If you ever find yourself in the beautiful, vibrant city of Athens, Greece, do yourself a favor and visit the Dimotiki Agora, or Central Market. The building in which the market is located is a beautiful and cavernous one with a glass roof, built up two years after the original market burned down in 1884. But the real magic—the market’s meat and fish purveyors— awaits inside.
Walk into the meat hall first and you’ll be greeted by the almost alarming, overpowering aroma of freshly butchered meat. Here you’ll see vendor after vendor in the process of butchering baby lambs and calves, on-the-spot ready to fully customize any meat order to your liking. Whole skinned animals hang upside down in every direction, and more than a few tables are covered with organ meat. Pause, like we did, to watch a butcher completely half a lamb and proceed to chop up its decadent ribs with seemingly effortless prowess. This is not an act of carnivorous performance art, just the typical omnivore’s reality.
After the meat hall, walk over to the seafood hall where, again, an overwhelming aroma will completely overtake your senses. Here you’ll find fresh octopus, prawns and all kinds of fish—from cod to herring and mackerel—ready for purchase at phenomenal prices. The atmosphere is loud and alive with purveyors yelling out prices and restaurant owners bargaining until they eventually open their wallets.
Surrounding the outskirts of the building there are many stalls with merchants selling dried spices and herbs, teas, fresh in-the-shell pistachio nuts, olive oil, fresh olives—the list is endless. Walk a little further and you’ll find fresh produce such as figs, peaches, nuts, eggs, peppers, tomatoes—all the best ingredients to create the perfect Greek salad. The crowds are bustling and the merchants are eager to let you try and sample their products.
Next, head to the market’s secret underground restaurant, Epirus Tavern—an experience I missed out on on my first trip to Central Market, as I didn’t know it existed. Do not make the same mistake, as Epirus Tavern is where the locals eat, and where each day the chef serves whatever they feel like cooking. It is also the sort of magical place where, whether you asked for it or not, wine simply appears on your table. This hidden gem will be my first stop when I return to Athens. Maybe I’ll see you there.
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