A favorite in Thessaloniki, Rebetiko player Christos Mitredzis usually ends his sets near dawn, closing with the well-known line: “Let’s go for patsas (tripe-and-veal-trotter soup).” Classic, historic, therapeutic – patsas has achieved cult status, playing a signature role in Thessaloniki’s working-class cuisine and after-hours culture.
Tsarouchas, the city’s oldest patsazidiko (patsas restaurant), has been serving the neighborhood for two generations. The current owner, Dimitris Tsarouchas, says: “In 1952, my father and my uncle opened a mageirio (a restaurant specializing in home – style food) that also served patsas, in the Bit Bazaar antiques market. It was unusual to have both, and people liked it. We moved to this shop in 1967.”
As Dimitris explains, the history of patsas itself goes back a lot farther: “Patsas comes from the Melanos Zoumos (black soup) of Ancient Sparta: veal hooves and stomach boiled up on the go. It was ideal for warfare – rich in calories, but light enough so it didn’t weigh them down in battle.” Its slightly more recent roots are deep in Anatolia, east of Ankara.
Patsas, already popular during the Ottoman period, became even more popular with the arrival of the refugees from Asia Minor in 1922. “It was a working man’s breakfast, for the same reason the Spartans liked it – it fills you up without weighing you down.” Today’s patsas, like its ancient predecessors, is made of veal hooves, tripe and belly, all boiled. Nothing else. “Patsas is custom-ordered – you can have it chopped finely or coarsely. Then we add some red fat (oil skimmed from the top that’s flavored with dried paprika) or skordostoumpi (minced raw garlic in vinegar), or both. Boukovo, or crushed hot red pepper, is on the tables.”
Patsas is loaded with collagen. “Orthopedic surgeons ‘prescribe’ it post-surgery to help rebuild joints,” says Dimitris. And as an elixir of youth? At least one TV hostess is said to eat it regularly – especially the feet – for the youthful glow it gives her complexion. However, it’s the third health property of patsas that accounts for the crowds from about 1am to 7am: “It coats the stomach, protects it from alcohol.” A stop at Tsarouchas is the classic way to end a night out.
“It’s no exaggeration to say that pretty much everyone has been here. Everyone.” He pulls out some newspaper clippings and one name stands out: Lou Reed. Seriously, Lou Reed? “Oh yes. My father said he liked his patsas chopped fine.”
Zarouchas • Olympou Street 78 • Tel. (+30) 2310.271.621 • Never Closes