Thursday, August 11, 2011

Going Greek - Dining in and around the Plaka

Before I start this post, I'd like to apologize for the recent pace of the posts. DB~ and I moved on Monday into our new home, so naturally we were busy in the runup to that plus the actual move day. However, we thought that on Tuesday we would be fine once Verizon hooked up our FIOS. And then the whole company decided to strike....

So I'm coming into work early to do this post before my day starts.

Back to your originally scheduled post:

While in Athens, the hotel that we stayed at was on the edge of a neighborhood called the Plaka. The Plaka is an interesting mix of jewelery shops, shoe stores, souvenir places, bars, and restaurants. It essentially runs between two subway stops, Monastariki and Syntagma. Syntagma (Constitution in Greek) Square is where all the rioting happened in early July. It's disturbing to read about the first leg of your honeymoon on with the phrase "tear gas still hangs in the air over Athens".

But they got that all out of their system by the time we got there, although there were still some protestors camping out in the Square. Plus while going to breakfast one morning, a whole Greek SWAT van rolled up and the guys got out with the riot shields and gear. It seems like that is normal procedure though for the Square.

Anyway, back to the Plaka. Like most of Athens that we visited, the side streets in the Plaka were narrow and only fit for pedestrians or scooters. A few of the streets were made entirely of cobblestone. There was always action in the Plaka district; it's pretty much a self-contained little neighborhood.

A common practice, which we did not anticipate, are the waiters standing outside the restaurants gesturing and leading you into their places. You have approximately 8.6 seconds to look at the menu before one of them descends upon you. You can politely wave them off, but then it's on to the next one and the cycle repeats. It reminded me a lot of Jamaica and how every shop owner would try and get you to come in off the street.

Our first night, we selected a random taverna to eat dinner. For an appetizer, we got a plate of hot, softened feta with olive oil and both black and red pepper flakes mixed in. The red pepper flakes gave it the heat and the black got your attention. It was quite tasty.

DB~ had Moussaka, as she went for the kill shot right off the bat. It smelled fantastic when it was brought out and she felt it was one of the best she's ever had.

I had a Pork Souvlaki dinner platter. The souvlaki is the Greek kebab, although kebabs (more Middle Eastern) are uber-prevalant in Greece as well. Typically, a souvlaki is skewered meat that is taken off the skewer and put into a pita with lettuce, tomato, and tzatziki sauce (cucumber with yogurt). Mine was on a plate with little wedges of pita on the side. I wasn't sure how to construct it with the tiny wedges, so I sort of ate everything individually. I'm sure the waiters just rolled their eyes at me.

For lunch on Wednesday, we got gyros (pronounced "heros") from a corner stand that was reputed by a Greek person we know back in Pittsburgh to be the best ever. The great thing is that if you get them to go, they are 2 euros rather than 4 if you sit down. Same gyro, just that they don't have to serve you, I guess. So we ate our gyros, lamb for me and chicken for the Squiggle, in the Monastariki Square and observed Athens life.

Here's a few observations from our short time in Athens:
1. Pakistanis/Indians are 2nd class citizens in Athens. The street vendors and beggars were primarily from these countries (maybe a Sri Lankan tossed in there too). When you would eat outside, the little kids would try and pull on your heart strings by playing instruments or selling you flowers, even at 11 pm.

2. Europe has not gotten the memo that smoking will kill you. Coming from a city and country that is trying to make it as difficult as possible to smoke, it was jarring to see all these Euros (young and old) firing up a heater before dinner, waiting for dinner, after dinner, after visiting the Acropolis, waiting for a subway, etc.

3. Euro dudes wear capri pants. American guys wear them here too, but it is a rare occasion and they are usually on their way to buy tickets to see Celene Dion or Cher.

4. Surprisingly, Euro women did get the memo to shave their armpits. This was welcome, as I didn't want to constantly see a woman and it look like she had Buckwheat in a headlock.

5. Scooters are the primary and accepted method of transportation for guys in Greece. Again, something a little effeminate about them here is OK over there. It's almost a necessity with the narrow streets and lack of good parking areas. Smart cars were very popular, too.

6. Lot of graffiti. Lots. And not just because of the recent riots against the austerity plan.

Our last night in Athens, we wandered through the Plaka looking for a nice romantic off-the-beaten-path place. We found it at a place on Adrianou that I do not remember right now and do not have access to DB~'s camera to find the picture. It had the interesting feature of having tables up the inclined alleyway next to it. Some of the tables were at the angle of the alleyway and some, like ours, were on platforms to keep it level.

That night we had some fantastic dolamathedes, which are grape leaves stuffed with rice and drenched in olive oil until they are soft to the touch and can cut with a fork. Another nice touch in Greece is that feta cheese is, literally, everywhere. They can't give you enough of it. When you ordered a salad, they gave you a block of it doused with oregano. Here's a picture of the grape leaves and the typical Greek salad.

For dinner that night, DB~ had a deconstructed chicken kebab dish and I had lamb kleftiko. This is definitely something I'll be reverse-engineering back here, as it was chunks of lamb slow roasted in foil with some tomato sauce, potatoes, and other vegetables and seasoning. It was a very simple dish, but had a lot of flavor.

Our time in Athens drew to a close on a Wednesday night. It would take just a short 45 minute flight for us to go to perhaps the most picture-esque place that either of us have been to...the island of Santorini.


  1. "3. Euro dudes wear capri pants. American guys wear them here too, but it is a rare occasion and they are usually on their way to buy tickets to see Celene Dion or Cher. " was the Cher concert?

  2. If you tell me that you didn't like her Turn Back Time video when you were a teen, you sir, are a bold-faced liar.

  3. I will try and secretly post a photo of DBS with his "man bag". Again, DBS could get away with it in Europe, but is a little self-conscious using it around the 'Burgh. It's good to start trends, right? ~