We came to Athens to visit my mother. And every visit to Athens has to have a visit to Kiffisia and a pastry shop called Varsos that has been open for over a century. It’s worth a visit just to gape – ever so discreetly – at the lady that sells the Tsoureki (a brioche like bread flavored with mastic). You can’t miss her, she is probably in her fifties, bleached blond hair that she styles in the fashion of a hedgehog having a bad quill day and lots of make up. And she never smiles. Never.
But you don’t come to Varsos for the smiles, you come for Greek yoghurt and honey with walnuts. I dare you to find the yoghurt under that mountain of honey and walnuts. In London I would be lucky to find 3 whole walnuts on that dish, at Varsos I lost count at twenty!
Or go for the refreshing Rizogalo (rice pudding). Did you notice the word I used? “Refreshing”. That’s because rice pudding at Varsos and in Greece in general relies on corn flour to thicken it. First the rice is boiled in water and then the cooked rice is added to the milk. The choice of the serving dish is essential too. It comes in a shallow dish about 2 cm high, with what looks like an alarming dousing of cinnamon. The cinnamon is an integral part of the authentic Varsos rice pudding experience. One spoon full and you are bound to be hooked. The ratio of translucent creamy milk to chewy rice grains is ideal. It’s chilled to the right temperature. It’s got a thin skin that means that the rice pudding doesn’t flood out into the space created by your spoon.
Whatever you do, don’t order a Cappuccino or a Latte. This place is old school; they haven’t the foggiest notion of how to make a good coffee. Instead, order a Frappe the national drink of Greece. Basically its instant coffee served over ice in a tall glass that you sip through a florescent straw (always florescent, never white and stripey). It will take the enamel off your teeth and give you a stomach ache but it will having buzzing away like a happy little bee despite the oppressive heat.
I am flying back to London tomorrow and I will be surrounded once again by Starbucks, Giraffes, GBK etc. How boring!