When we went to Florence, Italy last summer, one of our favorite experiences was a market tour and cooking class through In Tavola . If you’ve never done one, they are an affordable way to get a taste of a wide variety of local meats, veggies, cheeses and other products. You have a local guide who knows the sellers and restauranteurs who will prepare you samples and small plates of their best dishes.
For $58/person, we booked a 3 hour tour with Marina through AirBnb. This was dollar for dollar, money well spent. No charge for kids under 2 despite the fact that she sampled everything.
We met Marina at 10am in a City Square just a few blocks from our hotel. Unlike our tour in Florence (10-12 people), this tour was private. I’m not sure if that’s the case because it’s off season or if it’s private year round, but it worked to our advantage as many of the places we visited were small with tables for only 3-4 people each.
Stop 1: Creme Royale
Our first stop was to learn about the process of making filo pastry dough by sampling different savory pies. At this shop, they offer pies featuring 3 different kinds of filo. We enjoyed cheese pie with a flaky filo and a spinach and leek pie with a thicker filo.
My urge was to eat every delicious scrap in front of me, but I know we had at least 5 more stops ahead of us. We took the leftovers with us in a small paper takeaway box.
Stop 2: Zarkadian Meat & Cheese Market
I should have taken notes here because we tried more new things than any other stop. The butcher was friendly and generous. We sampled a feta and a goat cheese along with cured olives, spiced meat and salted and seasoned camel. Yes, camel.
The butcher put together a generous cheese and charcuterie plate served with basil seasoned toasted bread pieces, white wine and water. Our daughter devoured the cheese.
The plate was so generous we were only able to finish a little over half of it. Our daughter started to grow restless, so I took my last swig of the simple dry white table wine, and we moved on to our next destination.
Stop 3: Mocca Coffee Shop
Through our Netflix travel show binge, we’d also identified “sand coffee” as a must try while in Athens. We were delighted to discover our next stop was to experience exactly that.
First, the coffee is ground to the finest setting and added to the small pot. Water is added, and the mixture stirred. Unlike filtered coffee, the grounds remain directly in the drink. The pot is placed in hot sand that is over 200 degrees Celsius until the water boils. It’s stirred just once to allow the sediment to settle to the bottom. Just before it boils over, it’s removed from the sand and placed on a tray, ready to serve.
In the traditional Greek fashion, we sat, slowed down and savored our coffee as we watched others in the cafe chat politics and catch up with old friends. Mocca is the place where locals meet to catch up and unwind.
Stop 4: Varvakios Market
Wherever you travel, if you decide to do a food tour, always pick the one with a market tour. You’ll always find the freshest and most exotic local ingredients, plus if you enjoy photography, there’s plenty of inspiration.
We didn’t sample anything at the meat market, mainly because everything was fresh and nothing cooked. In Florence we tasted raw sausage and were scolded by an Infectious Disease colleague the week after. At least we can avoid the epidemiological doghouse this time.
The central portion of market is meat and seafood, while fruit and veggie stands fill the outer ring.
As we walked through the market, I was again reminded just how much Greek people love little kids. So far since we’ve been here, our daughter has been offered (read handed) chocolate, lollipops, pastries and today in the market, a banana, oranges and a strawberry. All for free. The people, more-so elderly men, just love to see the face of a little one light up. The people are generous.
It pays to be cute
Stop 5: Της θεάτρου το στεκι
For our main meal, we walked just a few blocks to Της θεάτρου το στεκι (Tis theatrou to steki). Marina worked with the chef to select a few dishes to best represent what they had to offer. We dined on roasted eggplant, muscles, feta spread, butter beans and sardines.
Stop 6: Serbetia
We finished off the day with dessert at Serbetia, a small dessert shop specializing in both traditional Greek and more modern pastries, tarts and cookies.
Marina gave us a choice between traditional baklava and a cream filled baklava. We opted for the latter. It did not disappoint.
As we finished dessert, we knew our tour was coming to a close. Wrap up was easy – everything was paid in advance on AirBnB, so no awkward pauses waiting for extra tips or hassle of trying to make change.
After the food tour we headed back to our hotel for a siesta. We had hoped to catch the Archeology Museum this afternoon, but we learned the hard way that it closes at 3pm during the off season. Make sure you check your times if you plan to go.
Instead I searched Google for a rooftop bar with great views of the Acropolis. My favorite thing about the European lifestyle is slowing down, sitting on a patio, people watching and enjoying cocktails and good conversation. A for Athens had great reviews and was open. We set out to find it.
We are turning in early this evening as we have an early flight to Crete tomorrow morning.