NEW YORK – Food tours, until the recent measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, were gaining popularity worldwide. What better way to experience the culture of a particular destination than through a guided tour focusing on food. On April 17, the New York Times published an article in its Travel section about food tours by well-known food writer for 25 years, cookbook author, and professional cook Michael Ruhlman which featured Athens among locations around the world where travelers can enjoy food tours.
Ruhlman wrote that a few years ago for his birthday, his wife Ann gave him a food tour of Athens and he was not entirely enthused, pointing out that he “groaned inwardly,” and replied, “Oh, great, thank you,” the Times reported.
“When I travel, I want to search out where the locals eat, and eat as they eat, among them, not isolated in a crowd of tourists,” Ruhlman wrote, the Times reported, adding “And not marching from one shop to another behind an umbrella-toting guide. I didn’t need a food tour.”
The tour began on an August morning with Ruhlman and his wife, along with eight others, meeting the tour guide, Tiama Kolikopoulou, of the tour company Greeking.me, at Syntagma Square, the Times reported
“After introductions, Ms. Kolikopoulou produced a world map. We were about to taste Athens she said, and so we must first understand the cultural influences that swept through the area during the centuries since Socrates and Euclid trod the rocky Acropolis above us 2,500 years ago. Since then, Greece, a central shipping zone in the middle of the Mediterranean, has been buffeted by food cultures from all sides — the Middle East, Africa and Europe — and all influence the food,” the Times reported.
The group stopped at a stand for a koulouri, the sesame-coated bread, typical for breakfast on the go, and then visited the Karakoy Gulluoglu, a pastry shop for tavuk gogsu, a sweet, vanilla custard, the Times reported. Kolikopoulou “asked us to identify the main ingredient, I took the challenge. And was stumped,” Ruhlman wrote, adding that Kolikopoulou replied, “Chicken,” the Times reported.
The tour continued with a stop at an olive store, then another store selling cured meats, cheeses, and other Greek foods including soutzouki (cured sausage), loza (cured pork loin), pastourmas (cured beef or sometimes camel), dolmadakia, and metsovone, a smoked cheese, the Times reported.
“We sampled not simply really good Greek yogurt, but what Ms. Kolikopoulou said was some of the best yogurt in Greece,” Ruhlman wrote in the Times article.
He continued, “I would have found the main central market, Varvakios, on my own — one of the best ways to know a city is through its markets. But I never would have sat in an all-but-empty diner within the market, Oinomageireio Epirus, to taste among other traditional dishes, patsas, a soup that came with a warning from Ms. Kolikopoulou that it wasn’t for everyone: The tripe-and-hoof soup was the essence of barnyard and animal guts, an acquired taste. It was unlike anything I’ve tasted, and it made the portrait of Anthony Bourdain, then dead just two months, proudly displayed on the wall of the restaurant, especially poignant. This was his kind of food — deep, nourishing, innardy, loaded with gelatin. Food that tastes of your own mortality.”
The tour’s last stop was “Kafeneio Oraia Ellas, a coffee shop off Monastiraki Square, with a proper Greek coffee service, the coffee arriving in a briki, part of the Turkish influence on this country,” Ruhlman wrote in the Times.
The next day, Ruhlman enjoyed a view of the Parthenon from his hotel’s pool and thought, “I know more about Athens, the feel, the manners, the ethos of the place from our food tour, than from hiking the Acropolis,” the Times reported. He added, “Or, looking back on it, from any other single thing we would do in that ancient city.”
The next food tour, six months later, was in Mexico City, followed by a food tour of Lisbon, and then the town of Patzcuaro, a town west of Mexico City.
Ruhlman quoted Kolikopoulou who said that “food is an international language. We can relate more easily to new places and people through food,” the Times reported.