Bon Bon Fait Maison
Kriton Poulis started his professional life as a pastry chef, working as the right hand of the famous Pierre Hermé. He remembers how the inspiration for his fig ice cream came as he strolled the cobbled streets of Kythera. Ever since, the flavor that has become his signature returns every summer to his stores in Piraeus and Syntagma – albeit for a brief spell. To make this off-white, fine cream, the leaves of the fig tree are harvested when they are still fresh to retain all their flavors and aromas. They are then infused in milk with just the tiniest pinch of cinnamon, clove, orange and grapefruit zest.
30 Petraki, Syntagma, Tel. (+30) 210.331.8703 and 39 Polydefkous, Piraeus, Tel. (+30) 210.411.7999
Epik’s flavors are like a vacation on Ikaria, Syros, Hydra or in the cool mountains of Pilio. The gelateria on Mavili Square transports you to the islands and other destinations with ice cream made with creamy katiki cheese from northern Greece and small pieces of sweet preserved fig from the Tsekos family on Ikaria in the eastern Aegean. Then there’s the one with rosewater that’s like a Turkish delight, or the one with yogurt and honeycomb, and that one inspired by amygdalota (almond biscuits) with caramelized almonds from Thessaly. There’s also the kaimaki with mastic from Chios, served with chopped preserved sour cherries and sour cherry syrup. You can also create combinations of your own, mixing and matching these unusual flavors.
2 Doryleou, Mavili Square, Tel. (+30) 210.646.4105
Kaimaki, A chewy blast of the past
For most older Greeks, kaimaki is a traditional ice cream whose taste takes them back to childhood summers. In contrast to kaymak, the unsweetened cream from water buffalo milk found in Central Asia, parts of the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Levant, Turkey, Iran and Iraq, Greek kaimaki is made with fresh milk and flavored with salep, often with the addition of grated mastic or essential oils from the gum. The salep enhances this ice cream’s distinctively rich and almost chewy texture.
At Stani (10 Marika Kotopouli, Omonia, Tel. (+30) 210.523.3637), a dairy shop that has been around for 90 years, kaimaki is made with sheep’s milk, and the discreet mastic flavor comes from essential oils supplied by the gum cooperative on the island of Chios, from where mastic hails. The kaimaki is also delicious at the Assimakopoulos Brothers (28 Harilaou Trikoupi, Exarchia, Tel. (+30) 210.361.0092), believed to be the oldest pastry shop in downtown Athens. It’s also made with sheep’s milk here, but without mastic, and is served with a sprinkling of walnuts. The pinnacle of Athenian kaimaki, however, is at Xara (339 Patission, Ano Patissia, Tel. (+30) 210.228.7266). If you’re in the area, drop in and try some of the ice creams that were brought to Greece from Asia Minor in 1922 by Aristea, the grandmother of the current owners. Their kaimaki comes in two versions, one of which is made with water buffalo milk and used in their legendary Chicago ice cream, where they add chocolate, Chantilly and syrup. For extra pleasure, ask for a good squeeze of sour cherry syrup.
The owner of this establishment learned the tradecraft of Italian gelato at the side of an authentic master of the art, so lines started to form – day and night – outside her store in downtown Syntagma Square soon after she hung out her shingle. La Greche is where we discovered what wonderful things ice cream does for a hangover: lemon-mint, tiramisu, pavlova, chocolate with rum and plums, ricotta with bergamot and Aperol, amazing almond and Sicilian pistachio, seasonal fruit sorbets … it’s almost impossible to choose. There is no shortage of Greek flavors, either: yogurt, baklava (including small, crispy pieces of syrupy filo), anthotyro (soft cheese) with fig, and Lemnos Moschato sorbet.
16 Mitropoleos, Syntagma, Tel. (+30) 216.700.6458
In their tiny workshop and store, Vicky and Igor have fun experimenting with fresh fruit, herbs, nuts and nut butters, trying different recipes and posting those they like best on the blackboard outside with the day’s flavors. There’s only a handful of staples, like the elegant fresh cream; everything else on their small eclectic menu is a surprise. One day, the duo may cool you off with a velvety chocolate and avocado sorbet that makes the perfect mess, while the next day, they”ll offer the hard-to-find sorbet of cherry or bitter almond. Or maybe they’ll produce one with tahini and honey, or chewy mastic kaimaki, or the one with dark beer… A winner on the hotter days, their refreshing watermelon sorbet is not to be missed. They add a bit of mint for extra freshness.
17 Archelaou, Pangrati, Tel. (+30) 210.724.7037
You’ll have to wait in line, unless you’re having ice cream for breakfast here at the coolest corner in Koukaki. Fresh, completely natural, free of preservatives and flavor enhancers, and made with ingredients from small-scale producers, Konstantinos Karakatsanis’ ice cream shop is magical. Fruit sorbets are his forte and include fragrant watermelon served with slightly tart yogurt ice cream, fig (when in season) and apricot. The flavors he presents every morning depend on what ingredients his suppliers deliver. The peach is made from just four ingredients: the fruit with its skin, sugar, salt and lemon juice. “My favorite peach is the white kind because it’s the most fragrant. The sorbet comes out pink because the flesh is red near the stone. I also add a pinch of salt to remind us of the peaches we used to eat as kids on the beach that we washed in the sea,” says Karakatsanis, who hails from the island of Syros. He recommends pairing it with a ball of smoked hazelnut.
15 Veikou, Koukaki, Tel. (+30) 211.422.2029
It’s not just their pure and old-fashioned – in the best sense of the word – ice cream that’s so attractive about this historic dairy and pastry shop in the northern suburb of Kifissia, it’s also the fact that it’s served in a retro-style metal bowl with a Varsos logo on its handle. The garden at the back is lovely and well worth the trip north, where the temperature tends to be a couple of degrees cooler than in downtown Athens. And as for the ice cream, the vanilla flavor is wonderfully milky, the chocolate is rich and indulgent, and the strawberry is refreshing and zingy. Enjoy the combo in the signature dish, served in the shade of plane trees.
5 Kassaveti, Kifissia, Tel. (+30) 210.801.2472