Thursday, April 5, 2012

Dolmades in Thessaloniki

As a rule, Greek food is for purists and traditionalists, but Thessaloniki, the capital of Macedonia, is an exhilarating exception to the rule. Bridging East and West, Greece’s second city has adapted to its cosmopolitan population over the centuries to develop a fusion of Middle Eastern and Balkan cuisine. Its signature dishes – such as dolmades (stuffed vine leaves) – are full of surprises.

 Lying on the ancient trade route linking the Adriatic with Istanbul, Thessaloniki has long been a confluence of cultures. Echoes of its former occupants crop up all over the city, in Roman ruins, Ottoman baths, crumbling synagogues, and Byzantine chapels. The city’s eclectic cuisine also bears the hallmarks of all its past residents. But the most pervasive flavors are those left by the Ottoman empire, whose rule of Macedonia extended to 1913, almost a century after the rest of Greece was liberated.
 Centuries of Ottoman occupation are most obvious today in the ramshackle Turkish quarter of Kastra, which is a 19th-century time warp. Minarets poke out among apartment buildings; former hammams (Turkish baths) are now cultural centers, movie theaters, or flower stands. Even the city’s most prominent landmark, the White Tower (which isn’t white at all), was built by the Ottomans as a fortress, before becoming a notorious prison. The tower is an evocative monument to the city’s diversity, and has a fascinating virtual tour of its culinary history on the top floor.
 Thessaloniki’s thriving meze culture owes much to the influence of Asia Minor (the area that now encompasses most of modern-day Turkey). Convivial meals consist of a succession of small dishes designed to be shared, usually accompanied by a glass of ouzo or tsipouro, spirits distilled from the vine. Grape leaves are also used to make one of the city’s most popular meze dishes, dolmades, whose name reveals its origin: dolma is the Turkish word for “stuffed.” These glossy little parcels are also known as yaprakia, from the Turkish yaprak, or leaf. The cooks of Thessaloniki have access to tender vine leaves from the fertile mountains of Macedonia, the source of northern Greece’s robust red wines. The leaves are picked in late spring, blanched and preserved in brine, then rolled by hand.
ABOVE : Above Dolmades are cigar-shaped, stuffed vine leaves bursting with flavor; a subtle scent of lemon tantalizes the taste buds
 Eating a dolma is like opening a gift – you never quite know what’s inside until the first bite. Tightly wrapped into dainty bundles, they might be filled with minced lamb, currants, and pine nuts, spiced with cloves, cumin, or cinnamon, speckled with mint, dill, or parsley, or bursting at the seams with sardines, fennel, and onions. Yalantzi (Turkish for “fake”) are meatless dolma; sarmadakia uses pickled cabbage leaves stuffed with minced lamb and smothered in avgolemono, a tangy egg and lemon sauce that is almost as tricky to perfect as mayonnaise. The variations are endless, and always delicious.
 A Day in Thessaloniki
 Layers of history intersect in Thessaloniki, Greece’s most alluring city. With its high density of museums, waterfront bars, restaurants, and hip hotels, Thessaloniki also has a vibrant modern identity.
 Visit the Archaeological Museum, a thrilling modernist building with an extraordinary collection of artifacts. Then wander along the boardwalk to the Photography and Cinema museums, formerly shipping warehouses. Head to the Teloglion Foundation of Art, a museum in a hilltop park with a great café, Art 02. AFTERNOON
 Get lost in the twisting alleys of the old Turkish Quarter, ringed by Byzantine walls. Old-time ouzeri (meze bars) with overgrown courtyards are tucked among the timber-framed houses. Meals here are often accompanied by spontaneous renditions of rembetika – the Greek blues.
The party gets started around midnight; follow the crowds outside the bars on Valaoritou Street and around the splendid Malakopi arcade.
 Fly to Macedonia International Airport, then take Bus 78 into town. Intercity trains from Athens’s Larissis station take about 5 hours.
 The Met (inexpensive) is a glossy newcomer with a destination Asian restaurant, spa, and rooftop pool.
 Excelsior (moderate) is a restored 1920s property with a fun bistro.
 Daios (expensive) offers modern minimalism on the waterfront.
 136 Tsimiski Street;

Above : The streets of Thessaloniki are lined with high-quality restaurants and tempting ouzeri

 The Best Places to Eat Dolmades
 Aristotelous moderate
This classic ouzeri is a throwback to another era. Situated in a plant-filled arcade decorated with checkerboard tiles and retro posters of Greece, it offers calm respite from the hustle of Aristotelous Square. Writers and artists, lawyers and lovers squeeze around the marble-topped tables while genteel waiters ply them with a parade of little dishes. You must, of course, try the dolmades. But it’s also a good place to dip into the vast repertoire of meze dishes – red peppers stuffed with spicy feta, shrimp sautéed with garlic and tomato, squid oozing cheese sauce, and lightly battered zucchini. With live Greek music most evenings, the experience is as much about the atmosphere as the food.
Tourists have discovered its charms, so you often have to wait for a table and prices are a little steep. Yet the appeal of this former Turkish coffeehouse, which miraculously survived the great fire that ravaged Thessaloniki in 1917, is as enduring as ever.
 Aristotelous 8, Thessaloniki; open 10 AM–2 AM Mon–Sat, 11 AM–6 PM Sun; +30 2310 233 195
Also in Thessaloniki
 Aglaia’s Kitchen (+30 2310 280 044; inexpensive) is a tiny restaurant with a menu straight out of Asia Minor, situated in the heart of the flower market. Dishes of the day depend on what Aglaia finds in nearby Modiano market, but if you’re lucky the day’s menu will include her legendary sarmadakia, smothered in avgolemono. The sophisticated bistro B (; moderate) is also known as Vyzantino, after its location in the Byzantine Museum. It serves tasty dolmades with minted yogurt, and you can enjoy a tour of the museum’s frescoes, mosaics, and icons as a marvelous digestif.
 Also in Greece
 The far-flung isle of Kasos in the Dodecanese is renowned for its tiny dolmades (or dourmaes, as they are called in the local dialect). The best place to try them is Emborios (www.emborios. com; inexpensive), a lively, family-run taverna, which serves addictive meze accompanied by fantastically fresh fish and improvised singalongs to a lyre and lute.
 Around the World
Melbourne, Australia, has the largest Greek community outside Greece, so it’s not surprising that it has several excellent Greek restaurants. Philhellene (; moderate) is like eating at home with the garrulous Rerakis family, whose beef and cumin dolmades are wrapped in silverbeet leaves grown in their own garden. Don’t miss their wonderful stuffed zucchini flowers, only featured when in season.
 The Modiano Market
 The glass-domed Modiano, built in 1922, is Thessaloniki’s best and biggest food market. It’s a celebration of the city’s culinary diversity: stands are heaped with glistening olives, sticky pastries, delicate rosebuds, pickled peppers, fragrant mounds of saffron, and briny buckets of vine leaves. There are several places to sample meze inside the market, which echoes day and night with the banter of bargain-hunters and bon viveurs. Gypsy minstrels weave among tightly packed tables, where shoppers dig in to tiny plates of grilled sardines or smoky eggplant purée. The beauty of these shared feasts is their spontaneity – and the fact that they can go on indefinitely.

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