Like many of the city’s pleasures, bougatsa, Thessaloniki’s most popular breakfast (or late-night) snack, has its roots in the east, in Smyrna in Asia Minor. The original bougatsa was sketi, meaning it was plain, made with nothing but layers of hand-stretched filo coated with butter and oil that would keep it crisp and tender all day long. It served as a convenient lunch for workers, portable and tasty. When the ladies in the grand homes of Smyrna turned it into a fashionable tea-time snack, fillings of cream or minced meat were added to dress it up. Thessaloniki ended up with such great bougatsa because, when the Greek refugees fled Asia Minor in 1922, the majority of them came to Thessaloniki, bringing the recipe with them.
Today, you can find bougatsa shops everywhere in Thessaloniki, but only a few of them make it the traditional way, by hand, and Bantis is one of them. Phillipos Bantis, who runs the family business these days, explains its history. “My grandfather wasn’t a baker when he came over from Cappadocia. He worked at the ‘Aslan Hani’ – it had a stable for animals, rooms for travelers and a kitchen where he learned to make bougatsa. He taught my father, who opened this shop in 1969.”
Making bougatsa by hand is tricky – Phillipos starts with a disk of dough a little smaller than an LP and tosses it out in front of him. After five or six throws, it’s half the size of a bed-sheet and just as thin. He spreads oil and butter on it, folds it over, and dots it with semolina cream, 12 layers on top and 12 layers on the bottom. It’s ready for the oven. The next bougatsa he makes is “sketi,” because I told him I thought it was an urban food myth and nobody makes it anymore. But he tells me that this – the original plain bougatsa – is actually the favorite of connoisseurs. He gives me both pies in an aluminum dish to bake at home. When I try them, fresh and hot, I find that “sketi” is my new favorite, too.
Bantis: 33 Panagias Faneromenis
• Tel. (+30) 2310.510.355
• Monday to Saturday 06:00-15:00
• Sunday 06:00-13:00