Even if you’re not particularly fond of sweets, you’ll have to admit that the array of possibilities in Thessaloniki is a feast for the eyes. Pastry shops abound, but my favorites belong to the Terkenlis chain, in business since 1948. I find myself, face pressed against the window, ogling the variety and marveling at the mind-boggling inventiveness that created these masterpieces.
Of course, one expects the baklava family of crisp filo stuffed with nuts, studded with cloves and drenched in syrup, but who knew that it came in so many guises? Besides the familiar squares and rolls of fine-spun kataifi (nicknamed shredded wheat), they come layered with dried fruit like apricots and prunes, coated with chocolate, encasing pastel-colored creams, green with crushed pistachios, twisted into flutes, cylinders, spirals, origami-style envelopes.
But then my attention turns to the tsoureki. In most of Greece, this traditional festive braided brioche loaf (much like challah) is tasty enough with its spongy texture flavored with mahleb or mastiha and dotted with flaked almonds. In Thessaloniki, some of these loaves are slathered with an artfully poured glaze of dark chocolate, snow-white vanilla, or both. And inside they contain more surprises: fillings of chestnut, hazelnut, orange, lemon, or more chocolate.
Perhaps the most famous, signature sweet of Thessaloniki is the Trigono Panoramatos, the Panorama Triangle. A cone of multiple sheets of baked fyllo filled to bursting with a heart-stoppingly rich custard, it was invented in the late 50s by Giannis Elenidis, whose family were Pontic Greek refugees. Arriving just before World War II, they settled in Panorama, back then a rocky wasteland. Their one goat saved them from famine during the war and in time evolved into a herd, enabling Yiannis to open a milk shop in 1949.
Before long he’d added whipped cream and puddings to his products, and when one day an employee filled a puff pastry cone with whipped cream, he had a eureka moment. Why not make a cone of filo and squeeze in some custard? Thus was born the famous Trigono – 10,000 were sold in a single Sunday, and Yiannis forgot about sleep.
Today his sons run three shops, including the original in the now-chic Panorama area. The saying goes: “Elenidis doesn’t sell triangles, they sell squares. They’re so delicious you eat them two at a time.” Cravings not quenched? Then seek out one of the most unusual sweets that made their way from the East onto the menus of Thessaloniki restaurants. Kazan dibi might be compared to crème brûlée, since it’s a creamy pudding combined with caramel, but the name literally means burnt kettle, and the scrumptious dark topping actually comes from the bottom of the pan. The richest kazan dibi contains buffalo milk and chicken breast. It’s not recognizable as such to be sure; it just adds a bit more substance, but vegetarians beware: ask before you try it.
One thing is for certain. You will not go hungry in Thessaloniki but perhaps you’d better go on a strict fast before and after your visit.