A visit to the Athens Central Market is a must for any food-lover while visiting Athens. The market is quite large with distinctive halls for the meats, the seafood, and across the street, you’ll find the fruit and vegetable stalls. Just make sure that you rent self-catering accommodation, as you’ll want to buy all the amazing produce to cook dinner at home!
Case in point – when we visited the markets, we walked away with five fat huge pork loin chops for $8.50 AUD, a whole kilo of strawberries for only $1.50 AUD, a bunch of bananas for another $1 AUD, and a massive block of homemade feta cheese for only $2 AUD. Bargain! We could have bought a lot more, but our time in Athens was limited and I couldn’t envision us taking bags of produce with us onto our next destination in Rome!
Visiting all the stalls and inspecting all the produce to make your selection can be hard work and will easily take the whole morning. Once you’ve done all your shopping, lug your bags to the back of the meat market to find the Epirus Tavern and join with all the older Greek locals as they too have lunch after a hard morning of grocery shopping.
The ordering at Epirus Tavern is very personalised – there’s no sitting down at a table and quietly perusing the menu. Instead, the waitress will lead you directly up to the cafeteria-like counter and point out the various different dishes they’ve prepared for that day. You make your selection from what’s available (they will make particular suggestions for traditional Greek foods they think you should try), and they’ll bring plates of your choices to your table for you.
After seeing all the beautiful plump octopuses (octopi?) at various seafood stalls throughout the market, I needed to order Epirus’s Grilled Octopus! In this dish, thin slices of octopus are simply boiled until cooked then grilled for flavour before being dressed with olive oil and Greek oregano. Very simple but effective – the octopus was nice and tender with a good smoky grilled flavour. The pool of olive oil and oregano also made for a good dipping oil for the complimentary basket of bread as well!
We also chose a serving of the Fish Soup, made up of a medley of potatoes, carrots, herbs, a nondescript bony white fish, and layers of oil on top. The soup wasn’t particularly remarkable (a little too oily for me), but I was impressed by the fact that they use whole fish in their soup, rather than cheaper fish pieces.
K was insistent that we order the Fried Sardines after seeing buckets of local freshly-caught sardines at the seafood stalls in the market. This was a very generous serve for two people – twelve large and plump sardines in all, whereas half of that would have been more than ample of this salty and oily fish. It’s worth asking the waitress for a half serve only – but definitely make sure you order them, because the meatiness of these sardines will blow your mind if you’ve only ever tried anaemic tinned sardines before!
We finished off our meal with a serve of Giant Beans – no that’s not a misnomer, it’s actually the name for these very Mediterranean beans! Cooked in a rich tomato sauce and generously fragranced with fresh oregano and garlic, these well-cooked beans were almost falling apart as I ate them – a beautifully simple home-style dish.
To finish our meal, the waitress brought out some home-made pastries despite our protests of being much too full – Greek Semolina Halva. It’s vegan for all those interested, but unfortunately not gluten-free. While K found the grainy agar jelly-like consistency challenging, I quite enjoyed the pastry as it wasn’t too sweet, and had a great cinnamon spice to it. A nice way to finish our meal.
The Athens Central Market is a must-visit, and Epirus Tavern is by far the best choice for a meal in the market, and even in the surrounding streets as well. Their fuss-free home-style cooking and friendly and personal service makes having a meal there like dining at Nonna’s house – complete with the old-fashioned patterned plates.
Prices are reasonable, if a little higher than other restaurants in Athens – a large meal for two (with a small tip) ended up costing about $45 AUD. The authentic local experience you get combined with the home-style cooking makes it all worthwhile though – it’s a must visit when you go to the Athens Market.
Epirus Tavern is located inside towards the back of the Meat Market of Athens Central Market, on 4 Philopoimenous.