Breakfast and brunch spots are flooding the streets of Thessaloniki, with culinary surprises on every corner: from traditional koulouria to French-inspired crêpes. Savvas Smalis, chef at acclaimed local restaurant Mahalo Civilized Food, shares his must-try dishes on the Thessaloniki breakfast scene.
While Thessaloniki has long been known for its gastronomy – particularly for its rich Mediterranean offering – breakfast is something of a new addition to the culinary landscape of Greece’s second city. The last five years have seen Greek tradition and locally sourced ingredients fused with international breakfast favourites to foster innovative, mouth-watering options to start your morning.
The koulouri is, quite simply, a breakfast classic. This sesame-sprinkled bread crown has been a Thessaloniki tradition for the past century and has become a staple of everyday life. Savvas describes it as a “something quite simple and easy to grab on the go.” While koulouria (the plural form of koulouri) is sold on every other street corner, his top choice is at Ouzounián Bakery on Leontos Sofou Street. Apart from the traditional sesame version, Ouzounián offers a variety of koulouria choices, including a dough dotted with raisins or filled with tahini or chocolate.
Bougatsa is yet another traditional breakfast not to be ignored on a trip to Northern Greece. Filled with semolina custard, feta cheese or minced meat, this flaky phyllo pastry delight can be found throughout the entire city. However, chef Savvas claims to have found the best spot in town. ‘Serraikon’, a name which is derived from bougatsa’s birthplace, Serres, can be found on Vasileos Irakleiou, just a few steps away from the flower market. As a family business that has been passed down from generation to generation, Savvas says that, “They have maintained the traditional recipe and offer customers something extremely authentic.”
Eggs Kayanas, also known as strapatsada, is the Greek take on scrambled eggs. It primarily consists of eggs, tomatoes, feta cheese, peppers, fresh oregano and occasionally cumin. Colours Urban Hotel, home to the café and restaurant The Garden Bar, offers this very recipe with a modern twist. The eggs are served with thinly sliced bacon and laid over a thick piece of focaccia bread. Savvas suggests The Garden Bar if you are looking for a refreshing urban garden to get away from the hubbub of the city.
A great option for breakfast in more contemporary surrounds is ERGON Agora, according to Savvas. This minimalist space, channelling industrial chic, is multi-purpose: a restaurant within a deli. “It also functions as a delicatessen where you can find traditional Greek products as well as fresh fish and meat,” Savvas explains. One of their most ordered brunch dishes combines a global breakfast favourite – fried eggs – with authentic Greek ingredients. On sourdough bread, ERGON Agora adds two fried eggs, graviera cheese originating from the island of Naxos and ham from Drama, a city just an hour and a half east of Thessaloniki – the ideal accompaniment to your morning coffee and some eclectic food shopping.
There’s nothing better than a fluffy, warm peinirli from Koukos Tiropitaki to get your day in Thessaloniki off to a flying start. The bakery can be found on Vogatsikou Street, just across the road from the Metropolitan Church. “It is a progressive take on a traditional Greek bakery,” says Savvas. A peinirli is a boat-shaped pizza – not dissimilar to a Georgian khachapuri – oozing with cheese, topped with cold cuts, vegetables and the occasional fried egg. Despite its similarities to pizza, peinirli is usually enjoyed in the morning – finally an excuse to eat pizza in the morning. Apart from this boat-shaped delight, customers at Koukos Tiropitaki can enjoy an array of Greek pastries such as spanakopita (spinach pie) and tiropita (cheese pie).
“It would be a crime not to mention the most renowned pastry in Thessaloniki, the tsoureki,” says Savvas. Tsoureki is a type of brioche, delicately folded into a large braid, which leaves the smell of freshly baked sweet bread lingering on the streets around Aristotle Square. Pastry shop Terkenlis – found in numerous places throughout Thessaloniki, but with its flagship on Aristotle Square – has earned the title of making the greatest tsoureki in Northern Greece and offers an assortment of versions: white chocolate with a chestnut cream filling, milk chocolate, and even a non-dairy loaf for vegans not wanting to miss out on this classic treat. Although it has become one of the most popular and sought out spots in Thessaloniki, Savvas claims that Terkenlis hasn’t sacrificed its outstanding quality in terms of ingredients and execution.
Just around the corner from the Hagia Sophia Church is Thessaloniki’s premier trendsetting brunch hubs, Estrella. It is especially known for its revolutionary creation of the ‘Bougatsan’. “This dish marries Greek and French breakfast cuisine by combining a croissant with bougatsa custard,” says Savvas of the dish. He claims this to be the foundation on which Estrella – which now has branches throughout Greece and Cyprus – was built, and believes it to have been the catalyst for the country’s burgeoning breakfast scene. “It is a must if you’re in Thessaloniki,” he exclaims.
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Buckwheat crêpe at Ypsilon
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Found in one of the last remaining Neoclassical architectural masterpieces from before the Great Thessaloniki Fire of 1917, Ypsilon is a multipurpose space that lends its minimalistic rooms to art, musical events, parties and, of course, dining. One of its most popular breakfast options includes a traditional French-style crêpe which, in contrast to the classic batter, is made from buckwheat. The crêpe folds over melted yellow cheese, ham and a fried egg.
Mahalo is a small, contemporary restaurant found in the Valaoritou district, and home to chef Savvas, whose top breakfast pick is the affectionately named ‘Farmy Breakfast’. A variation on the traditional English Breakfast with fresh Greek ingredients, presented on a wooden platter for two, Farmy Breakfast includes fried eggs, sourdough bread, feta cheese, Tzoumaya sausages from Serres, a green salad, tomatoes, corn and fresh pleurotus (oyster) mushrooms picked in the local area.