“I see a snake,” I said.
“That means an enemy,” said our guide, Thanasis, taking Craig’s cup from me. The three of us were in a cafe on one of Thessaloniki’s main streets, peering over a tiny coffee cup and trying to tell Craig’s fortune from the dregs.
It wasn’t the most auspicious start to our Tastes of Thessaloniki tour with Urban Adventures, but luckily we didn’t come across the predicted enemy that day. On the contrary: all the food we met seemed very friendly!
After the coffee, we visited a small bakery for bougatsa: filo pastries filled with spinach and cheese, meat, or custard cream, which we ate at an outside table while Thanasis explained how they’re made and how perfect they are as a snack after a night out drinking.
Soon it was time to move on, and we dropped into a thousand-year-old church on our way to the market, with another brief stop to buy koulouri bread rings from a street vendor. These sesame seed-coated rings are ubiquitous in the city, and definitely worth trying. We were already a little full though, so Thanassis took us for a wander through the markets before sitting us down at a small bar and ordering tsipouro.
Greece is known for ouzo, but Greeks themselves are much more likely to drink tsipouro, a double-distilled spirit that doesn’t necessarily have the aniseed flavour ouzo is famous for. The pours were generous, but “we have time,” said Thanasis. And a good thing too — the drinks were accompanied by a small plate piled high with snacks. These vary from bar to bar and from day to day; ours included cheese, caviar sauce, beans and onions, grilled vegetables, and a small salty fish.
The next stop was for gyros, Greece’s favourite fast food. “People here don’t eat McDonald’s,” Thanasis told us. “They opened three branches in Thessaloniki, but now we only have one. People eat gyros.”
We were defeated by these enormous flatbreads stuffed with pork and chips (with a token tomato slice in there somewhere), and had to leave half behind to have room for dessert — a selection of baklava-like pastries dripping in syrup.
The food was delicious, but Thanasis’s commentary was what really made the tour special. We felt like we got under the surface of Thessaloniki’s food culture as we learned about what to eat, where, when, and with whom; as well as finding out a little about the history of the area (“it’s not so old, the oldest ruins we have are from 300BC”) and its traditions.
I’d highly recommend the Tastes of Thessaloniki tour, and if I could go back in time, I’d only change one thing: I wouldn’t have had breakfast first!