Fad, way of life, political statement, path to enlightenment or just plain bored, upset or fed up with the way things were, veganism has made its way into our lives and is here to stay.
Aware of the importance and impact of food on our bodies, our minds, the environment, and on the world as whole, all the more people are beginning to think about things such as origin of what we eat, processing, the cruelty and exploitation of animals involved, and where it all ends up.
For ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, good health was all about maintaining harmony with nature, and healing involved turning to nature’s gifts: the plants and the herbs.
Up until the late ‘70s, most Greeks maintained a fairly plant-based diet. With the onslaught of consumerism things changed radically and from a country that ate meat rarely, Greeks became fanatic meat eaters as it also became associated with wealth.
That explains why a decade ago, the idea of finding a restaurant serving vegetarian choices or a supermarket selling such items in Greece was near to impossible. Now, you don’t know which variety of non-dairy milk to choose from.
Undeniably, Greeks love their meat. And yet, we Greeks are also doubly blessed to have inherited a diet that has so many vegan and vegetarian options that we really never thought about needing to find special ways to incorporate these into our daily routines.
Ikaria’s Secret to Long Life
Let’s not forget the Greek island of Ikaria, in the northeast Aegean, was part of a massive study known as the “Ikaria Study”, which found that the inhabitants on this isle lived longer and felt better not to mention had near to zero depression rates. The island became a member of the “Blue Zone” countries, which basically have the longest life expectancies in the world.
What did the majority of the study’s over-80 participants do? They cherished siestas, walked and laughed… and followed the Greek diet, which is basically brimming with fruits and vegetables, olive oil and low in animal products.
And if you add to that the fasting days recommended by the Orthodox Church, Greeks could (should they choose to) end up eating meat no more than 40 days a year.
Going Back to Basics
As of late, eateries and shops offering vegan and vegetarian options are popping up across Greece. You are now bound to find at least one café serving plant-based options on Greek islands popular with tourists.
In Athens, vegan and vegetarian choices have mushroomed. Greek restauranteurs have actively begun to either expand and diversify their vegetarian offerings while an impressive number of younger-generation shop-owners having decided to go full-out vegan.
Educated and knowledgeable about the latest trends in plant-based or vegetarian cuisine with constant training on the latest vegan food trends, products and innovations, this new bunch of creative chefs, cooks and food/health lovers have brought about change and choice to Athens.
Where’s a Vegan to Eat in Athens?
Today, I suggest eight places in Athens serving some real good vegan or vegetarian foods, each specializing and supporting one or more aspects of sustainable living and at the same time doing their bit to change mentalities. But like I said before, dozens of new shops are opening up by the day offering their take of vegan, raw food or vegetarian cuisine. So I suggest you also visit HappyCow or download their app and get the latest on vegan options where ever you are.
It’s small, almost hidden among the popular Gazi haunts, but Lime Bistro has managed in the last few years to make a big name for itself. Choose to sit in the back of the shop and indulge in homemade plant-based and sugar-free delicacies that are as innovative as they get. I’ve taken meat-eating friends there who swore they were eating real burgers. The girls who own and run the place are also setting the example with low waste practices while one of the two made it to the semi-finals of Greece’s Master Chef making all efforts to raise awareness on the importance of sustainable food practices.
“It’s not only food,” according to chef Polash Alam, one of the men behind this central Athens eaterie that is dedicated in practice to Mother Earth, whether that’s using locally produced organic products or serving reworked landmark dishes of Greek, Indian, Mexican and other cuisines like our favorite, the vegetarian moussakas with béchamel sauce made of coconut milk. It’s tiny but it also offers delivery options.
Off the main thoroughfare in Palio Faliro, coastal Athens, this unassuming place has got loyal customers from the neighbourhood as well as tourists who’ve read about its great food. The owners, both yoga instructors, have a vision for a better, healthier world and they’re doing their best to spread the word through a wide array of vegan options and raw food, including superfood salads and sugar-free desserts, of course. Not to mention a pizza to die for. The duo also arrange events, offer tailormade “intro to veganism” diet plans, and catering services.
You can’t leave Greece without trying a souvlaki! That’s what these guys think too so they decided to create the first vegan souvlaki grill in the heart of Athens, offering not one, not two but four plant-based versions of the Greeks’ beloved street food.
Another charming vegan food spot located in the trendy Koukaki neighbourhood in central Athens, just below the Acropolis. This bistro-like stop is dedicated to fresh, affordable vegan and raw finger food, wraps, sandwiches and delectable sweets – all made with love and respect to Mother Earth. Don’t forget to try those savory tarts!
One more hip neighbourhood, one more eaterie: Mets has its own vegan favourite: Veganaki that serves everything from cashew nut feta ‘cheese’ and gluten-free traditional Greek pies to veggie burgers and tahini-tinged apple pie.
More than just a juice bar with its colourful array of cold-pressed fruit and veggie juices and smoothies, To Vazaki is an experience and an example of dedication, vision and love. Delivery is done on bike, organic products are made in Greece, you’ll find bowls of all sorts, burgers of all sorts, and breakfast combos for pre- and post-training, morning energy, or for the simple folk like us – good old granola and coffee. They can also take on your catering needs or design (by their inhouse dietician) a juice cleanse just for you. Where? In Halandri.
In the heart of Athens, you’ll find this lively mini-market that seconds as a café serving vegan treats and organic coffees. The shop is well stocked with the items you’ll need for home to prepare your own full-blown vegan lunch or dinner. While there, you can also grab a sandwich or wrapper or even try out some healthier versions of Greek favourite breakfast varieties or even my darling, the matcha chocolate chip vegan cookie.
Do it Vegan Greek-style – The Tips
▶︎You can always find vegetarian dishes at Greek restaurants and tavernas and this because the traditional Greek diet is mostly based on vegetables. So ask about what’s available in “ladera” or “ospria”. Ladera means prepared “in oil” and includes a variety of vegetables cooked in olive oil such as beans, okra, eggplant, artichokes, and nearly all others. “Ospria” are legumes, which were a central part of the diet on the Greek islands.
▶︎Go Greek salad… the omni-present Greek salad is a full-blown meal in its own right with some informed restaurants even serving vegan feta cheese. A second great option is Crete’s famed “dakos”. If you’re off dairy, tell them to keep the cheese off.
▶︎Get a souvlaki! Yes, even the staunch souvlaki joints have added a vegan/vegetarian option to their offerings. So you can actually get the whole souvlaki + pita experience without the meat – just ask for an “ecologiki pita”.
▶︎Sample the spreads! Greek cuisine just loves dips and so will you. Choices like melitzanosalata, kaparosalata, skordalia, fava, with freshly baked bread can go a long (and fulfilling) way.
▶︎Do it the ‘fast’ way… as mentioned above, many Orthodox Greeks observe fasting guidelines, which basically apply throughout the year – ahead of Easter, Christmas, all holidays dedicated to the Virgin Mary – and in the strictest versions do not include olive oil. During this time, most of Greece’s bakeries (fournoi) and restaurants offer the so-called “nistisima” (fasting foods). Even Mac Donald’s in Greece offers this option.
▶︎ Fritter away. Not the healthiest choice, but Greek tavernas always serve at least three types of fritters depending on the vegetables in season. With some dip and wine, you’re done.
▶︎Opt for traditional dishes… spanakopita (spinach pie), spanakorizo (spinach and rice stewed), gemista (stuffed veggies), dolmadakia, briam (ratatouille), gigantes (beans), imam baildi (eggplant in tomato and garlic sauce), bamies (okra in tomato sauce), greens, Florina peppers, and pitas with veggies.
▶︎For the sweet-tooth: besides the latest non-dairy, sugar-free, date-based variety, traditional Greek desserts include tahini-based halvas, “nistisimos baklavas” (made with olive oil), loukoumades (fritters) with or without honey, loukoumia, and spoon sweets made of fruits, blossoms and even some veggies.
“Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.Hippocrates
♯And I conclude today’s post with some Greek humor taken straight out of one of my favourite films “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”… the Greeks’ view of vegetarianism.