Though I haven’t really mentioned it on the blog, earlier this year I started contributing some of my work to Portes Magazine, published by two Greek-American sisters I met here in Athens. The first thing I wrote for Portes was about one of my favourite areas of Athens – Agia Eirini Square. This was where my university classes were held, and even over the course of the calendar year I watched as the area became more lively and popular with young and old Athenians alike.
The square is named after the church -Agia Irini, which is itself really lovely, though nowadays most people walk past it on their way to the bars, cafes or restaurants. It is worth looking at though, even just for a moment. The land was previously occupied by one of the main churches of Athens, but that building was destroyed during the Greek Revolution, and the current church built to replace it in 1847. The style is an interesting combination of neoclassical, reflecting the new Greek state’s obsession with its ancient past and early rejection of Byzantine influence. To the casual visitor, it doesn’t seem very ‘Greek,’ but the church is actually very much of its time.
The crowds in the square are, on the other hand, timeless. Spilling out of cafes even in the colder months (I took these photos in February), the square is bustling with people at most hours of the day. While many of these cafes and bars are at the higher end of the cafe scene (Tailor Made is especially popular, with an eclectic selection of coffee, tea and liquor), they all have outdoor tables and are great for people watching.
Though enjoying a leisurely coffee while taking in the atmosphere of the square is all well and good, there are also choices for some more substantial munchies. Greek souvlaki is famous for a reason, and this actual hole in the wall is my favourite. This is a big claim but I will go on record – I think it’s the best in Athens, and I’m not the only one, as the queue outside the door attests. The controversy of this claim, however, comes from the fact that Kostas’ souvlaki had a red, spicy sauce, in contrast to the usual tzatziki. Like any good Greek, I do love tzatziki, but this ‘secret sauce’ is in a league of its own. Yum.
After a quick souvlaki, there is always room for dessert, and this place is a quick walk across the square at the corner of the square. A modern twist on traditional loukoumades – usually described in English as ‘fried dough balls’ but so much more! – this is really worth a stop. I used to say I didn’t like loukoumades – traditionally they’re covered with honey and cinnamon, neither of which I’m a major fan of. BUT as you can see from the photo below, this place has totally corrupted the classic – in a good way. They offer the plain ones of course, but also will stuff them with chocolate, banana, mastiha or other cream, cover them with whatever you want, and serve ice cream on top, in all kinds of unholy combinations. Though I have always left this place clutching my stomach and moaning ‘whyyyy did I eat all of that,’ they are really that good..
Chocolate stuffed loukoumades with praline (nutella-like) drizzle and almonds. After moaning about this, the guy working there said ‘yeah usually we do one or the other on the chocolate, not both inside and on top…’ Oh well, I take my chocolate seriously.
These are plain loukoumades with honey, walnuts and kazan dipi ice cream, made from the traditional sweet kazan dipi. Not pictured – the empty dish at the end. Bon Apptit and Happy Adventuring!