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Athens’ dynamic food scene has never been so exciting. Marilou Pantaki, also known to her followers as Madame Ginger, is a local insider and one of the most famous food bloggers in the country. Here, she highlights some of her favourite spots in the Greek capital.
Madame Ginger tells Culture Trip that her love of food was cultivated at an early age by her parents. “I grew up in a very open-minded home, where my mother would be cooking a traditional lemony beef stew and the next day, a platter of falafels and hummus. On weekends, we would always eat at different restaurants and tried different cuisines, from lunch at a Chinese restaurant to a family dinner at the Greek Egyptians Club or Wendy’s. Early on, my parents taught us how to try everything and the joy of travelling through food.”
As she turned away from her former role in PR to become a culinary-school graduate, it was only natural for Marilou to start working in some of the most popular restaurants in town. But very quickly, Marilou came to feel that they were not the right places for her. “Restaurant kitchens wore me out. The environment is incredibly sexist and you have to cook the same dishes for months on end.”
After three years in professional kitchens, Madame Ginger turned to blogging. Her decision was partially because of the freedom it provided her, but her first motive was quite personal – her grandmother. “When she passed away, her recipe for potato fritters that I loved so much got lost forever, since none of us had written it down. I decided to start a blog so that I could write all those traditional recipes that risk vanishing over time.”
Her blog quickly became a reference point in Athens food culture, attracting thousands of readers every week. She was awarded the Marie Claire blog award in her category in 2015. While the blog has evolved to include cooking tips and advice on growing your own urban garden, its main focus is still food. In fact, her latest series, Eat Like a Local, takes Marilou through locations both in Greece and abroad, where she explores culinary traditions and places to eat. But her first love is and will always be Athens.
Although Marilou acknowledges that Athens is “admittedly quite an ugly city,” she nevertheless loves it. “I do love Athens. For the beautiful buildings in Plaka, the long pedestrian walkway on Fokionos Negri and the Agios Georgios Square in Kipseli (which by the way is my favourite neighbourhood), for the historical centre which is full of bars, restaurants and people, for the sunsets on top of the Areopagus hill, near the Acropolis, for the quaint tavernas serving delicious food that you discover by chance on a rooftop or tucked in a forgotten passageway, but also for its crazy nights which almost always end just when the first shops open the next day.”
This is what makes Athens such a unique city – there is always something new that emerges from the ashes, a bit like the nation, which is slowly recovering from the economic woes it has been facing since 2008.
But despite the dire situations they have endured, Athenians like Marilou have never lost their appetite for life, or for food. When asked about her favourite spots to eat, she replies, “My two favourite restaurants are Aneton in Pefki and Nolan in the centre of the city. The first one serves creative, comfort Greek cuisine in a lovely homely environment, and in the second one I enjoy the fusion creations of my beloved chef Sotiris Kontizas, in a minimal, small urban restaurant.”
As an authority in the culinary world, Marilou often eats out, and she never misses a chance to enjoy a good brunch on weekends. Clumsies, Odori Vermuteria or Philos feature among her favourite brunch spots.
“For incredible cocktails I’ll go either to Clumsies or Borsalino in central Athens. But I really love the city’s two cult bars, Au Revoir (Kipseli) and Galaxy (central Athens), where I hang out for the ambiance, the clean drinks and the chill nights with friends. When I feel like dancing I’ll either go to Barrett or Crust, and many nights I end up at Batman (Neos Kosmos), a bar that fits in its own special category, which you’ll only get if you’re Greek. In another life, one where I wouldn’t have loved food so much, I would have gone into music, and I’d be a DJ, for sure.”
When asked about her favourite street-food, she confesses that “street food holds a special place in my heart”. She cites the little unassuming Feyrouz joint on the small side street of Agathonos in the centre, for lahmajouns and for traditional souvlaki; and she loves Kostas, located on Irini square in central Athens. She usually ends her meals with a soft ice cream from Dickie Dee on Voulis street, tucked between the pedestrian shopping street of Ermou and the Mitropoleos street. Pink Flamingo’s dumplings and Hurry Up’s bao buns, two new Asian staples introduced to Athens in the last couple of years, also rank high in her favourite spots around the city for quick and delicious street food.
The explosion of creativity and adventurous new street-food hotspots across the Greek capital has changed the face of the Athenian culinary culture, where the all-mighty gyro competes with poke salad bowls and Indian-inspired souvlaki wraps. Luckily for locals and visitors alike, this food trend doesn’t seem to be coming to an end anytime soon, so it’s definitely an excellent excuse to book a flight to Athens and explore Madame Ginger’s favourite restaurants for yourself.