History on the table
Trends may come and go, establishments may open or close following the tide of opinion, but Thessaloniki’s cuisine has always reflected the city’s multiethnic and inclusive history.
As the second city of both the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, it accommodated conquerors and traders, settlers and itinerant merchants, from Sephardic Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition to Armenian and Arab traders, Slavs and Greeks from poorer rural areas, refugees from Asia Minor, Greeks from the Black Sea and other migrants from everywhere in the Balkans.
Each of these groups has added their own ingredients, recipes and influences to the city’s gastronomic melting pot.
A serious matter
Thessaloniki has many charms, but for people in Greece, its food tops the list. You know how people say it’s about quality, not quantity? Well, here, you can have both – this is a generous cuisine, served in hearty portions (which is just fine, because the two-hour lunch is a Thessaloniki custom).
Food excites passions, the kind of heated debates usually reserved for politics or football. It also truly connects the community: food-shopping in the central marketplace, with its glistening fish and its hanging meats, is akin to a friendly contact sport, where experience and skill matter, and social engagement matters most of all.
The city’s contemporary culinary landscape benefits from these deep cultural roots. The inspired innovations of young chefs have authenticity and relevance – adding a fresh, exciting chapter to an ongoing story.
The bounties of nature
Thessaloniki’s spot on the map brings with it great natural bounties. The Thermaic Gulf and the sea around the Halkidiki peninsula provide fish and other seafood, while the river delta offers a nutrient-rich environment in which shellfish flourish.
The city is surrounded by farmland and grazing pastures, so quality meat and dairy, fresh fruit and vegetables don’t have to travel for many hours to reach markets and plates. It’s now up to a new, well-traveled and ambitious generation of chefs and restaurateurs to make the most of this abundance, raise the bar in terms of quality and strive for originality.