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Food & Drink
It's easy to eat a poor meal in Athens - certain places in the Pláka spring to mind - but it is just as easy to make every meal a memorable one. Some places are low on sophistication, but great on atmosphere, price and hearty traditional food. There are hundreds of reliable medium-priced places too, and an ever-increasing number of new restaurants with chefs attempting to blend traditional Greek cooking with the latest world trends.
When to EatGreeks tend to eat late, and they seldom eat light. Restaurants are usually open from about noon onwards for lunch, and from seven o'clock for supper, but that is usually to catch the tourist trade - owners know the Athenians will not be out in force for some time. Many of the day's specials are prepared in the morning or at lunchtime, and a dish such as moussaka may be served lukewarm rather than piping hot - but that is the Greek way. If you like hot food, eat early or order something that you know has to be freshly prepared.
For StartersEveryone knows about taramasalata and tzatziki, but there are many other enticing starters. A dip made from aubergines, melitzanasalata, is delicious, while a plate of feta cheese is another Greek favourite. Deep-fried, when it is called saganaki, it is excellent. Florina peppers are sweet red peppers, marinated, baked and served cold: and they look as good as they taste!
What to DrinkThe Greek aperitif is ouzo, an aniseed-flavoured clear spirit that turns milky with water. Ouzo is always served with a glass of water, and sometimes with a small plate of nibbles too. Greeks tend to drink ouzo neat, with a sip of water afterwards, rather than mix the two.
The Greeks don't drink a lot of wine, even though the country is renowned for its unique resinated white wine, retsina. Athenians out for a meal may well have beer and soft drinks, which is one reason for Greek wines' lack of renown. More recently, however, encouraged by the demands of visitors and the increasing sophistication of Athenian palates, Greek wine-makers have responded with an improvement in quality and some award-winning products. Look for labels with names such as Boutari, Tsantalis, Kourtakis and Domaine Carras, the country's leading producers. After a meal it is common to drink a Greek brandy, although this is often done in a bar or at a pastry shop rather than in the restaurant. The brand name Metaxa is so dominant that it has become synonymous with the word 'brandy'. If you like your brandy smooth it is wise to choose the most expensive type, the 7-star Metaxa. Fewer stars generally mean a rougher drink.