Best Traditional Greek Desserts and Where to Try Them in Athens (part 2)
The Greek cuisine is not just a wide range of savory dishes with meat, fish and legumes. For those interested and eager enough to discover another side of the Greek food reality, then you should take advantage of the opportunity to taste all the traditional sweets coming from every corner of Greece, both its mainland and its islands.
It’s not just about the taste. It’s about getting to know Greek culture through its variety of “sugary tradition”, a long-lasting tradition of options for those with a sweet tooth. If you are a chocolate lover, however, you might be a bit disappointed when you realize that traditional Greek desserts aren’t chocolate-based, since chocolate didn’t make it to Greece until mid-19th century.
Nevertheless, if you’re visiting Greece, then it is a great chance for you to have a taste of these traditional desserts as part of your experience during your trip.
One of the most renowned sweets, closely connected with the Greek culinary tradition, is loukoumi, a fluffy and gelatinous sweet bite, usually accompanying the Greek coffee that you might have ordered at the small traditional coffee shops (a.k.a. kafeneia). Its origins are located in Ottoman Istanbul of 17th century, while it wasn’t until 19th century that loukoumi first came to Greece. Although loukoumi is not that popular nowadays, it remains a good option for anyone looking to satisfy some late afternoon –or night– craving. The main ingredients used are water, sugar and starch. This chewy candy comes in different flavors such as rose, coconut, orange, tentura, mastic, bergamot, etc., with walnuts and almonds mixed in, always depending on the recipe. The most famous loukoumia are those produced on the island of Syros. If you’re looking for a great place to buy a box to take with you on your trip back home, then you should definitely check Yoleni’s or Mastiha shop and browse through the different options available.
Where: Yoleni’s, Solonos 9, Athens
Almonds are an integral part of the Greek culinary tradition, especially when it comes to sweets, used in a large number of desserts. More particularly, one of the most known sweets are amygdalota, which consist of ground almonds and sugar and are flavored with rose or orange blossom water. These ingredients are mixed together, in order to produce a dense-textured treat in a pear-like shape, which is finally covered with powdered sugar, giving it a more elegant look. Amygdalota are a treat of the Greek culture that symbolizes new beginnings and are usually, therefore, offered in events associated with such new beginnings, such as engagements and weddings. At Mitropolitikon, a pastry shop located near Syntagma square, you will have the opportunity to taste some of the best amygdalota, prepared with meraki and high-quality ingredients. If you, however, plan a trip to Cyclades islands, then it is here where you will find the tastiest traditional amygdalota Greece has to offer.
Where: Mitropolitikon, Voulis 39, Plaka
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3. Pasteli (sesame seed bar with honey)
Just like almonds, sesame is one of the most important ingredients of the Greek cuisine. As such, sesame has been used in different recipes, both savory and sweet, dating back to Ancient Greece. In its sweet version, sesame was used in order to produce the well-known sweet treat, the pasteli, which can actually be considered the first energy bar with a high nutritional value. Today, it can be found everywhere, from the supermarkets to small stores selling biological products, and in various combinations with dried fruit, nuts and chocolate, taking your taste experience to the next level. If it is your first time tasting pasteli, then make sure to give a try to the original one, consisting mainly of sesame seeds and honey (known as soft sesame seed bar/pasteli). Oh, and avoid those with added sugar, because they’re nothing like the real deal. Although you can buy pastelia from literally everywhere, you could easily visit the Matsouka store on Ermou street and buy a bunch of pastelia, which you can either eat as a snack while wandering around Athens, or take with you as a present for your family and friends.
Where: Matsouka store, Ermou 18, Syntagma
Read also: Top 10 Ice Cream Places In Athens
4. Ravani (semolina cake with syrup)
Ravani is a traditional dessert, popular all over Greece. It is made from semolina, sugar and flour. Once baked, it is soaked in sugar syrup, which gives its characteristic sweetness and adds to its unique taste. Depending on the recipe and the region ravani is prepared, it can also have different flavorings added to the mixture, such as vanilla extract, lemon or orange zest, or rose water. In order to have a taste of the most flavorful and richest ravani, then you shouldn’t look any further and just go by Kosmikon. Although better known for its galaktoboureko, Kosmikon has a great tradition and expertise in all desserts that are soaked in syrup and can be found in any of its six pastry shops in Agios Nikolaos, Agios Eleftherios, Palaio Faliro, Agia Paraskevi, Glyfada and Agia Marina.
Where: Kosmikon, Leof. Ionias 104, Agios Nikolaos
If you grew up in Greece, you would definitely know what an ypovrychio (engl. submarine) is, since it was the spoon dessert found in every Greek home, especially during the summer. It is made from sugar, water and glucose, which is mostly flavored with vanilla or mastic. Due to its density, it is the ideal sweet during summer’s hot months, because it doesn’t spoil or melt. A spoonful of this white thick paste is served in a glass of cold water and must be consumed in just a few minutes, because it starts melting inside the water. It can also be used as frosting on cakes, biscuits and cookies. You can find it literally in every supermarket or store selling traditional products and in fair prices. It may also be served with your Greek coffee in some kafeneia as a small treat on the side, as an alternative to the usual cookie, but, unfortunately, you’d have to be really lucky to come across such places.
Take part in a gastronomic experience at a local Athenian’s house
6. Spoon sweets
When it comes to tradition, there isn’t anything screaming more traditional than homemade spoon sweets, or glyka tou koutaliou, as they are known in Greek. Spoon sweets used to be the treat offered to guests that came visiting, when a fridge didn’t exist or was considered a luxury for most people. This is why people turned to alternative preservation methods and this is how spoon sweets were first made, which was a form for preserving fruit, such as oranges, figs, grapes, and many more, by boiling it in honey and later in sugar syrup, once sugar was brought to Greece. Greek islands are well-known for their spoon sweets tradition, but this tradition quickly expanded to the mainland, where many villages have also become famous for their production of spoon sweets. In Athens, however, there are several places where you can get a taste of traditional spoon sweets, the most prominent of which being Cherchez la femme near Syntagma square on Mitropoleos street, served along with your Greek coffee.
Where: Cherchez la femme, Mitropoleos 46, Athens
No matter what you choose, nevertheless, I’d absolutely suggest trying all of them while in Athens!
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Have you tried any of the above desserts? Which one is your favorite? Let us know in the Comments section below!
Text: Spyros Balesias