48 HOURS: Take a culinary adventure in Athens with chef Jose Andres

Chef Jose Andres shops at the Athens Central Market in Athens, Greece, in this undated handout image. Thomas Schauer/Handout via REUTERS

By Chris Taylor

On any given day, it is hard to say where you might find chef Jose Andres.

It might be at one of his signature restaurants, or it might be somewhere for his nonprofit World Central Kitchen, which feeds people in trouble spots around the world.

But here is one place you might have a good chance of locating him: Athens. In fact, Andres loves the region so much his latest book, “Zaytinya”, is all about the flavors of Greece, Turkey and Lebanon.

For the latest in Reuters’ 48 Hours series, Andres takes us through a couple of mouthwatering days in the Greek capital.

The following interview is edited and condensed.

WHAT I LOVE MOST

I am humbled by the centuries of history that surround you when you come to Athens. Some of the stones you might be standing on have been there for thousands of years. But when you walk the streets, you feel this city is so alive, so creative. Athens is one of the most exciting culinary cities right now.

WHERE TO GO AFTER YOU LAND

Birdman (Voulis St.) is a very small place from a talented young chef, Ari Vezene. He was inspired by the bars of Tokyo where he spent some time. You find a seat at the bar, there are no tables, and try the little skewers from the Japanese robata grills.

WHERE TO STAY

I’m usually in Athens only for a few days at a time, and Hotel Grande Bretagne (Vasileos Georgiou A. St.) is perfectly located in the center of everything. It has an old-world elegance with fantastic views. Try to get a room with a balcony and a view of the Acropolis.

The Electra Palace (Navarchou Nikodimou St.) is also quite beautiful. My friend Chef Costas Spiliadis recently opened his new hotel, xenodocheio Milos (Kolokotroni St.) I can’t wait to stay there on my next visit. 

jose andres
Chef Jose Andres shops at the Athens Central Market in Athens, Greece, in this undated handout image. Thomas Schauer/Handout via REUTERS

BEST PLACE FOR TEAM MEETINGS

I recently went for lunch at ERGON House (Mitropoleos St.) with some of my team. There are larger rooms for meetings, but we spent most of our time exploring the Agora market on the main floor, loading up on unique Greek food products to bring home for our families.

A for Athens (Miaouli St.), a little rooftop bar and café set off of Monastiraki Square, has some communal bar tables to gather around and take in the amazing view of the city. 

POWER BREAKFAST SPOT

As my good friend Aglaia Kremezi, one of Greece’s most celebrated food writers, has told me: Many Greeks, particularly Athenians, are not really into long breakfast meals. They usually prefer a coffee and maybe a pastry.

You’ll find lots of people at Da Capo (Tsakalof St.) in the Kolonaki neighborhood stopping in for coffee and gathering outside at the tables that line the street. 

TOURIST TRAP THAT’S ACTUALLY WORTH IT

The city of Athens is built around the Acropolis. It shapes the way you understand the city.

Make the walk to the top. Do it. You will be astonished by the size and importance of the Parthenon, the Erechtheum, all these ancient buildings that reach back into the past to inspire us today.

IDEAL COFFEE SPOT

My favorite coffee spot is Mokka (Athinas St.) They have been roasting coffee for generations, and they brew traditional Greek coffee in the small pots called briki that are warmed in hot sand until they bubble and froth.

FAVORITE AREA TO SHOP

I will always seek out the food markets of a city when I first visit. You learn so much about a people and place when you understand the foods they cook and share. So it’s no surprise that I like to visit Athens Central Market, or Varvakios (Athinas St.)

SOMETHING ONLY INSIDERS KNOW

It’s not a secret, but don’t miss the opportunity to have lunch at Diporto (Sokratous St.), probably the most famous ‘koutouki’ in downtown Athens — an underground tavern usually lined with wine barrels serving simple, traditional dishes and local wines.

The meal is simple and satisfying: a fresh Greek salad, traditional fassolada, a creamy white bean soup, fried fish and loaf of bread. 

CANNOT-MISS TREATS

I’m not really one for sweets, but Aglaia Kremezi will take me to get loukoumades, Greece’s famous fried dough puffs doused in honey, at Stani (Marikas Kotopouli St.), a very old spot off Omonia square. Here you’ll find Athenians ordering traditional sheep’s milk yogurt for breakfast.

For more unique desserts, stop at Sweet Nolan (Apollonos St.) where you can get pastries and breads to go.

BEST DINNER SPLURGE

On my last visit, we ate the newly opened Pharaoh restaurant (Solomou St.) Dining there is like being invited to the coolest dinner party in town.

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