I had visitors from London last weekend. I love having guests over, especially from my old home and have to admit I miss the city a little. Kerstin, better known as Ms Marmite Lover, is the personification of London: lively, spirited, dynamic, an ingenious chef and instrumental in establishing the city’s supper-clubs back in 2009! There was a lot of talk about cooking and blogging and an exchange of amazing ideas, but our conversations kept coming back to Athens, what is really going on here?
With my brain still hardwired to BBC news and Greek radio to catch up on the latest political agenda, it all feels pretty normal. But guess what, everyone is obsessed with politics here in Greece. Always keeping an eye out for the next bailout, the next tax hike, trying to prepare ourselves for the worst and hoping for the best. It’s just a part of daily life.
The face of Athens has actually changed a lot since I was last living here 8 years ago. You can see the scars of old demonstrations, the burnt out skeleton of the Attikon cinema is still standing after the worst anti-austerity demonstrations convulsed through Greece back in February 2012. But also, as Kerstin noticed, Athens is not as polluted as people expect; well for this we probably have the crisis to thank once more, with fewer cars on the road these days. Many businesses have also closed of course, although a few more are beginning to sprout up. For now, these newcomers are mainly coffee shops and tsipouradika, little taverns that offer drinks with small mezze to share rather than a full menu.
With Kerstin we walked through Exarcheia, famous as the home of Greek anarchists and a student stronghold since as far back as anyone can remember. We weren’t up to any mischief though as we strolled through the laiki (our farmers’ market) and, I have to admit, I was rather pleased to see her smelling the wonderful bergamots – I did exactly the same when I first saw them this year. We stopped for Cretan delicacies at a tiny mezze place I used to frequent, Rakoumel. I was overjoyed that it is still standing and even boasts a few more tables since my Uni days (at least 10 years ago, has it been so long?). Exarcheia, like many central areas in Athens, is vividly adorned with graffiti, often overtly depicting anger and fear, two sentiments that go hand in hand with Greece’s crisis. Out of all the street art here, I believe this captures the Greek sentiment best:
What I love the most though is Monastiraki Square, which has become a hub for fire jugglers, African drum circles and street dancers. This is what we came across:
But we kept going, dinner had to be at Koukaki, another area in the heart of Athens that seems to be a favoured student stronghold, almost as much as Exharheia. Koukaki is just at the back of the Acropolis, neighbouring Plaka. Its tall blocks of flats hide surprises at every corner, there are tiny shops, old and new, and the district is teeming with food and drink establishments catering to every budget and appetite.
After working up your own appetites, I would not leave you without a recipe. This is a vegetarian dish (especially for Kerstin) that is not so easy to find in a tavern: spanakorizo or spinach rice.
Ingredients (serves 4):
- 1 kg spinach
- 250 ml olive oil
- 1onion, finely chopped
- 1 bunch of spring onions
- 250 ml chopped tomatoes
- 200 gr long-grain rice
- 1 bunch of dill
- 1 large lemon for the juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
What to do
- Wash and roughly chop your spinach. Warm your olive oil and sauté the chopped onions and spring onions for 3-4 minutes.
- Add the spinach, chopped tomatoes, the rice and stir.
- Once lightly steamed add 250ml boiling water, season with salt and pepper.
- Let it simmer for approximately 20 minutes.
- Chop the dill, removing the stalks and add it towards the end.
Squeeze a little lemon over your spanakorizo when serving and add a chunk of feta with some fresh bread for the perfect accompaniment.
Have you been to Athens recently? What did you think of a city in crisis?