The Fruit, Meat and Vegetable Market of Athens
are three Agoras in downtown Athens.
One is the Ancient Agora where the
Thission building is, below the
Acropolis and the hill of Areospagos.
Then there is the Roman Agora near the
Tower of the winds in the Plaka. Both
have been closed for centuries though tourists can pay an admission fee and walk the ancient streets where Socrates and Plato used to walk, and see remnants of the ancient stoas, buildings and statues. But
the Agora on Athinas Street, otherwise known
as the Athens Dimotiki Agora (Public Market) or Varvakios Agora is my
favorite of the three and even when I
am not shopping (how much meat and
fish can you cook when you live
in a hotel room?) I seem to get
energized walking around. To me the
Varvakios Market is the most exciting
place in Athens and I can't recall a trip to Greece that I did not take a walk through the covered streets.
If you are coming from the Monastiraki Flea Market and continue from Monastiraki Square down Athinas street towards Omonia you will pass the Hotel Attalos on your left and a block later the Hotel
Cecil. When you get
to Evripidou street you will find
yourself at the Agora, Athens Public Market, bordered by Athinas, Evripidou, Eolou and Sofokleous Streets.
Morning is the best time to be here.
It's often a mob scene but lots of fun
and a reminder that the true
wonders of Athens may not be in
the dead past but in the very
alive present. Some of the
butchers come from generations of
butchers who have had stalls in
the market for a century. In the last few years the EU has made the market comply with their standards and now meat is kept cool in refrigerators and the whole market got a facelift. But the atmosphere is still the same and the experience is certainly what shopping was meant to be.
Fish market is my favorite part. Wear
shoes, not flip-flops. The ground is kind of wet and
fishy. Wander around and look at all
the fish, some fresh, some frozen, and
listen to the voices of the merchants
as they call out their prices.
For some reason the
pigs feet are in with the fish and I
have not understood that but if its OK with the fish then it is OK with me. Any fish you
can find in the Aegean and even some
imported from as far away as China, Portugal and North Africa are here. You will know what fish are in season and what to order in the restaurants after a short walk through the fish market because those will be the fish that there will be the most of and will drop in price as the day gets later. I guarantee you will be impressed by some of the creatures of the deep on display. You will also be surprised at the variety and the noise. Fish venders know how to shout. I often see the owners of restaurants
I go to, shopping for the freshest fish.
Surrounding the fish market on three
sides is the meat market and across
the street are the fruits and
vegetables. The weirdest animals are found in the meat section
closest to Omonia, though this depends
on the season. I have seen giant
woolly animals that looked like either
a giant wild boar or a
mastodon. But mostly you will see the kind of meat that you will recognize from your shopping at home, only bigger parts and probably a lot healthier then the meat you get. Like in the fish market there are signs that tell you what kind of animal it is and where it comes from. Mostly you will see beef, pork, lamb, goat, chickens and an occasional rabbit, plus entire tables with organ meats like livers and kidneys and the intestines and other ingredients for making patsa and mageritsa.
out the stores that sell olives. It's
OK to sample. Find a type you can't
live without and buy a kilo to keep
with you on your journey. I like the
big ones from Agrinion. My wife likes
the shriveled oil-cured type. Taste
them all. If you love olives this is
your special heaven. You can buy a half kilo and take them back to your room to have as a snack or on the rooftop bar with your evening ouzo as you watch the lights brighten the Acropolis. There are also
spice shops, cheese shops, canned
goods, dry goods, live chickens, you
name it. If you want to be creative
with your shopping for gifts to bring
back to family and friends, look
around here. I usually bring back
around ten giant cans of Mytilini
sardines to go with my ouzo. This last time
I brought back two big pickled fish called skoumbri
(mackerel). Its probably not legal but if you get caught what are they going to do besides take it away? Anyway while homeland security is focused on terrorism people like you and I can smuggle in a skoumbri or two.
An Olive Shop
If you are hungry visit the
two working class
in the meat market and the secret
underground restaurant at the bottom
of the vegetable market by the olive
shops where wine appears on the table whether you ask for it or not and the menu is in the guys head or you order by pointing on whats on the next table. There are several restaurants
and fast food places in and around the
market including some old
ouzerie-cafeneons and an old Rembetiko
cafe called The Stoa Athanaton where
you can see Rembetika legends at their afternoon matinees or
at night. The restaurants within the meat market are inexpensive and though you may be a little intimidated by the lack of a touristy atmosphere you will feel at ease when you are eating your roast lamb and potatoes, fricasse, bean soup, or a podi, the soup made from the foot of a cow which actually contains a foot of a cow.
I go to Eiprus restaurant, sometimes even for breakfast. Nope you can't get eggs-over-easy or any eggs at all but you would be surprised how good a bowl of fish soup tastes early in the morning. Don't forget to try
the Patsa a cure for hangovers, indigestion, bad blood or eating.
Right around the corner is Papandreou which like Epirus has been open for decades or more. In both restaurants you point at what you want and it comes to the table. T here are also a couple of very good souvlaki shops right on Athinas.
Across the street from the fish and meat market is the fruit and vegetable market where you will find the biggest lemons, peaches and some of the most colorful fruit you will ever have seen. There are also Russians and Greeks who have returned from the former eastern block countries selling cigarettes,
and just about anything. There is a Polish food shop, like a deli on the right hand side as you walk towards Sokratous Street. You will also pass shops that sell nothing but eggs, or feta cheese and some shops that have smoked meats and sausages. There are also people from the villages who don't have stalls, just sitting on a box, selling wild herbs, or wild greens from the mountains, or garlic. At the bottom of the fruit and vegetable market is the beginning of Athens' China town which is also India town, Pakistani
town and also the Arabic section of the city. If you are a big goofy American in Bermuda shorts and a camera that looks like the caricature of a tourist you may feel a little uncomfortable wandering around these back streets though the dangers are few and don't have anything to do with being kidnapped, murdered or worse.
Evripidou Street is one of the most interesting and diverse shopping streets in Athens. There are plant and seed stores, the excellent herb and spice stores including the popular Elixer,
where you can
find herbs you have never even heard of as well as spatholatho, the oil the ancient Greek soldiers used to use to heal their wounds. Next door is Arapian, a Armenian butcher that specializes in sausages, pastourma and souzouk among other things. Buy their spiciest souzouk and take it home. They will vacuum pack it for your trip. There are many ethnic stores and barbershops, that cater to their clientele
from the east. There are Indian restaurants and the famous Telis, which serves only grilled pork-chops, fried potatoes and salad. If you go back and cross Athinas Street and you continue past the side entrance of the meat market you will come to Eolou Street which is one of Athens'
primary pedestrian shopping streets which can lead you to Omonia Square and all the way to the National Museum or back towards the Plaka, Monastiraki and the Acropolis.
Going up Evripdou Street away from Athinas Street will take you to Klathmanos Square where you can go up Stadiou street to Syntagma.
Hotels Near the Market
There are a couple interesting hotels in the area for example the ultra modern and popular Fresh Hotel where Jamie Oliver stayed while shooting
his Greece episode. There are a number of older hotels in historic buildings that are either refugee centers, bordelos
or both though some of these are being renovated to keep up with the new demand for centrally located hotels in Athens. If you want to stay by the market your best bet is the Hotel Attalos
because it is also convenient to Monastiraki, Psiri and the Plaka. The hotels on the back streets and going towards Omonia are cheap but at night the streets are dark and a little scary. The Hotel Economy is right by the fruit and vegetable market and as its name implies is relatively cheap. The Athens
Center Square is actually right in the market. The Athinaikon Hotel was one of those old bordello/flop houses that was totally renovated and is right on Evripidou Street. The Hotel Arion is right in Psiri a few steps from the tavernas and a block away from the Athens market.
If you keep
walking down Athinas street it will eventually lead
See also: Photo Tour of the Athens Central Market and Matt's Guide to Greek Food
See my 2013 Photo Tour of the Athens Dimotiki Agora