the best pies in athens

the best pies in athens

The Greek word for pie is pita, which is not to be confused with pita bread. Usually an extra word is added in front of pita, so you get tyropita, which is cheese pie; spanakopita, or spinach pie, and so forth. These savory pies are sold in individual portions in bakeries all over Athens, but the best pies in the city – and possibly the most famous – can be found at family owned Ariston, which has occupied the same spot behind Syntagma Square since 1910. The store’s specialty are kourou pies, which is an odd name since I am pretty sure kourou is the archaic term for a statue of a naked male youth, made with a homemade phyllo dough containing yogurt and butter. Stuffed with salty feta cheese, the butter-rich dough crumbles in your mouth and makes for a scrumptious hand-held snack somewhere between a pasty and a pastry.

kourou

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the mystery pastry of el riojano

Crossing calle Mayor and wiping away the breadcrumbs still clinging to the corners of my mouth, I find myself yet again intrigued by a window. Only this time it’s pastry, exhibited like fine jewelry in a boutique display at El Riojano.  What could better follow a pair of ham sandwiches than a bite or two of flaky pastry? I don’t get much browsing time in the mahogany and marble decorated shop however: it’s time for siesta, and the elegantly turned out ladies of the shop seem more interested in shuttering up for the afternoon than explaining to me what’s what.  So I quickly opt for something that looks strudel-like and non-threatening before paying at the register and returning to the counter to collect my goods. Ushered into the street, I try and figure out what I’m about to eat.  It looks like a fruit filling of some kind but I can’t distinguish it by sight.  Nor by taste, it turns out.  It’s sweet and flaky and buttery at the same time with a hint of almond and the clean taste of said mystery fruit, but I honestly haven’t a clue what it could be. Beyond delicioso, that is – which is all I ultimately care about.

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crazy in chiado

No matter what time of day you pass Cafe á Brasileira, it’s packed. The infamous coffee shop in Chiado is one of Lisbon’s oldest cafes, having gained recognition as the favorite hang out of the famous – yet crazy – poet, Fernando Pessoa. A man who drank copious amounts of absinthe, Pessoa spent countless hours getting blitzed here, letting go with his creative flow, so to speak. In dedication, there is a bronze statue of him sitting outside the cafe and that’s where you want to be. Always full, it’s the perfect place to people watch. So stand at the bar, order a pingado, a pastry and check out the turn of the century interiors while waiting for a table to clear. Then plant yourself.  You won’t hear anyone spouting poetry at the top of their lungs, but the parade of people going by makes for its own fun distraction.

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smitten with sintra

Sintra is hands down one of the most beautiful towns in Portugal.  A mix of sumptuous royal palaces and beautiful landscapes, it’s beyond picturesque; breathtaking views over the countryside stretch all the way to the coast. Primitive Iberians were so bewitched by the area’s natural wonders that it became a place of cult worship – christened Sintra, Mountain of the Moon, after the Celtic goddess. The summer escape for Portugal’s crowned heads, Lord Byron described it as “a garden of the earthly paradise.” Also known for its wine growing and marble quarrying, Sintra has been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. However, the town’s real treasures are also its most unassuming: the many cafes – little oases of  daily repast – and their traditional confectionery, like queijada de Sintra, bite-sized cheesecakes made from queijo fresco, a kind of cottage cheese. Sightseeing has never been so restful – nor tasted so sweet.

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