You can tell how well a city eats by its street food. There will be some great restaurants in any town – and Thessaloniki is no exception – but what if you’re in a hurry? What if you’re backpacking on 10 euros per day? What if it’s 4 in the morning? You’re in luck because the city has snacks and cheap-and-cheerful meals ideally suited to every hour of the city’s round-the-clock lifestyle.
06.00 – Bougatsa
The fresher the better – bougatsa places open for people who start their working days early. Starting at 6 am, this flaky pie, served chopped into bite sized pieces, is served crisp and hot from the oven.
The standard filling is sweet cream (with powdered sugar on top) but savory versions also exist with spinach, cheese or minced meet. In the morning, cream is the most popular. Chocolate milk in the carton is the usual drink. It may sound heavy, but it really works. Very few places make hand-stretched phyllo anymore, but Bantis does and it’s worth the trip a few blocks north of the center. Also try Neon (on a charming back street in the center).
Where to Get Bougatsa
Bantis, 33 Panagias Fanouromenis. (Bus #26 from Venizelou Street to Panagias Fanouromenis stop), Tel (+30) 2310.510.355. Open Monday-Saturday 6:00 – 15:00, Sunday 6:00 – 13:00.
Neon, 20 Frangon Street at Leondos Sofou. (+30) 2310.527.804. Open daily 05:00 – 15:00.
08.00 – Koulouri
It doesn’t look like much, but this bread ring coated with sesame seeds is satisfying and flavorful. The slightly sweet taste of the dough shines through in the fatter, more compact version – chewy and filling. There are also larger thinner rings with a delicate crispness and toasty flavor.
Both are 50 cents, from street vendors, circulating during shopping hours. Filled koulouri are a new fashion. They’re fine, but beside the point.
11.00am – Pies
Greek pies (pites) are a glory, with many choices of savory but also sweet fillings, and many regional variations. You can get great pie anywhere in Greece, but especially in Thessaloniki; the people of Asia Minor who settled here in the 1920s are known for their delicate yet tasty dough.
Chicken pies are in vogue now and they are great, but a spanakopita or spinach pie, sweetened with a little sautéed onion and sometimes enriched with the tang of crumbled feta, is a classic choice. Look for pies with a surface of haphazard folds of golden crisp dough. For some reason, pies cut into squares instead of wedges are often even tastier – they’re sold at bakeries on Ermou street between Aristotle Square and Komninon Street.
Pies can be found everywhere – if it looks good, in a rustic kind of way, then it will taste good. Skip ones that look factory made (perfect individual triangles or half moons). If in doubt go for the busier places with lots of Greeks – they will be popular for a reason!
Most of the day and all of the night:
“Toast” (pronounced ‘tost’)
Greece’s humbly named answer to the grilled cheese sandwich is positively baroque. Many dedicated sandwich shops offer a selection of 30 or 40 items – various cheeses, cold cuts, spreads, olives, canned corn, even crispy potato sticks – in a chilled display case and you pick and choose to make your ideal pressed sandwich.
Cheese, meat and some vegetables go in first. Then, after it emerges hot, crisp and pressed thin from the toastiera, add a thick smear of a mayonnaise or yogurt-based spread to give it some moisture and a little mess.
Where to get Crepes and Toasted Sandwiches
Navarino: Dimitriou Gounari 26A, Tel (+30) 2310 288 208. Open Monday to Thursday: 9:00 am – 4 am, Friday to Sunday: 9:00 am – 6:00 am.
Dream Team. Stylianou Gonata 4 (next to Navarino), Tel (+30) 2310 264 155. Open Daily 9:00 am – 4:30 am.
Most sandwich places also make crepes, with the same options – the slightly sweet wrapper makes a fine counterpoint to savory fillings. They also have lots of messy dessert fillings – nutella, bananas, crushed cookies, etc. Following a toast with a sweet crepe is excessive, but often unavoidable.
Crepe and toast spots are found all over the city, with a great concentration on Dimitriou Gounari above Tsimiski, a lively quarter near the university, crowded with many other snack options and busy day and night.
Gyros (otherwise known as “souvlaki”):
There’s a debate between Athens and Thessaloniki: meat shaved from a vertical rotating spit and served in a pita is called “gyro” in Thessaloniki (gyro means “to turn”). The same thing is also called by the more generic term “souvlaki” in Athens (a “souvla” is a skewer). In Thessaloniki, a “souvlaki” is chunks of meat grilled and served on a wooden skewer. The same thing is called a “kalamaki” (“little stick”) in Athens.
There is another difference between Thessaloniki and Athens: one late night “Gyradiko” (gyros place) in Thessaloniki offers an “Athenian” – the cheapest item on the menu. “What’s an Athenian?” we ask the guy behind the counter. “It’s like a normal gyro but, you know, small.” Nothing against the delicious street foods of Athens – Thessaloniki’s gyro are simply very, very large; the pita cannot close itself around the meat. It is a mess, a very satisfying, well-seasoned, crisp, juicy mess, for about 3 euros.
It comes in chicken, and pork versions. Classic additions include yoghurt-based tzatziki, onions, tomato, mustard ‘sauce’ (with chicken) and fries – but you can get them anyway you like. Spreads like those found in toast shops are popular additions. You can find particularly good gyro out in more residential neighborhoods.
Where to get great gyros
O Gyros tis Ellados, 174 Vasilissis Olgas (Depot neighborhood), Tel. (+30) 2310.415.800. Open: Sunday to Thursday, 12:00 – 03:00 (Mondays only until midnight), Friday and Saturday 12:00 – 06:00
Prassas, 89 Markou Botsari at Papanastasiou Street. Tel (+30) 2310.911.911. Open daily 11:00 – 05:00 (Mondays 11:00 – midnight).
02.00 – The Cult Offering of Patsas
No respectable late-night culture is without a hard core after-hours (and after drinking) food ritual. Although not strictly speaking street food, patsas is a food of street culture – a working man’s breakfast turned late night elixir.
Made from boiled hooves, tripe, and belly of calf, the collagen-rich soup is believed to enhance complexions, improve joint elasticity, and keep the effects of drink at bay. Seasoned to order with raw garlic and vinegar, with hot red pepper added at the table, it makes for a vibrant nightcap.
Where to get patsa
Tsarouchas, 78 Olympou Street. (+30) 2310.271.621. Never closes.
05.00 Bougatsa (again)
A favorite stop for the younger crowd making their way home in the early morning hours is Bougatsa Giannis – open all night long. They specialize in every kind of pie and bougatsa, some revved up with brilliant additions.
Slightly giggly kids tuck into cream-filled bougatsa with a shockingly thick blanket of Merenda (Greece’s version of Nutella), then sugar on top. Others prefer the hot, crisp minced meat bougatsa topped with a whole container of cool strained Greek yogurt and lashings of tabasco – a zesty, well-rounded meal. Chocolate milk, again, is a perfect fit for both.
Where to get it
Bougatsa Giannis, 106 Mitropoleos Street (near the White Tower). Tel (+30) 2310.257.375. Open daily 20:00 – 15:00 (the following day).