Markos Marmatakis, chef and concept creator at restaurant To Theio Tragi, shares his must-eat Greek dishes and where to try them in Athens.
Beyond the well-known – and delicious – moussaka and tzatziki, many highlights of Greek cuisine are relatively under the radar and often overlooked by visitors. Markos Marmatakis, head chef of To Theio Tragi (‘the Holy Goat’) – Athens’s first ‘punk bistro’ and cocktail bar, where workers all receive the same salary – shares his recommendations for Greek dishes, from the famed souvlaki to the lesser-known sofrito, and where to find them in Athens.
Little known outside of Greece, kavourmas is cold cut meat soaked in oil and spices. In the olden days, boiled meat would be stored in clay pots with added fats and spices to preserve it for winter. Today, it is a delicacy that Marmatakis says is best sampled at Seychelles on Avdi square in the Metaxourgeio neighbourhood, where a house speciality is Greek pappardelle with kavourmas. Fresh Greek produce is sourced painstakingly from all over the country by the owners, then displayed and prepared by the chefs in front of your eyes in the open kitchen, in a performance rivalling those staged at the Apo Mikhanis theatre across the street.
When thinking of Greek octopus dishes, most people picture lines of them drying under the Greek sun, ready for grilling. However, in the winter months, Greeks prefer to use this high-protein lean seafood in stifado, a slow-cooked, hearty stew made with warming spices and sweet pearl onions. Try this served with fava at Mikres Kyklades, an unassuming fish taverna hiding in a quiet alley in the shadow of Mount Ymittos in Ilioupoli. The taverna brings the sea to your table, straight from the owner’s native Schinoussa, a Cycladic island.
Another well-known Greek dish is dolmadakia, or dolmades, which are stuffed vine or cabbage leaves. The stuffing and seasonings vary from region to region, but they are usually free of meat, making them a popular meze dish (accompanied traditionally only by lemon wedges) during the Lent period before Easter. Marmatakis recommends the Cretan version with ksinogala (sour milk) from Rachati in Ilioupoli, a cosy, unpretentious mezedopoleio which perfectly fits its name (meaning something like ‘relaxing’). It is run by a Cretan family who also make their own delicious rakomelo spirit using thyme honey from their home village.