Traditional Attica food products. An overview.
Attica, the administrative region of Athens, is a blessed area surrounded on the one side by the Saronic Sea and on the other by the Aegean. There the sun shines bright almost 300 days a year on its gentle hills and mountains. Climate is mostly dry and mild or warm, on average, but there are quite a few differences between its sub-areas. The northern areas feature most hills and mountains and are cooler and more wet. Its midland (“Mesogea”) is more dry. It can be quite hot during the day but chilly in the night, although temperature never falls below zero (average annual temperature in the whole region is 18 C). Finally, the coastal zones are typically Mediterranean, warm and dry, and the more South you get the more so. The northern areas boast pine forests and some conifers, and at lower altitudes olive trees, vineyards, fruit trees and vegetable gardens. Conversely, in the South olive trees, pistachios, vineyards and fig trees prevail. Beyond Athens’ tours and activities you can discover this unique land.
Attica plains, drenched with the warm Greek sun and with the salty breeze of the contiguous sea, were famous for their fertility even in Ancient Classical times. The most renowned and commercialised products were the Mesogea wine, which was consumed in the banquets (Symposia) and in devotion of god Dionysus, and also reached countries abroad. Apart from the wine, other products that could be found on the table back then are still being cultivated today, though in somewhat lower quantities, due to the expansion of the urban settlements and the lands occupied by the international airport.
Some of those typical products are part of the typical “Greek Mediterranean diet” and are:
WHITE WINE The trademark wine of the area is “retsina”, which results from a conservation technique that employs a special resin from a pine tree and has a strong characteristic flavour. Retsina, once the most diffused wine of Attica, relies on a substantial fan club but has also gained some detractors when years ago the quality of its production was not at today’s standards. This particular kind of wine is obtained from the Savatiano grape variety, the most cultivated in the region. Other peculiar and interesting white varieties are Roditis, Asyrtiko, Malagouzia and Moschato.
Papagiannakos Winery – Retsina, Savvatiano (www.papagiannakos.gr/en/)
Semeli – Savvatiano
Anastasia Fragou – Savvatiano, Neilis Malagouzia
Roxani Matsa – Malagouzia
Red wine is a far more challenging endeavour in this land and less popular than white. Local red varieties of the Attica vineyards are Mandilaria and Agiorgitiko, while some strong foreign varieties have also started yielding interesting results and gaining worldwide appreciation.
Anastasia Fragou – Alypos
Papagiannakos – Kalogeri Cabernet, Merlot
Megapanos – Erythros
PETIMEZI Petimezi is a traditional Greek syrup obtained from the boiling of excellent and extremely ripe white and red grapes. One part of petimezi corresponds approximately to six parts of grapes. It contains all the nutritional properties of grapes condensed and it is an excellent source of energy, minerals, amminoacids, iron, phosphorus, potassium and antioxidants. It has been used since ancient times and has been the main sweetener in Greece before the processed sugar. Many still used it today given that it is far healthier than white sugar, and totally natural. Though without preservatives, it can be stored outside the refrigerator. It is used in salad dressings, cakes and sweets, as a sweetener in hot drinks, in marinades, as a syrup over creams, yoghurt or ice cream. It can be consumed alone as an energy booster. You can find petimezi in most wineries of Attica.
FIGS In Ancient Greece, the fig tree was considered to be a sacred tree. According to history, one of the main reasons which forced the Persian king Xerxis to attempt to concur Greece were its famous figs, especially Attica figs. The most appreciated figs in the Attica region today are those that grow in the area of Vravrona-Markopoulo, are best known as “Vasilika” (it means “royal”), a black variety. Markopoulos figs are sold by many super markets in Athens, groceries shops and street markets in late summer.
TOMATOES The cultivation of tomatoes is widespread in Attica as in many other parts of Greece. Perhaps the best variety to be found in the region is the so-called Batala of Vravrona. Batala is a huge tomato, often uneven in shape but incredibly tasty. Unfortunately its cultivation is coming to a halt because it is a variety difficult to treat and delicate in transportation. It is therefore better enjoyed on the spot and soon after collection. You can find it in groceries shops in the Markopoulo area or buy it from the direct producers with selling points on the side of the road.
PISTACHIOS Great pistachios are those of the wider Markopoulo area, but the quality and the taste of Egina island nuts are unrivalled. Pistachio trees are widespread and cultivated also by small farmers. Harvest period is in August.
RUSKS AND BISCUITS Attica is also known for its bread and rusks, that feature olive oil and Mediterranean herbs. Typical biscuits are those made with local grape must or petimezi, sesame seeds, dried fruits, honey and wine.
DAIRY (YOGHURT, CHEESE) Dairy producers use local goat and sheep milk to create tasty fresh cheese (anthotyro, galotyri), graviera and of course feta. Also, great yoghurt, which can be lighter or more dense (straggisto), be low or full fat. You can taste great dairy products at Kostarello shops (www.kostarelos.gr/).
HONEY Greek honey is of excellent quality because of the peculiar characteristics of the Greek land and stands out for its density, sweetness and aromas that derive from the Mediterranean flora. The most renowned varieties are thyme, Erica, spruce and all-flowers honey. In Attica you can find great examples of the first two.
TIP: You can discover the special taste of Attica products, learn how to prepare traditional Greek dishes and savour modern New Greek Cuisine creations with Beyond Athens tours, “Gourmet Athens” city-break and “Mediterranean Greek Food & Nutrition” workshop.