Over the last three years, Athens boasts its own Museum of Greek Gastronomy where anyone can experience Greek cuisine.
Our four-hour visit doesn’t have the feel of typical a stroll in a museum. We start off at the Varvakios Fish and Meat Market with a group of young drama students from Texas.
The century-old market in the city center is the go to place for many Athenians in search of fish and meat. The museum’s founder, Konstantinos Matsourdelis, along with the chef, stand in as guides during our tour of the market and the surrounding neighborhood, where spice shops and delis selling cold cuts fill the air with the intense aroma of cinnamon, and pastourma (cured beef).
We are shopping for ingredients that we intend to cook in the museum’s yard. Our first stop is at the butcher stalls.
Big knives, benches drenched in blood and animal carcasses hang off meat hooks.
The students, who had been taking in the tour with great interest, suddenly freeze in front of the fish stall.
Matsourdelis explains: “Many tourists get to see a calf or a fish before it has been cut into pieces for the first time and this makes an impression on them. Once, a young woman asked me if the lamb was some kind of bird, while someone else broke down in tears.”
But there also other novelties in store for visitors to the Museum of Greek Gastronomy, like trying octopus and fresh fish.
We headed for the beautiful neoclassical building dating to 1890 in the Psyri neighborhood, where we will cook chicken with barley, and prepare a green salad and halva.
When I say cook, I mean it literally. In the yard, an outdoor kitchen has been set up with lots of pots and pans where the students, with the help of the chef, will prepare their meal.
The heart and soul of these places is, of course, their people, and for this reason Matsourdelis remains by the side of visitors to help explain the mentality governing Greek gastronomic culture. He, himself, gets to learn the ins and outs from the other side of the world.
“If there’s something I love about this job, it’s that I can add a piece to their puzzle and they do the same for me,” he says.
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