#Athens – #Culinary Backstreets
Shoppers’ Delight: Athens’ Central Market District
by Diana Farr Louis
For the food-loving tourist, city markets and the shops around them can hold far more allure than monuments, museums and elite boutiques. Even for us, as longtime residents of Athens, the Central Market district is where we go whenever we need an infusion of the Anatolian or the unexpected or even a specific item for the larder or the kitchen that would be difficult to find in a supermarket, mall or local hardware store.
A stroll from Monastiraki Square up Athinas Street to the Varvakeio Market, weaving in and out of the alleys branching off it, will introduce you to some specialties you’d never anticipate in a European capital. Some of them may well be tempting enough to squeeze into your already full suitcase. But even if you wouldn’t dream of buying them, you’ll surely be intrigued or amused. Have your own camera at the ready too, for photo ops will present themselves more often than you think possible.
Keep going straight and you’ll come to Evripidou, our favorite street in the whole city. Here you’ll find almost anything your heart does or does not desire, sold by herb and spice emporia heralded with garlands of flamboyant Anatolian dried vegetable casings for stuffing and bright chili peppers, looking colorful and pretty enough to be Christmas decorations. There are several such shops, each more enticing than the next and all on the same side of the street, in true Anatolian souk fashion.
Back on the south side of the street are two wonderful delis next door to each other that specialize in Greek preserved meats like pastourma – beef or rarely camel, cured and coated with a pungent paste of paprika, fenugreek and garlic – as well as sausages and cheeses. You can’t miss them. I prefer the smaller, more personal Arapian, which sources many of its products such as lamb sausages, kavourmas (a rillettes-type loaf) and wonderful cheeses from Drama in Macedonia. While they often offer samples before a purchase, you can have a proper sit-down snack or meal at a new casual eatery, Ta Karamanlidika tou Fani (cold cuts and delicacies), opened recently by Fanis, the owner’s son, a few doors down (at the corner of Evripidou 52 and Sokratous 1, tel. +30 210 325 4184).
Retrace your steps and head back up to Athinas. There on the corner of Athinas and Evripidou is probably the smallest spice/herb shop you will ever come across anywhere. The cheerful proprietor of this closet-sized emporium sells over 200 herbs and spices neatly packed in brightly colored cellophane envelopes, apart from the extra-long batons of cinnamon.
To your left is the Varvakeio Central Market, a block-long, vaulted edifice from the turn of the last century. Enter at your own risk. The squeamish may not appreciate the unusual cuts of meat dangling from hooks or the unfamiliar aromas of tripe, fish and poultry. But it is quite a spectacle. Be prepared for an assault to the ears as well, as the shouts of competing vendors rend the air.
The fruit and veg stalls, located on Armodiou, parallel to Evripidou, are also worth a look just for their sheer abundance. Shoppers flock to this area for good quality at bargain prices. The stores on the north side of the street carry goods that include songbirds in cages, chickens and even rabbits.
There’s plenty more to explore in this district, but for now just wander back towards Monastiraki on the west side (your right) of Athinas Street. We come here to buy pillow-sized loaves of sourdough bread at either of the two old-fashioned bakeries and always pop into Peri Lesvou, but between them lies one of the area’s greatest surprises of all: a fully stocked tack shop. I always wonder: Who on earth comes to the center of town to buy elegant saddles and bridles or donkey halters stitched with blue beads to keep the evil eye away from their animals? You can scoop up a handful of beads for yourself or your own pets from a bucket.
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