thisseos street). Weather permit there are tables next to the park, whilst indoors deco takes you straight to Brasil!
3. Mexico – Ancho Mexican Grill
I have been at Mexicano in Zografou, Dos Hermanos in Kifissia, both El Taco Bueno restaurants at Chalandri and Santa Fe (tex-mex), also in Chalandri. I liked the food everywhere I have been. None really brought back to my taste buds the original flavours I experienced in Mexico. I didn’t tour all of Mexico, I stayed at Yucatan whose regional flavours I found in Athens too! Ancho Mexican grill might not be exactly a restaurant, it’s a bar-takeaway place, but it doesn’t matter at all…it has all the flavour! The slow cooked pork is there, the right pico de gallo is there, fresh guacamole and not a sign of minced meat – just delicious sauces with freshly cooked meat that melts in your mouth – a truly Mexican experience, almost as if you were there!
4. Iran- Pars
There are two Persian restaurants in Athens: Anahita and Pars. Both are found in Chalandri, in close proximity and they both serve excellent food. Persian cuisine stirs up primitive instincts in me. Simple dishes and humble ingredients, exactly the points where it gets its charm: mince meat, pomegranate, rice and saffron bring an exuberant flavour combination.
I have a soft spot for Pars for two reasons: firstly I love the décor. Anahita does not bring out the Iranian colours as much (it could be just any restaurant), Pars shouts out dreamy orient. Secondly, it’s the dessert! Whilst Anahita desserts are ok, Pars ice cream will send your taste buds to the moon!
5. Lebanon – O kipos tis Edem (the garden of Eden)
There were various Lebanese restaurants in Athens, many of them have unfortunately closed down now. There is one that I truly love and it is still here: the Garden of Eden, at Maroussi, close to the train station. There is heavy, oriental décor, dark curtains decorating the ceiling and dark wood furniture that really take you there. During summer it opens to a beautiful oriental garden, the cooking draws you in from two blocks down. Somewhat the music, the belly-dancing, the restaurant feels like the real thing! Of course the food helps a lot too! It’s a bit like Persian but with more variety in their sauces. It brings to mind, the familiar to Greece Instabul dishes, only a bit more spicy. Lebanese cuisine is truly unique. I would suggest any meat dish, but yaourtlou kebab, lahmajun and tabule are divine and bring on the wine please.
6. Sushi – White Elephant
For years, I thought sushi was my sworn enemy. Until I visited White Elephant, at Chalandri. We are talking about the freshest of fresh ingredients and wonderful tastes that if I could, I would dine there every day! I am still not too keen on wasabi, but anything with ginger, avocado and tuna is a sheer delight. After this delectable experience I tried two Koh Sushi (at Syntagma and kifisia). They simply do not compare! At the White Elephant you can enjoy sushi with exotic cocktails (by the swimming pool during summer!) and not just wine. I can’t think of anything better personally.
7. India – Red Elephant
(do not mix your elephants – white is for sushi – red for Indian)
I tried 5 Indian restaurants in Athens before I could vouch for the Red Elephant. There is the impressively decorated Jaipur Palace in Maroussi, but with mediocre flavours. Indian Masala, low at Ermou street with its many tasty dishes, but still not as delicious as Red Elephant. Indian Kitchen at Syntagma, might rank slightly higher in flavour but this central part of Athens is not exactly a favourite. Pink Elephant at Chalandri (hope you are keeping your Elephants straight) is the best take away Indian I took home, pity it’s tiny. The Indian of Barba-George at Exarheia has the most tasty and fragrant Indian kebab prepared in front of your very eyes. There are a few tables outside to enjoy some super cheap and tasty Indian outing.
So why go for the Red Elephant? Super tastes, super wines, super salads, a simple, perhaps small space on Larissis street at Ampelokipous features an open kitchen and Bollywood TV, and is squeaky clean! It’s a simple thing, but I love a clean and tidy place!
8. Romania – Dorna
It’s just this one! It’s located at a small square at Patisia. A quiet and friendly place. It’s a tavern with heavy wooden tables that are outside during the summer and warm Balkan décor inside.
It’s owned by a Romanian couple, and basically gathers the entire Romanian community of Athens. What does the food taste like? Amasing. I was expecting heavy, rustic dishes from the depths of Romania and I came across simple flavours in delectable dishes, excellent soups and amasing appetisers!
Having visited Germany twice and Austria another couple of times (Berlin, Munich, Vienna, Hallstatt and a road trip on Tyrolean and Bavarian Alpes) there is one statement to make: their cuisine is wildly misunderstood. And this beer house at Kesariani counts some of the most original flavours. The beer list would cover any taste, lovely desserts and lots of contemporary twists on the menu… Definitely book a table – even for the summer garden, and make sure you get there hungry, it’s a lot of food to take in!
May I make a note on favourites? Austria! Tyrolean Alpes hide culinary gems.
10. Indonesia – Saipan
I got acquainted with Indonesian flavours when I travelled to Amsterdam. The Dutch, great explorers back then, great travellers now, they have brought the tastes of the former colonies home (if not them, Indonesians who moved to The Netherlands did); the ethnic foodies’ community has really grown throughout the country. Specifically for Indonesia, the colonists back then created a plate that combines all indonesian delicacies: Rijsttafel, ‘rice table’ so they could cope with the extensive cuisine that breaks down to thousands islands. It’s this dish, or part of it, that I tried in Amsterdam: a super-tasty experience full of different treats, sweet and sour, spicy and exotic flavours that exploded in my mouth and made my fall in love with Indonesia.
Of course when I came back to Athens I wanted more. Athens unfortunately has no Indonesian restaurant per se. Saipan in Chalandri though, is a very good approximation, with lovely satay, will make anyone love exotic flavours.
So I went off to Bali too, just to experience this wonderful food again. I stay for 14 days and I tried spicy ice-creams, sweet cinnamon soups, many different satays, local rice and noodles specialties, treats wrapped in banana leaves and, of course the all famous Rijsttafel.
Anna Paparizou is the blogger behind Dreamista.gr, a Travel & Lifestyle blog full of fulfilled and unfulfilled travel and fashion dreams.
Anna loves to travel and has been traveling abroad since she was 14 months old. Still, she hasn’t been everywhere, but it’s on her list!
On her list, you’ll also find expert packing rules, ideas about the perfect travel outfit, beauty & fitness tips on the go, films that inspire her travels, as well as food dreams from around the world.
Although Anna has been traveling since she was a baby, her wanderlust took to a whole new level when she studied in Sweden for a year, for her masters, as Swedes travel like crazy. In an effort to make her dreams of traveling the world as Swedes do, true, she started early on to write about her travels and her fashion inspiration in magazines and sites. 2 years ago, her creativity got in the way and led her to a successful career in Advertising for Social Media.
So, her blog is a great combination of all her worlds: her fashion & travel dreams, her journalism aspirations and her social media skills all found their way into Dreamista.gr, a platform for all of you who love to travel as much as most of us!