Greeks love bread. That bread loaf with the crisp crust and soft inner crumb which is kneaded with care and comes out of the oven fluffy and golden, permeating the air with aromas. The warm bread they take wrapped in paper and before they’ve turned the corner, they’ve already nibbled off the end. The bread they dip into the salad with tomato seeds and onion floating in oil in order to make the perfect bite.
Nowadays, you can get mass-produced, ready-made bread. But if you want to feel like a local, then go to one of the bakeries that keep the tradition alive, but imbue it with new ideas, according to current tastes and modern eating habits. As you walk around downtown Athens, instead of having breakfast or brunch, grab a pie made with handmade phyllo dough -which has a long tradition in this country-, try a freshly baked koulouri (a bread ring with sesame seeds) and check out the wealth of sweet and savoury delicacies lingering on the shelves and in the crates.
One pretty interesting bakery shop is Pnyka run by the Kotsari family, with three bakeries in Athens and even one in Vienna (!), that was named after an important city landmark: Pnyka was the assembly area of the ancient Athenians. If you pass by their bakery on Petraki Street, you will see a painting above the window display and the loaded shelves depicting orators as they deliver their speech. But what stands out here is the dough found in a variety of breads (carob bread, chia seed bread, etc.), rusks, breadsticks and koulouri, made with selected grain that is grown the traditional way and ground at their own stone mill in Pagrati. You may come across a slight congestion at the entrance – the shop is small – but it is worth the wait in order to buy delicious bread, as well as cheese and spinach kourou pastry pies, chicken pies, various baking pies, or a bougatsa (custard pie with phyllo).
Another must-stop is the renowned bakery Artopoiotis O Takis under the Acropolis, where dozens of bread types are kneaded everyday and long queues form daily at the counter. The sons of Takis Papadopoulos, Artemis and Thodoros, a third generation of bakers, continue the family tradition and write their story in flour and yeast. You should definitely try some of the pies (kourou dough cheese pie, or the pan baked cheese pie, spinach pie, leek pie), the cheese and tomato bread rolls with cream cheese, fluffy foccacia with olives or rosemary and cookies with wheat germ, linseed and cranberry. On your way out, pick up some burley rusks. And… come back in the afternoon and get to know the “sibling” shop, called Drupes & Drips. The two brothers have set up a spritzeria just a breath away, which is a regular hangout for the 30+ crowd of the city. Every Aperol Spritz and Italian wine is accompanied by fine cheeses and cold meats (Mykonos xynotyri cheese, graviera cheese and ripe dried anthotyro cream cheese from Crete, excellent gorgonzola, aged cheese from Lessinia in Italy, aged coppa in Amarone), served on small wooden boards that come with rustic bread from their own oven, with oil from Olympia and thick salt from Rineia.
Not far away, is Mama Psomi, where Giorgos Gatzios and Rallou Michalopoulou, who are also actors apart from being bakers, make truly delicious bread and daily bake pies with phyllo made with olive oil. Take away a variety of goodies in a small paper bag such as a cheese pie, milk pie, meat and sausage pie with turkey sausage, spinach pie with chervil and Mediterranean hartwort herbs and pumpkin pie with a lovely spearmint aroma.
Lastly, one more thing worth trying is the sesame koulouri, also called koulouri from Thessaloniki. These were widely spread when the refugees settled in Macedonia after the Asia Minor catastrophe, and were sold by street vendors who would carry the koulouri in crates on their heads. Now you will see them being sold in wheeled glass showcases in various parts of the city. One of the best-known koulouri representatives is To Koulouri Tou Psiri, which sells thousands of the traditional sesame bread rings every day, some twisted, some fluffy, others more crunchy, but also with raisins or sunflower seeds. On a Friday or Saturday night, the all-nighters make a stop at their bakery on Karaiskaki Street in the early morning hours, for a freshly baked bite to eat before going to bed.
Artopoiotis O Takis, Misaraliotou 14, Makrigianni, Acropolis, +30 2109230052
Drupes & Drips, Zitrou 20, Koukaki, +30 6970300404
Koulouri Tou Psiri, Karaiskaki 23, Psiri, +30 2103215962
Mama Psomi, Zaharitsa 42, Koukaki, +30 2109227686
Pnyka, Petraki 24, Athens (Syntagma), +30 2103245162 | Tositsa 26, Exarcheia, +30 2103812817 | Pratinou 13, Pagrati, +30 2107251941