Food entrepreneurs in Greece are defying the country’s financial crisis
GREECE may be plagued by financial woes, but it is also in the middle of a culinary renaissance. In the past three years, the country has experienced a boom in food tourism — proof that in recessions people still eat. Thanks almost solely to private initiative, olive harvesting, cheese making, wine tasting and culinary tours have taken off.
‘‘The culinary scene has been influenced by the crisis, as many Greeks have retreated from global culinary trends to the comfort of Greek cooking,’’ says Despina Trivolis, who runs the Athens branch of global network Culinary Backstreets.
‘‘We are already getting a lot of interest,’’ she says of the company’s decision to launch walks around Athens this month. ‘‘There seem to be a lot of independent foodie travellers who want to eat like Greeks.’’
Even before Greece’s debt drama, the nation had begun to rediscover the benefits of regional cuisine. And that curiosity has translated, increasingly, into many people rediscovering their roots as a great rural migration has begun. Overnight, the country has experienced a surge in exports of everything from olive oil to honey and feta cheese.
‘‘There is definitely a lot of interest from a younger generation who are all keen on investing in Greek culinary products and services, be it trying to export their family’s olive oil abroad or learning the basics of organic farming for their family’s unused plots,’’ says Trivolis.
Typical of a generation that has been skilled and schooled abroad, Trivolis is keen to show an Athens far removed from the cliches attached to Greece since the arrival of mass tourism in the 1950s.
Since the crisis began, Greek products have become must-buys, with supermarkets highlighting home-grown fruit, vegetables and other food in their advertising. In Athens, there has been a surge in wine bars with cellars that are exclusively Greek, such as Heteroclito and Oinoscent, both near the central Syntagma Square. There are also restaurants serving regional delicacies, such as Kriti in Kanigos Square, which offers authentic Cretan cuisine.
Culinary Backstreets has deftly decided to capitalise on the explosion. ‘‘Our walks consist of a full day of eating
above and walking around the heart of Athens, the area that we like to call the stomach of the city,’’ says Trivolis. ‘‘They include 10 or more culinary stops, but also a taste of the real contemporary Athens, a city where you can find neoclassical buildings, Bauhaus architecture and Roman ruins within the same block.’’
Trivolis says the tours will stop at places such as Kostas (Pentelis 5) in Agias Eirinis Square, said to serve some of the best souvlaki in town; Stani (Marika Kotopouli 10) in Omonoia, which prides itself on its Greek yoghurt; and seafood restaurant To Triantafilo tis Nostimias (Lekka 22, hidden away close to Syntagma).
The ancient Greeks may have invented gastronomy (and, some say, wine), but Trivolis bemoans the tardiness of young Athenians in grasping the concept of culinary tourism. ‘‘It’s insane, considering the superb product that Athens can offer as a culinary destination.’’
Luxury resorts have joined the trend. Costa Navarino, a retreat in the southwest Peloponnese favoured by film stars, has turned to the food business, establishing its own produce line, Navarino Icons, in 2011. The resort offers cooking classes with local women sharing family recipes, and wine and olive harvesting tours.
‘‘Harvesting olives has been hugely popular,’’ says Peter Poulos, a partner in Navarino Icons. ‘‘At a time when more and more want 100 per cent traceability with products, we have found that visitors are delighted to see how the olives are harvested off the tree and then pressed and bottled without preservatives.’’
Cooking schools have also proliferated, popping up on islands as far-flung as Ikaria, in the north Aegean, where celebrated Greek-American chef Diane Kochilas runs extremely successful classes.
Kostas is said to serve some of the best souvlaki in Athens