A gastronomic tour of Thessaloniki

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– presenting the renovation of Greek gastronomy

Although not a very well known city, Thessaloniki is the second biggest city in Greece with 2300 years of history and with more than one million habitats. It is my hometown. An interesting point: It is consider to be the culinary capital of Greece! Ok, to be totally honest, Greece has a really interesting plurality concerning its cuisine. From Athens with the aroma of international influences and the Michelin stars restos (Funky gourmet, Spondi, Botrini’s, Varoulko and Hytra) to the traditional cuisine of Crete based on the Mediterranean diet. From the cosmopolitan party island of Myconos with all the new trends and fashions in food to the traditional cuisine of each small island, developed separately due to isolation by the sea. With all those choices, somebody could ask how come Thessaloniki can be considered as a culinary capital? To answer this question we have to take a look into Thessaloniki’s multicultural history. Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Turks, French and Hebrews are only a few of the different cultures that left their heritage in Thessaloniki’s gastronomy. Even though Thessaloniki also got cought up in the trap of “touristy” Greek cuisine (with mousaka, souvlaki and tzatziki) during the 80’s, 90’s and early 00’s, the “crisis” came. And in an environment with high unemployment and no budget for investments, new ideas really flourished. Young, innovative people with a great love of food and open minds, found solutions through personal hard work. Several restaurants based on innovation combined with traditional local products from all over Greece have opened the last five years. This has lifted the quality of Thessalonik’s restaurant scene a lot.

Let’s have a small gastronomic tour in the most representative of this new age restos:

Sebriko (Fragkon 2, +30 231 055 7513):
Dish: Transformation of traditional Greek eggplant salad with smoked aroma, served with Greek yogurt, sesame paste, lemon juice and fresh spearmint.

Sebriko has a very interesting story. “Sebriko” in Peloponnese farmer dialect means “joint ownership”. At the beginning of the economical crisis a few friends, all with experience in food service, decided to open a restaurant by investing their own money and at the same time to work there themselves depending on their experience. Next to the restaurant they opened a grocery shop bringing local delicacies from all over Greece. The delicacies they then used as ingredients in their dishes. In Sebriko you will never find a tomato salad during winter! They use only fresh vegetables based on the availability of each season. With its industrial and minimalistic design it is a contrast to th courthouse of Thessaloniki based next to the restaurant. The kitchen opens at 14:00 and you can see lawyers in their suits eating there. Later in the afternoon it hosts more alternative customers; artists, students and Bohemian figures.

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Pezodromos (Athanasiou Hristopoulou 12, +30 2310268826)
The dish: Cabbage “dolma” (traditionally stuffed with minced meat and rice) is stuffed with shrimps.

Pezodromos is a clone of Sebriko, as one of the co-owners left Sebriko and opened his own place. A really small place that is more like a “Kafenio” (Greek traditional café) than a restaurant. Based on a narrow road in the heart of the city, the place looks half-renovated. The walls partly covered with paintings similar to those of the Greek folk painter Theophilos. In Pezodromos you will never be served meat. The plates are based only on fresh fish that the owner buys at the local fish market and they are cooked in the most imaginative ways. This is the reason why the menue is a simple piece of paper written by hand, passed from table to table. Most of the plates are cooked at the time you order, but with only one cook in the house you may have to wait drinking “raki” until you get served. Anyway, the shop is a Kafenio, a place to pass time with friends and not just to eat and run. The customers are like Sebriko’s but without the lawyers; alternative people searching for real different innovative places to enjoy food.

Nea Folia (Aristomenous 4, +30 2310960383)
The dish: Multicultural influence is obvious in the veal plate spiced with curry and served with pear sote.

Another Sebriko ‘s clone. Based in an older semi-basement restaurant, it has the atmosphere of an old Greek tavern. The restaurant’s name “Nea Folia” means ”the new nest” and it’s really feels like a nest. A cozy warm nostalgic aura with a jukebox placed in a corner. Customers are more or less like Sebriko’s. It’s a great place for someone who is visiting Greece to feel a traditional Greek tavern’s atmosphere combined with a new age cuisine!

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Fri (Doxis 4, +30 2310222008)
Simple local ingredients in great combinations like the plate of caramelized smoked herring cooked in wax paper with onions and black-eyed peas.

Fri has an interesting story. The name is pronounced free, yes, like freedom, but it’s taken from a small port of Kasos island which is based on the south east of Aegean next to Crete. The dishes are influenced a lot by Crete’s unique cuisine. The owner is from Kasos and is also a great musician and singer playing the Laouto, a traditionall string instrument. Some Sunday afternoons you may find him singing traditional Greek songs, along with his friends. Don’t forget to order “sarmamadakia”, small delicious bites of rice with herbs and grounded beef rolled in grape leaves, if they are available. They are cooked on Kasos Island and are delivered once a week. Fri is based in the Laladika area, one of the most touristic areas of Thessaloniki, but the customers are mostly locals.

Mandola (Katouni 19, +30 2310523136)
The dish: Grilled calamari served over taboule salad is a dish that shows that Greece still remains a crossroad of culture between east and west, north and south, and an original Mediterranean country:

Mandola is also based in the Laladika area. The name is the same as a musical instrument, a big mandolin, and at the same time a special caramelized almond sweet origin in Heptanese islands which are the Ionian Islands. The owner of Mandola is from Cephalonia and that’s why its cuisine has Cephalonian origin and is exceptional due to Venice and French influence during the occupation from those countries. This restaurant has a modern design and it is visited by local businessmen for a quick lunch or any kind of foodie for an excellent dinner.
The best surprise arrives with the ticket. Thessaloniki was always called “ftochomana“ (mother of the poor). The plates I present you above is not even close to 15€ each! And don’t let me start with the Greek wines! With more than 250 Greek vine varieties for wine production I will surely need a lot of other articles to cover this subject!

Note from Rosemary:
Our friend and international famed bartender Monica Berg has the following cocktail bars in Thessaloniki to recommend:
Vogatsikou, Vogatsikou 3
La Doze, Vilara 1
Olympion, Pl. Aristotelous 10
The Cocktail Bar, Politechniou 17

 

Illustrations by Kaya Isabella Sammerud, a 23 year old from Oslo. She is studying design at The Oslo School of Architecture and Design, and is interested in everything that is fun and strange.

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