In this case, to define is a literal use of the word. Nikita weaves his tour through the narrow streets of Monastiraki to taste Greece. “In Greece, food is an excuse to meet friends,” explains Nikita, and during several hours Context Travel’s Beyond Feta Athens food tour introduces travelers to many future new friends.
This was my third Context Travel walking tour over the past two years – London, Paris and Athens. The guides are more than knowledgeable; they're engaged. They love their subject and add layers of interest based on their varied backgrounds. Nikita Patiniotis, as an architect, imbues his love of Greek food through a similar artistic sensibility. The itineraries are not pre arranged since the shops rarely know a tour is arriving beforehand. Nikita knows the owners and workers, and these personal relationships are invaluable in understanding the why behind the food.
Monastiraki is the traditional heart of the Athens market district. The ruins of the ancient Greek and Roman markets, the agoras, sandwich a present day era of trendy food shops, produce stalls, vaulted markets and stores selling wares of all types. The tour starts on the vast and lively Monastiraki Square dominated by a historic 13th century Byzantine monastery church, with an incongruous 19th century bell tower, giving the name to this public space. A small section of the Athens River, so polluted by the 6th century AD that it was undrinkable, is visible through a recent archeological site. The ground floor of an 18th century mosque turned commercial structure is now space for several shops selling tourist trinkets.
For the next several hours I will be introduced to the shy owner of a small general store, who has exquisite cheese, and the young smiling proprietor of a trendy new shop featuring food products from the legendary island of Lesbos. We’ll wander into a bakery that never sleeps, munch on ubiquitous pastries drenched in honey syrup and discover Greek fast food. I’ll drink a submarine in a café as ancient as the building it’s housed in and chew on pine gum. We’ll sit down in a meat market famous throughout Europe and discover a delicacy of the Ottoman Empire while quaffing ouzo. The gregarious Nicole will explain in detail the many varieties of Greek cheeses, and I’ll discover herbs I’ve never known that can aid in preventing disease. We’ll wander into the vast Varvakios Agora and understand why Greece is still the ancient center of the culinary world. That’s all in part two.
In part three, I’ll discover a 150-year-old wine shop in the basement of an aging building, a kind description, which attracts presidents, Hollywood moguls and Athenian business elite. Context Travel’s Beyond Feta walking tour illuminates a civilization. Come walk with me.