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Editor’s note: Our third installment for CB’s Breakfast Week takes us to Athens, where we take a look at traditional breakfasts and how globalization is changing the way Greeks eat — especially on weekend mornings.

In Athens, brunch has become big business. Over the last couple of years, locals have fully embraced this foreign import, and numerous venues have sprung up across the city to bring Eggs Benedict and Bloody Marys to hungry Athenians every weekend.

The ever-popular Nixon, an industrial-looking bar-restaurant in Keramikos, was one of the first to embrace brunch culture and their restorative soups cure even the gnarliest hangovers. [Editor’s note: We regret to report that Nixon has closed.] Hidden gem Hip Cafe, near Syntagma Square, is the place to go for fluffy pancakes with fresh fruit, omelets without egg yolks accompanied by pumpernickel or a generous glass of refreshing and reviving orange, carrot, ginger and celery juice.

But what about traditional Greek breakfasts? Breakfast is something we associate with summer holidays or getaways in the mountains or visits to the family’s home village (for those of us whom this applies to) and our grandmothers preparing it for us. We generally don’t consider breakfast in our culture as the most important meal of the day – that would be lunch. We don’t eat anything that’s really analogous to the cereals with milk or porridge that Brits and Americans might start their weekdays with. Free-range eggs from local chickens are boiled or fried or else scrambled the Greek way, which is called strapatsada or kayianaas, and usually contains grated tomato and other vegetables. The best part of eating eggs, of course, is dipping a hunk of rustic bread in the yolk or using the bread to push egg onto the fork and devouring it after it’s sopped up all that lovely, runny goodness. We like to keep things simple: a glass of milk and a slice of bread with butter and honey and/or tahini spread or honey on top of Greek yogurt or anthotyro, a fresh cheese, will do. A slice of homemade spanakopita or a meat pie can hold our appetites till lunch, and for the frugal, a koulouri and a cup of Greek coffee would be a good start to the day.

For the last three years the Hellenic Chamber of Hotels has run “The Greek Breakfast” program, which aims to enrich the breakfasts offered in hotels and guesthouses around Greece in order to deliver some of the numerous traditional products and local flavors from each region of the country, with Crete, Thessaly, Rhodes, Halkidiki, Lesbos, Kos, Santorini, Messinia and Naxos on board so far. But the truth is, some small boutique hotels, rent-a-rooms and apartments were already offering a breakfast with traditional products as a more homey welcoming gesture to guests.

While we don’t make much of a fuss over regular ol’ breakfast in Athens, there are plenty of options to give your day a proper start. When we want to savor our koulouri with a spectacular view, we head for the Acropolis Museum restaurant, which serves a tidy version of the bread along with slices of gruyere, and where we can behold the Parthenon in all its magnificence. When the view is less of a priority, and we happen to be near the University of Athens, we look for the little yellow kiosk at the corner of Akadimias and Riga Fereou, behind the school’s main building. The friendly vendor sells some of the best koulouri we’ve ever tasted. At Ariston, traditional meets fast food: we usually go for the store’s specialty, kourou, the feta-stuffed half-moon-shaped pie that sells at a frantic clip. Vegetarians must try the cheese-free spinach pie at Pnyka bakery. We visit Stani, the dairy bar institution, for yogurt, cream sprinkled with cinnamon or, for those with a sweet tooth, a plate of loukoumades, doughnuts blanketed with honey.

Certain regions in Greece are known for their own morning specialties. Thessaloniki’s is bougatsa, a sweet turnover with a thin, crispy crust filled with semolina cream and sprinkled with cinnamon and powder sugar. Younger generations like the comforting, high-calorie combination of bougatsa and chocolate milk. For those who prefer a savory bougatsa, there are also versions made with cheese, minced meat and other such fillings. The pies are available at most bakeries in Athens, but we especially likes the ones sold at Stani. Those with a strong stomach are advised to go for a Cretan breakfast, which means a shot of raki and a meze, which hardcore Cretans have in the morning. The kalitsounia, fried phyllo pastries filled with mizithra and often served with honey, or the marathopita, the extra-thin fennel pie, are both excellent. A plate of cheese, olives and some apaki, the smoked Cretan sausage, is the most traditional choice of all. And of course, there’s no such thing as a Greek breakfast without Greek coffee.

Editor’s note: We are regret to report that Nixon and Hip Cafe are closed.

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Published on January 15, 2014

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